Corporealizing Composition

Maybe by first focusing on the bodies in the classroom, specifically their roles and the spaces they inhabit, . . . .

The above thought is from a previous post about, as @tanyasasser tweeted it, “the teacher/student dichotomy,” in which I ponder the idea of “disrupting” myself as teacher in order to rejuvenate my teaching. Since writing that post, particularly the sentence above, I’ve been thinking more about the physical element of teaching and how the corporeal factors in to teaching and learning.

When I teach, I move around the room quite a bit and regularly bring students to the front to reinforce the fact that the entire room is all of our territory. My meandering “invasion” of the traditionally-perceived students’ space limits my use of the technology as it is set up in the classrooms (ipads for all faculty, please), but it  discourages off-task behaviors,  encourages interaction, and emphasizes my accessibility. Bringing students to the front reminds them that they have an audience, lets them “perform” for their audience, and makes them aware that they are integral to their and their classmates’ learning.

I’m also intrigued by the body language of my students, including facial expressions, so I pay close attention to this while we’re talking about certain topics and working on particular assignments.  Their physical reactions tell me what and how to adjust. I also notice that the way students dress influences the way they present themselves in class, specifically the way they sit in their desks and interact with me and their classmates. For instance, when students are dressed up for a presentation or mock interview in a business class or for a job interview, they sit up straight in their seats, they pay closer attention, and they participate more. This is, of course, a change more apparent in the students who do not normally display these behaviors. Indeed, they’re dressed like “one of us,” and as such, their role in the class as just a warm body quickly pivots to fellow professional. The clothes change the student. (By the way, I notice a similar change in the way my tutors in the writing center interact with the students and with me when they’re dressed up.) The influence of dress on attitude is so apparent that I’ve considered offering extra credit to students who come to class dressed up on discussion-intensive days.

The more I work with corporeal rhetoric in my dissertation, the more determined I am to “corporealize” my composition classes–not just in topic but in method. To be sure, writing is corporeal. We talk about body paragraphs. We equate essays to the body politic when we reinforce the fact that the effectiveness of the essay as a whole depends upon the effectiveness, indeed the harmony, of its individual parts. Moreover, there are certain aspects of writing that I want students to internalize and thus take with them as they move through their college classes. I’m convinced that the best way to accomplish this internalization is to make writing a truly physical experience.

Happy teaching!



2 responses

  1. Damian Finnegan | Reply

    Hi Melissa

    I must say I am delighted that you as an academic, a writier, and a thinker are so curious about what you do, how you do it, and with whom you do it. Your sense of passion is uplifting.

    Still, I am perplexed about your reference to “dressing up.” What exactly do you mean by “dressing up” and how exactly does this help students grasp the many new and difficult tasks and concepts to be found in compostion class?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Damian,

      Thank you so much for your comment and encouraging remarks.

      The “dressing up” comment is simply there to address the various ways that the body functions in the classroom and to thus emphasize the potential for corporeal approaches to teaching–to the possible importance of corporeality in pedagogy. From my experience, all the dressing up accomplishes is more attentive students, since it influences their behavior. This enhanced attention certainly has a positive influence on learning but wouldn’t necessarily influence students’ abilities to grasp the complexities of composition. There’s no direct correlation there; it’s just an observation relevant to my general interest in corporeal approaches to teaching and learning.

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