Ashley Humphries Dr. Wells Guided Study July 17, 2013 Nonsense Ashley Humphries, of number thirty-nine oh-four, Blairstone Road, “was proud to say that [she] was perfectly normal, thank you very much. [She was] the last person you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because [she] just didn’t hold with such nonsense” (Rowling 1).
I wish I could say that my story of literary conversion was a simple one where I dropped on my knees, pledged faith to Shakespeare, and cried newly enlightened tears onto my parchment and fountain pen. Sadly, this revelation did not happen (I don’t even like Shakespeare), although if it did it would be a lot easier and simpler for me to understand why and how I write. This narrative exploration serves more as a conjecture of my history with writing and less of me confessing my self-actualized, self-aware story of why I came to love the study of writing. A short, simple story about my literary journey would be: I came. I read. I _______. When I was little, I didn't really like reading and considered, rightly so, writing to be an extension of that. I was "perfectly normal" (Rowling 1); I didn't find pleasure in reading. It wasn't until I heard about the Harry Potter series, and my mom brought home the first book. Every night, we sat in my mother's bed and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, often staying up considerably past my bedtime. "One more chapter. One more chapter." was our mantra while reading. We continued this pattern until we read through all that had been published at the time and eagerly waited the next publication and the next. My mother and I would pre-order the
books and see the movies. Our ritual became an obsession. Our obsession became absurdity, "strange and mysterious" (Rowling 1). Our "nonsens(ical)" obsession not only brought us closer, but also started what would be a very fruitful and yet tenuous relationship with reading for me (Rowling 1). Though, I learned to love reading through this text. I literally grew up with the series, so I held (and sometimes still do) everything I read to this standard: Do I love this as much and do I find this text as engaging as Harry Potter? More often than not, the answer was no. I didn't know this at the time, but I would later try to transfer my love of reading Harry Potter to other texts. Transfer is "when something learned in one situation gets carried over to another" (Perkins and Salomon, "The Science and Art of Transfer"). In this case, the learned behavior was enjoyment and excitement in reading; it was not a successful transfer from a domestic, internal setting to an external, academic environment. Maybe this transfer wasn't successful because I didn't have someone to tell me that academic reading could be fun or interesting too; no one "hugged" ("...to make the learning situation more like [original] situation...") the two, leisure and work, topics together for me (Perkins and Salomon, "The Science and Art of Transfer"). Thus, this employed "The Bo Peep Theory of Transfer" and it was assumed that I would just simply make this transfer on my own (Perkins and Salomon, "The Science and Art of Transfer"). However, there were other skills that I successfully transferred later on my own. When reading the series, my mother and I would try to guess what would happen next (given the context and clues of a certain point in the story), consider the themes, and would try to figure out what made the story so compelling. This was highly useful
much later when I moved from leisure reading to reading and writing in a more academic space. (As I said before, my love of reading didn't transfer to a new context at that time.) Because the contexts were so similar, the type of transfer I employed is called low road transfer. "Low road transfer reflects the automatic triggering of wellpracticed routines in circumstances where there is considerable perceptual similarity to the original learning context" (Perkins and Salomon, "Teaching for Transfer" 29). I used the same skills in a new "learning context" as I did when I was a young girl, curled up beside her mother engaging with Harry Potter in a domestic setting. How The End of the Beginning Began
During my sophomore year, I excelled in my English class. I was in the
International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and each student was required to do a project in order to advance from an internal program called Middle Years Program (MYP) to IB. I voluntarily took on a huge writing project (45 or so pages) instead a simple research project that most faculty encouraged and most students did. While most of the other students were using Elmer's and poster board to present their project, my friend and I co-wrote a small novel and got it spiral bound. I remember being so proud that we took on such a huge task. Some called us overachievers. At this time, I had high self-efficacy and an internal locus of control; this means that I believed I had both the ability and knowledge to complete my work well and that I controlled how well I did. It was not luck, chance, or the professor who decided my grade; I decided that by how hard I worked. I also took "active control of [my] writing", a direct symptom of an internal locus of control (McCarthy et al. 467). I was in a really good place, mentally and emotionally, with my writing, but of course, this narrative wouldn't be fun if there wasn't conflict.
Naturally, I went into my junior year of high school with a lot of confidence in the
English field, and that was very quickly shot down. The interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking assignments from my sophomore year were ghosts of the past. My junior year, we began tackling academic paper writing. We read things such as Christ Stopped at Eboli, Metamorphosis, The Stranger, and The Heart of Darkness, and we had to draw connections, look deeper into the text, etc. My interest level plummeted, and I simply saw every assignment as just one more hoop to jump through. I transferred my skills of examining a text from Harry Potter, but my writing itself took a turn for the worst. It was so rigid, so formulaic. I closed off my writing by self-imposing (or maybe not exclusively self) "rules" about writing. (I believe we talked about this in several articles across both pedagogy courses. Luckily, my internship mentor seems hell bent on breaking every one of them for his students.)
Towards the end of the semester, I wrote a draft for a heavily-weighted paper that
compared the intertextuality of two novels we read during the course, and I took it to my sophomore English teacher for some feedback. She told me that it was so bad--so different from my writing just a few months earlier--so stifled compared to the things she'd read before--that she wouldn't have known it was mine had I not put my name on it. How earth shattering this comment was to me, not because it was harsh, but because I knew she was right. In fact, I appreciated her comment. I never blamed my sophomore English teacher for that critical review of my paper because I knew she only told me the very thing that I was afraid to tell myself.
Before and after that dreaded paper, junior year of high school was truly the Dark
Ages of my literacy career. I lost all of my enthusiasm and zest for the field as a whole.
My writing became something to just get through a class and meet a deadline, not the writing that I had come to love. I didn't write creatively anymore after that. (I frequented forums and blogs.) If there was any hope of me going into English as a field, it was destroyed after this class. I stopped doing all of it. I hated the writing assignments, and I associated the topic with dull literature and an odd teacher who "killed the dream I dreamed" (Hathaway).
If I had to color code the major sections of my literary career--assuming that
junior year was still the Dark Ages, my sophomore year would be the Gilded Age, and my senior year would be the Gray Ages. I became apathetic to English, to the assignments, to the teachers. I don't even remember my senior English teacher's name. Out of shear laziness and apathy, I choose not to write the second essay on the AP English exam.
I was at an all-time low. I had low self-efficacy; I "[knew] what [was] expected in
an effective piece of writing...[and I knew] the steps necessary to produce...[I simply] lack[ed] the belief that [I could] achieve the desired outcome..." (McCarthy et al. 466). I would talk about my locus of control, however, I don't think I cared enough about the subject to develop a sense of that. I reverted back to the days before reading Harry Potter. In the words of J.K. Rowling, if "nonsense" was English, I "was perfectly normal, thank you very much" (1). The Beginning of the End
Freshman year of college--this is where everything turned around in the English
universe for me. I had a professor in a basic composition class who gave me challenging, upbeat, thought-provoking writing assignments that were different from
anything that I had ever written or seen. She brought in popular culture, social media, and the environment around me to get me writing. The professor assigned the class a paper in which we were supposed to look at our own profile pictures on Facebook and determine what that objectively said about us. That course was really a shocking experience; I had no idea you could write about and even research this sort of thing!
If I wanted to push the boundaries of a prompt, she let me do it. She was willing
for me to come and get extra commentary on my papers before they were due. She would give me direction and hope and criticism that molded the way I write, probably even today. I engaged actively with my writing as I had done my sophomore year of high school. This was exactly the side of composition that I loved in high school; we were talking about things that were newer and more relevant to me. I was reunited once more with Writing; since then, we haven't been separated and our mutual love has only grown. I became empowered again through writing, seeing it as a challenge. English--it was so hit or miss--so dangerous and subjective, and I loved it once more. Beginnings Turn into Endings I come from a single parent home, well, it was a single parent home for the majority of my "sensitive" years. So, it was just my mother and I. She always stressed to me how important it was to be open and communicative with her. My mother wanted to be close to me, and she saw communication as the method of doing just that. Frequently during bath times, she'd make me promise to tell her things about my life when I was older, like life markers. I'd promise, of course, selling my secrets from a bathtub of bubbles before I really knew what that would mean for me later. I've kept my promises, and my mom and I are very open and close. Maybe this is where my love of
communication comes from--effective, smooth, direct communication. Maybe this is the reason that English Professional Writing seemed like a natural field for me to enter into. This experience was then the reason I wanted to enter the Rhetoric and Composition field. Before now, I haven't bothered myself to think about why I like the literature that I do in my spare time or why I like communication; I'm not very metacognitive. To explain that a little further, metacognition is basically thinking about the processes of thinking (Schunk 186). Metacognition is partly about being aware--key word--of the choices you make, the things you do, and why you do them. It is extremely helpful when considering how you can improve your writing, your processes, or even the way you approach a critical thinking situation. Even now, I'm still learning to be aware of my own processes. I'm extremely aware that I have a lot to learn about every aspect of the English field, and as I move into my first semester as an English graduate student, I've realized that whether I like it or not I'm fully ensconced in the absurdity that is English. I guess in a cheezy way, English is my magical, "nonsens[ical]" wizarding world.
Works Cited Hathaway, Anne. "I Dreamed a Dream." Les Miserables. Dir. Tom Hooper. Perf. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe. Universal Pictures, 2012. Film. McCarthy, Patricia, Scott Meier, and Regina Rinderer. "Self-Efficacy and Writing: A Different View of Self-Evaluation." College Composition and Communication 36.4 (1985): 466-67. PDF. Perkins, D.N., and Gabriel Saloman. “The Science and Art of Transfer.” N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2013. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1999. Print. Schunk, Dale. "Cognitive Learning Processes." Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. 5th ed. Pearson: New Jersey, n.d. PDF.