Teaching and Learning at Midterm: Free Empathy (Meditation 2)

0 0 656

This post is a continuation of Teaching and Learning at Midterm: Free Empathy (Meditation 1)

Second Meditation: On Creativity and Slow Grading

This semester, the graduate students enrolled in my Practicum course have initiated many thoughtful discussions on the role of creativity in teaching basic writing and learning to write for academic audiences and purposes. For a practitioner/inquiry project devoted to this theme, a participant in practicum developed and guest-taught a lesson for my students enrolled in Stretch. The lesson included a performance by Evelyn Glennie, whose TED Talk “How to Truly Listen” has been a significant touchstone for our writing project.

After we listened to Glennie perform Steve Reich’s "Clapping Music,” our guest-teacher asked us to write in response. In my own graduate school training, we were encouraged to write with students, to experience the challenges of process and product writers ourselves. I rarely write poetry anymore, but this poem emerged as an attempt to gain understanding and empathy for struggles with neuro-diversity. I presented the poem to students as an introduction to my frustrations with slow grading.

Organized Chaos (after Evelyn Glennie's performance of Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music”)

Flow-- breathing in flow--
and sound evolving from the tips of fingers
and the sound beating of a heart

(My brain these days
My sewing in odd moments)

Organized chaos

(Needle pushing through cotton
Quilting pieces
layering cotton over rayon over cool polyester)

creating new offerings from old notes
trying and trying again
organized chaos
the sound of flow

Right now, my brain is moving in pieces and fragments that need quilting together. Glennie's work reminds me of this, of Difference as asset and not deficit. She reminds me how and why art is created. She reminds me of the need to create art, and to remember writing as art and quilting as art, the seaming together of disparate pieces to create larger wholes. I used to write a lot of poetry. Now I write in many forms. Powerpoints are quilts and quilts are 1000-page books of short stories and essays. In my mind, through the tips of my fingers, I clap with Glennie. Organized chaos. I flow.

147922_pastedImage_2.jpgThe practice of Free Empathy comes with its own challenges. For example, I need to constantly check long-held teaching practices and processes for relevance in current contexts. Often this checking happens in the moment, as new and unexpected conundrums arise. But as we move through midterm into the final weeks of the course,  Free Empathy offers the most consistent lesson plan I know for changing times.


About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.