The Porous Classroom

I find myself thinking about how the flexible pedagogy of a 200-minute, 4-credit class might offer opportunities beyond the flipped classroom or the Freirean teacher-student, both things we can achieve anyway with oral presentations and other measures that allow our students to claim expert status. Similarly, online activity – blogs, wikis, e-seminars – might form part of any course. What makes our 200-minutes different?

I’m trying to forge (forage?) an answer by thinking of ways that 200-minute class might be experienced as porous. Perhaps it’s just that everyone in Newton has been teaching with their doors open in this heat; scraps of economic theory, political science, and Barthesian structuralism escaping into the corridors and out to campus.

Practically, for me, this means finding ways to not only create the expectation that conversations – rigorous, intellectual conversations – will continue beyond our meetings (that’s a sine qua non of a literature or creative writing class, no?); it means creating structures that allow such conversations to happen, whether physical or virtual. And for them to happen, they must somehow be registered within the classroom space (in classrooms and beyond).

In wrestling with how to explain to students that their class schedule is different from, I’ve found myself explaining why collaborative annotated texts, letters written from one poet to another, and collectively-authored blogs should form part of the 200-minutes we spend together, if not all together (or altogether). And I’m hoping that these structures will lead to the students developing others, too: their own blogs, group work on literary texts as a way to study, meetings over coffee about poems and poets. I then have to find a way to incorporate those developments in the classroom: the world escaping inside.

That’s the theory, at least! Looking forward to hearing if others have similar intentions/experiences, and to hearing about other uses of time – around the corridors I’ve picked up on various ideas of flexible work (different activities each day) and focussed student attention that I’m keen to hear about and try out.


One Reply to “The Porous Classroom”

  1. After reading this when Lytton first posted it, I’ve found myself repeating the word “porous” over and over again (not to mention its various iterations: “porousness,” “porosity,” “porously,” etc.) like a mantra, enjoying how it feels fluid and slippery, dangerous even. None of these are terms I usually associate with traditional learning spaces, kept separate by their distinct syllabi and professorhood, let alone physical architecture. Still, the mantra.

    Paul and I recently talked about Gerald Graff’s concept of “coursocentrism” and its take that courses in Higher Ed are often taught as if they exist in isolation. Students must feel this isolation most intimately, for whom echoes of readings and discussions across courses harmonize from day to day and week to week and semester to semester, yet any interconnections they discover are relegated to be souvenirs of circumstance as we don’t often ask students to craft connections they see across courses into anything meaningful. Besides, there is rarely opportunity for them to do so even if they were inspired to.

    I’ve been occasionally peeking in on the discussions taking place on several blogs on, namely the Reader & Text and Contemporary Poem groups, and I’ve been thrilled by what is happening there. These are truly porous zones; students’ posts pile atop one another, the ideas about literature and writing they contain seeping into one another in interesting ways.

    Today when I peeked in, I was thrilled to see a student who is enrolled in both Lytton’s Poetry Workshop and my section of 202 (Reading as a Writer: Lyric Essay) using Lytton’s Contemporary Poetry blog to give shape to the conversation she sees these two courses engaged in. In her blog post, she’s thinking about the lines we discuss in both courses, and the ambiguity between them: the line as cipher of poetic expression and the line that distinguishes poetry and lyric essay as separate genres, respectively. She is navigating her inquiry through a space that neither Lytton and I are “coursocentrically” authorities over (thanks to Lytton’s intention to have the Contemporary Poetry blog operate that way), adding to her learning in both courses through her ability to consider them within the context of the other, two courses that are no longer in isolation for her, but rather speaking to one another, and urgently so. The blog is allowing her to think through that urgency, to voice questions and ask for responses to issues she might not be able to without it.

    I have to think the blog spaces on the English department website are ideal for this kind of interchange of ideas across courses, and I’m excited to think that one of my students has a forum for synthesizing the perspectives on writing she is exposed to and has taken advantage of a space that encourages her to do so, a venue flexible enough to draw out a meaningful dialogue where one might not otherwise exist, and in doing so, will hopefully draw other students into her conversation, making her experience porous for others.

    I’m excited to imagine how courses that have overlap in theory or practice—whether literature or creative writing—might encourage students to “speak” to each other across sections through required interactions on the blog. I could see professors working together in the future to use blogs as means for cross-course/disciplinary collaboration that encourage our students to make sense of the resonances they hear among their courses. Maybe blogs that link certain courses are a practical way the four-credit course can actively incorporate porousness, to see what students and professors alike can discover in that space.

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