What I Know About the New Aesthetic (and Postpedagogy)

I’m into the idea of the new aesthetic and I feel like it has a lot of interesting pedagogical implications.

Here’s what I understand about the new aesthetic; when I interact with technology, say take a photo of my wife with the camera on my phone, if the picture turns out “normal,” meaning that looking at the image produced by my phone very closely resembles the image created with my eyes and brain when I look at the same scene, then I think nothing of it. There is no tension between my camera phone and I. I am it’s commander and I have told it to do something and it has done it. However, say I take a photo of my wife with my camera phone and it turns out like this: Glitchy Wife  I have a few options of what I can do. I can curse my camera phone for not obeying my orders and see it as an obstacle that is failing to represent “reality.” Or I can accept that my camera phone and I worked together to create this image–accept that neither of us are ever completely in control– and that this image has a beauty in it’s own right. This second take on the image is the New Aesthetic.

The best part about the new aesthetic is that there isn’t anything new about it. There is very little difference between when I take a photo with my camera phone and it turns out “right,” and when it doesn’t. However, the tension created when the image doesn’t match my preconceived notions only makes it more obvious that the camera always has a say in the matter. Every creation mediated by technology, which encompasses just about everything I can think of, including this blog post and the language I use to tell my wife I like her headband. All the new aesthetic does is allows us the chance to embrace the distributed quality of the creation among me and the phone and countless other factors (the windows that the light came through altered the light that was captured by the phone for instance) instead of dismissing it as error or failure.

I feel like there is power and beauty to be found in the act of humility required to move from saying that the image above is wrong to basically saying “it is what it is.” My camera phone didn’t fail to recreate reality because no camera ever actually recreates reality. Accepting this allows me to relinquish the delusions of control I have and start allowing myself to explore the possibilities available to me in a camera that creates these primary colored squares and swirls. I get to be surprised my our creation. Instead of upset that my own creation failed.

So, pedagogical implications… I feel like teaching a class is much the same way. If I think I am the one who is teaching my students and that they are learning solely because I stand in front of them and give them knowledge, I am deluded. I am one small part of their learning process. I need to allow myself to step back, get out of their way and stop tricking myself into thinking I am changing their lives. I am only there to help them figure out that they are capable of changing their own. And the sooner I recognize the distributed quality of their learning process, the sooner they can figure that out.

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How Do I Teach My Students How to Figure Out What a Sentence Is Doing?

The little moments I hate about teaching happen when I am trying to get my students to understand what I think is a fundamental principle of writing, and then, in my efforts to illustrate it, or have them learn it themselves, I realize that I have not only missed the mark, but I have no idea what I am talking about. Case in point: today I was teaching them about connecting sentences and making transitions. I had them play the game in groups where one person writes a sentence and then passes the paper, the next person writes the next sentence and then folds the paper down so that only their sentence is visible, and then passes it to the next person and so on. My thinking was that they would be able to focus on reading the sentence, coming up with what they wanted to say, and then using the best kind of transition to phrase the next sentence that would not only add more information but show how the information is connected. We did the activity; it was fun. One group wrote a story about a bear who gave himself the Heimlich maneuver with a rock and then he stubbed his toe on the rock and a fox stole his honey. Pretty funny. But at the end, I started to ask them questions like, “How can we apply this to our writing?” All I got back was vague answers like “Flow,” and “Make transitions.” So then I started to push them to elaborate. Still more empty answers, and not even much to build on. So I took over and explained what I was thinking. In order to make transitions, you have to first determine what the two sentences are doing and how they build on each other in order to choose the most appropriate way to transition. For example, These two sentences. “I am writing this blog to figure something out. I figure stuff out better by writing.” I would have to see that the first sentence is justifying an action, and the second is another justification. So the best way to “transition” between these sentences I would be better off combining the sentence or using “because,” “I am writing this blog to figure something out because I figure stuff out better by writing.” But then I can see that it’s not additional information, it’s a cause and effect relationship, but I couldn’t see that until I tried a transition. Then I realized that I have no idea how to “figure out what a sentence is doing.” The worst part is, most of the time I kept telling them, this is something that feels natural and we do it without thinking. So there I was up there telling them to think through something that they do naturally without thinking. But I didn’t know that yet. I knew the lesson had gone poorly, and that they got very little out of it (I didn’t get anything out of it either. In fact, I left more confused as you can see.) I wrote on my hand the title of this entry.Image

I was miffed that the lesson had gone poorly. I hated that I didn’t know how to teach what I wanted them to do. I am starting to be very aware that it was a stupid conceit for a lesson anyway. Teaching transitions by themselves is like asking a guitar player to practice moving from an F chord to an A chord. It just doesn’t make sense outside of the context of when you actually do it.

Long story short, I gave them crappy advice. I taught crappily.

It doesn’t help that I spent much of yesterday reading Hillocks Teaching Writing As a Reflective Practice and reading about awesome teachers like the McCabe guy he describes in Chapter one that just has the students teach themselves. I still have a long way to go.

The answer to the question in the title is, you don’t. Either they teach themselves, or it isn’t necessary.

First Entry

This blog looks sad, but you have to start somewhere.