Believing in What I Have to Offer

Sunday, July 12, 2009.

Today, after reading Austin Kleon’s blog on entrepreneurism and sharing knowledge, I began to think about the kind of workshops I can offer area secondary schools when I begin my position at Angelo State University next month.

And this thinking led me to think about the workshop I’ll be offering later this month in Estes Park, Colorado at the YMCA of the Rockies Conference Center for a conference organized annually by the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning.

Casting in fast water
(Here I am flyfishing on the Roaring River during a break at the conference in 2007)

The theme for the conference is “The Believing Game as a Model for Thinking” and is based upon Peter Elbow‘s work and ideas.  According to Elbow, the believing game is

the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias; but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues. Often we cannot see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it (source).

the believing game is the disciplined practice of trying to be as welcoming or
accepting as possible to every idea we encounter: not just listening to views different from our
own and holding back from arguing with them; not just trying to restate them without bias;
but actually trying to believe them. We are using believing as a tool to scrutinize and test. But
2
instead of scrutinizing fashionable or widely accepted ideas for hidden flaws, the believing game
asks us to scrutinize unfashionable or even repellent ideas for hidden virtues. Often we cannot
see what’s good in someone else’s idea (or in our own!) till we work at believing it.

At the conference, I’ll be presenting a workshop titled “The Believing Body: Freedom and Faith in Reading” in which I introduce connections between reading metaphors and how readers develop belief in the value of reading.

In this workshop, I will lead participants in a reflective exercise on the metaphors we use to think and talk about our experiences in reading.  I will ask them to identify the metaphors they use and the metaphors available in texts I will supply.  I will conclude by asking them to consider how they might incorporate attention to reading metaphors in their teaching.

My research suggests that all metaphors for reading are grounded in a core metaphor “reading is movement” and that they can be organized into five categories: immersion, accumulation, manipulation, transportation, and transformation.  (Reminder: I need a graphic vocabulary for these metaphors!)   In other words, the metaphors we commonly use to conceptualize reading describe

  • how we move into texts—“ I lost myself in that novel.”,
  • how we move texts into us—“It was like I was devouring the novel whole.”,
  • how we move texts for our own purposes—“In this project, I will perform a gender analysis.”,
  • how texts move us to new experiences—“I felt like I was floating down the river right along with Huck and Jim.”, and
  • how texts move us to become new selves—“My life was completely changed by Thoreau’s Walden.”

In addition, if all reading metaphors are grounded in the “reading is movement” metaphor, freedom is also a central concept in reading; that is, if reading is movement, the freedom to choose what we read and the freedom to respond to texts as we wish are important expressions of and experiences in valuing reading.  The opposite, then, is also true.  If our choices in reading are limited or controlled by others, we do not and cannot practice the intellectual and emotional freedoms available in reading.

Young readers who may have developed powerful relationships with reading, often experience reading as oppressive and lose faith in reading in school when their choices and movements are dictated to them.  (When students claim they are “bored” by a text, they are describing a bodily experience: physical oppression; that is, they feel “drilled” by the experience.)  However, a reader’s faith in reading grows and strengthens when reading is experienced as free movement.  In these cases, readers know reading intuitively as the conceptual embodiment of freedom and faith.  They believe it in their bodies.

Given the ideas Austin commented upon in his blog and the kinds of presentations I’ve given in the past, I believe that this workshop will have value to area secondary school teachers when I move to Texas.

More to the point, I can see myself dividing this workshop into two expanded workshops.

Picturing Reading Relationships: The first workshop would be designed for English teachers who have students who struggle with reading.  It would focus on helping students use drawing to understand the relationships they have with reading.  Then I would introduce 9 reading response strategies that can help students build more productive relationships with reading.

Metaphors We Read By: The second workshop would be designed for secondary teachers across the curriculum who have students who struggle with reading.  It would introduce the five basic metaphors for productive reading (and their opposites) and then provide strategies for helping students use drawing to respond to texts more productively.

I will think more on this and develop a brochure to send to area schools, as well as, a page on my academic website that describes these offerings I believe will find good audiences in Texas.