Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Eavesdropping and Exploring

It's quiet in the Studio this morning, and I'm listening in on a consultant's session with a student as I type this.

"What's the significance of this sentence?" she asks.

I hear only a murmur from the student. The topic is Emily Dickinson's "I Could Not Stop for Death."

"What's the feeling you get when you read this line about her gossamer gown?" continues the consultant ("C"), her soft voice barely audible from here. I miss the next exchange and then hear, "And then she actually sees the grave, and realizes that death is forever. It's like she didn't realize it until then."

C. continues to read the rest of the poem aloud, placing emphasize on key expressions.

"What you need to do, she says, "is to write an introductory paragraph, and you might --- did your instructor give you any instructions/suggestions about how to ...?

"No," replies the student.

"Did he approve your choosing this topic?"

"No, this is just one of the poems that he assigned."

"What made you choose this poem?" (She doesn't wait for an answer). "The thing is ... if you choose to write about this, you are going to have to take one view of death and go through each stanza and show how this view is revealed. Do you think you can do that?"

Student: "I'll try."

"See, you jump right into the content without any introduction that gradually narrows down to your specific thesis."

"Even though she was unprepared, she went willingly because it seemed a good thing to do. But by the end of the poem, she realizes that she wasn't prepared. There is a coldness, a darkness, at the end, though earlier she seems very positive. If you are going to focus on the irony, you are going to have to focus on what she says about death at the beginning and what she says about death later in the poem. If I were you, I would ... your thesis statement needs to be in the form of a sentence. It needs to make a statement."

What is so pleasing to me about listening to this particular consultation is that I find I am not listening to evaluate; I am listening to encounter a learning experience and slipping into my researcher mode. I have complete confidence in the consultant and in her methods. I see that she is intuitively following the steps recommended for peer readers in The Writing Circle, by Dick Harrington by touching on the following topics.

Strategies for Exploring
Intention (Focus)
Voice (Persona)

She does this without announcing her strategy. Her consistent, persuasive, muted tone is reassuring and meditative --- two responses that a nervous student writer will appreciate. This consultant is paying attention, as Harrington recommends, --- "selective, focused attention --- to ... information and ideas, to people and behavior, to language. In other words, to explore means to open yourself to possibilities of meaning in virtually any experience" (45).

"C" and I are explorers, crossing the wild west of writing, packing our pencils instead of pistols --- wiping the sweat of concentration from our brows in the desert of writer's block, cutting open the word-cacti for refreshment, and saddling up a horse-thesis for a clear path to the homefront. We eavesdrop around writing campfires at night and see what we can learn from the sentence pioneers, paragraph miners, point preachers, organization sheriffs, and time thieves. I hope you can visualize this extended metaphor. It's a Writing Circle, you see.

Tomorrow: Jorge Luis Borges on life as a writer.


At 8:47 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

It's always interesting to learn how one is perceived--especially to a peer. I'm new in the writing studio, and even though I taught English for an eternity and spent many hours working one on one with students--I use past tense because I have been out of the classroom for five years--this is a different experience for me. So far, every student I have worked with is a stranger to me. And it's quite a challenge to quickly assess the student, the assignment, and the actual writing. It's amazing how differently students react in a session. What Tamara overheard was my session with an older woman who was a bit puzzled by the task before her and quite receptive to my comments. Then I had the experience of overhearing Tamara with another student. Actually, "overhearing" was easy because this student was rebellious--in a good natured way--and the session was loud but very positive. I love this work. I wish I had had this experience about twenty years ago.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

(The previous response was written by C, the consultant. I invited her to respond, but I failed to tell her how to log in with her own name or as anonymous).

I wanted her to hear my confession of eavesdropping and see what she had to say about it.

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