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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

limping along

I got a late start (again) today, finally managed to limp into Coffeed, began pulling things out of my pack--and realized I'd left the novel at home. I have three copies of the damned thing, and I didn't remember to put even one of them into the pack. Oh argh. I hate to admit it, but I actually made use of one of the (badly reproduced) PDFs of the novel available online. The PDFs are riddled with errors (and Ursula says trying to get them off the net is like Whack-a-Mole)--but in this instance, it did help. I also considered decamping to the library, where I could certainly find a copy of the book to use (or I'd hope so, any way), but I was comfy and wanted my tea.

I also got a brilliant response from Ursula yesterday, in response to my questions about some of the teensy details in the novel that I wasn't sure about. I reproduce it verbatim:

While you teach these kids to read this book, you are teaching them to read books. . .  not to snag at everything they don’t understand, but to sail on, and have confidence that it will make sense.  Right?   It’s exactly what I had to learn when reading in a language I was still learning:  At some point, you set the dictionary aside and just sail on through, understanding MOST of it.  And as I write about it, I’m thinking, isn’t this exactly what babies do, what little kids do, how learning works? — you make do with what you have, and sail on as if you understood the rest. . . .  And the point comes when you DO understand [how to walk across the room without falling over] [how to keep Jimmy from hitting you] [that parts of novels may be there not to represent but to suggest something]  Right? 

Of course, she's absolutely right. I responded to her, saying that I'm perpetually trying to find the "Goldilocks zone" in my pedagogy: the balance between giving student enough support that they'll stay (in edu-speak, I'm aiming for "persistence and retention") and making sure they actually do learn "sail on, and have confidence that it will make sense." I have my theories for why students don't have that confidence, and why it's so incredibly difficult to instill. It's easy to blame the testing system: students are tested, told they screwed up, and then just hustled along to the next test, without ever being able to go back and grasp the stuff they didn't get. In addition, as I said in a post much earlier this year, they think education means having a widget of information that they can plug into the correct slot: education as factory work, not actual intellectual exercise.

And reading--real reading, of real material, for real purposes--requires intellectual exercise. Freak out! Panic in the streets! Squirrels under the trees, shy and spook and buck!

So what I've spent most of the time working on today is not so much moving forward with the glossary but working within it, adding notes about how to understand some kinds of information and why other kinds of information are vague and/or missing--and eliminating the places where I was reinventing the wheel. (Le Guin provided an explanation of the Gethenian calendar and clock: why am I pulling the information out of it for my glossary instead of just referring students to what's already there?)

I could get on my own case about not being productive enough, but my mood has been very up-and-down of late, so the fact that I worked at all today is sufficient. I'll get as far as I get in whatever time I have--and I'll do my best to focus on the absolute blessing that this sabbatical has been and is, and will be for a while yet. It ain't over 'til it's over. I don't hear any fat ladies singing just yet. So, on we go. Pick your favorite "tomorrow" quotation.

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