Category Archives: student blogs

Day 2: Using Memoirs as My Muse

Today’s #writreat Tweet prompt, which asked us to post a quote about writing, was actually a huge help in getting me inspired to start my project for this retreat. I chose to share this quote from Frank McCourt’s memoir ‘Tis because it speaks to how powerful each individual’s life stories are, even if they don’t always realize they have something worthwhile to share. 

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder whether my voice matters in academic conversations about the education system because I’m relatively inexperienced (both in my profession and in life in general), so the above passage was a good reminder that every person—even (or perhaps especially) those who aren’t traditional, established academics—has a wealth of unique, diverse experiences that is worth exploring through writing.

Finding this quote was also a useful exercise because it forced me to review two of my favorite memoirs: ‘Tis and Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (and, if you’re taking my memoir recommendations, you should check out Angela’s Ashes, too). As soon as I read today’s prompt, I knew the exact passage I wanted to share, so I flipped through both books, searching for this specific scene. As I skimmed the pages, I remembered why I fell in love with McCourt’s honest, poignant, and hilarious writing style, and I started to get a sense of what I want my own texts to look like.

My plan during the retreat is to write about my own teaching experiences during some very turbulent times, and, although I know that whatever I produce will never be able to match McCourt’s distinctive voice, I’ll definitely take inspiration from his brutally honest recollections of the frustration, uncertainty, and vulnerability that comes with teaching high schoolers. 

The discussion our group had in breakout rooms this afternoon also helped me start to solidify a plan for the rest of the retreat. I’m going to take Dr. Zamora’s advice and select a few specific moments from my (very long) list of challenging, surprising, funny, and uncomfortable teaching moments to expand on in short vignettes. Hopefully, writing a few distinct short stories will help me gain a better understanding of my feelings toward and my place in the education system. 

Day 1: Reflections and Vague Plans for Moving Forward

Day one is done, and I’m starting to get more of an idea of how I want to move forward with my writing projects for the remainder of the retreat. The day’s activities have been productive; hearing everybody’s diverse experiences and goals for the retreat has me reflecting more on what unique perspectives I can bring to the table, and taking a quick morning walk gave me time to get into a more creative headspace.

I’ve spent the afternoon attempting to make some concrete plans and goals for the retreat, but I have to be honest: I’ve never been much of a planner, especially when it comes to writing. I’m the type of person who likes to go with the flow, writing in random flurries of productivity when inspiration strikes, so I’m having a tough time mapping out a realistic timeline for myself. 

However, I’m starting to get a general idea of what I want to explore during this retreat. On Friday, I finished up my second year as a full time high school Spanish teacher. As you can imagine, both my first and second years of teaching were filled with unexpected professional challenges as I attempted not only to learn the ropes of teaching in a new school (and a new state; I’m originally from PA), but also to navigate the confusing world of hybrid and remote learning during the pandemic. For this retreat, then, I think it will be worthwhile for me to reflect on my experiences with teaching in such unprecedented times and dig deeper into how this experience has affected my views of myself, the education system, and our society as a whole. 

In our Research and Methods course last semester, I started toying with the idea of studying hybrid learning during the pandemic by interviewing educators to hear about their experiences. If I do choose to continue down that path, I think that writing about my own experiences during this retreat could be a great way for me to get my thoughts about hybrid and remote learning in order before I start conducting any formal research. Reflecting on how I dealt with the pandemic in my classroom could help me hone in on which aspects of remote or hybrid learning I’d like to explore, which would in turn allow me to form distinct and specific questions that I could ask when interviewing participants for my thesis.

Even if I don’t end up using the writing produced in this retreat for my thesis, I still think it would be valuable for me to organize my thoughts on teaching these past two years so that I can better understand the field of education and decide how I want to move forward with my career. 

Rounding 3rd

I cant believe the journey has all but come to an end. While I still have some work to do on my thesis, I am happy with the way that it’s is turning out. As all of you are aware at this point, I am a bit guarded and protective over my work, especially when it is something that is creative. It took my a while to get my footing and to get in the groove on this project, but as I have gone back to read where my progress stands, I am really excited to share it with Dr. Zamora and the rest of my classmates, as they have all been around to support me from the inception of not only this project, but my time in the program as well. Now, it’s just about finishing what is infront of me and moving on to bigger and better things, as I’m sure is the case for all of us. Hang in there guys, it’s the last week!

Not much to say

Thesis is going fine, still working through it. The last couple weeks have been rough. I was dealing with my own personal family stuff (all resolved, no need to worry!). However, over this past weekend, there was an unfortunate and tragic accident that involved people I care about. My enthusiasm for this project and anything in general at this point is almost non existent. I guess perspective does that to a person. I’ll see you all tonight.

Final Reflections…

Oh boy, say it ain’t so! I can’t believe this will be the final blog post of my academic career. I can vividly remember the dread I felt when I first learned we had to create our own blogs. I was certain I couldn’t do it. Convinced I was too old and that this old broad could never learn new tricks. But I was mistaken. Not only did I create multiple blog sites of my own, I also learned how to use Twitter and other important social media platforms, that helped showcase my various writings and musings. It’s been a wonderful and enriching experience. I plan to continue on in creating my very own website and my own blog after our thesis journey comes to an end. I’ve been inspired by all of you and everything we have learned together over the course of these last two years in the Writing Studies program.

I wanted to thank you all for laughing with me, crying with me, listening to me and most of all, for believing in me and my story. I couldn’t imagine going through this wild ride with anyone else. We all came into this program from different walks of life. and at crucial parts of our life’s journey. Now that I look back at our time together and all that we have shared, I realize we are all a lot more alike then we are different. Through our story telling, earnest reflections, open class discussions, and feedback. Even just the casual talk among friends and classmates about life, it became clear to me, that we’re all flawed human beings, carrying a burden of our untold stories within us all. And I swear I mean that in the most beautiful way possible. We’re all broken beings, myself included, and yet we came together at exactly the same time, the right time, the precise time, to meet and have all our compelling stories and lives collide.

As far as The Seashell I’ve made great progress. I was stalled out at times. I felt like a car that just wouldn’t start. It was like my old yet reliable 1999 Honda Civic. My very first car, that stalled out only twice, in over twenty years that I had it. It was old but reliable and it got me to where I needed to go. So having said that I know that regardless of how many times I may lose some steam and stall out, I will continue to push through to the very end. I will indeed get to where I need to be. I’m not finished yet, my story is still unfolding. It’s yearning to be told, and I’m eager to tell it. I know that when I finally submit the final product I will be pleased. It will also be a relief, a emotional cleanse and catharsis. It’s been unsettling at times, having to relive past hurt, pain and shame. It’s even harder when you choose to include your own flawed and fractured family in the telling of a already difficult and harrowing story.

This has been a highly sensitive journey, for a overly sensitive girl like me. But I know that the little, sweet, quiet Nives, or Nivey as my parents affectionately would call me. I know that the little girl who was confused by what was haunting her as a child, the young adult who was riddled with panic and unrelenting fears, and now today, the grown woman who is still cautiously walking her way through the fire, all of them, all facets and parts of me would be proud. Humbled and in awe of how far I have come and all the work I’ve done to get to this very moment in time. I remember days when I felt like I had fallen into a deep, dark well. I was at the very bottom, looking up, no rope to climb, no rocky ridges to help hoist myself to safety. Nobody was there to help me, I was all alone. I was just stuck, at the murky, lifeless bottom. But if I close my eyes tight enough and exhale long enough, as hopeless as my days and nights had been, I can always remember seeing even the slightest bit of light, shining down on me, from the very top of this dark, and dreary well. I’m thankful and blessed that I could always see at least some of the light.

Big virtual hugs and kisses to you all! I’m so very excited to walk with you all at graduation, even if its six feet apart. I’ll take it! We deserve it damn it! I’m counting down the days I get to cheer you on, as you each take that proud walk across the stage! WE DID IT! THANK YOU for trusting me with your tears, your fears, your laughs and most of all with your heartfelt stories. I will take what I learned from each of you with me, forever, throughout my next journey. I love and respect you all. BRAVO for all your hard work and dedication. Xo.

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“Just write it for you…”

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Sage advice from a dear friend. These last few weeks I’ve been very open and honest about the wall I’ve hit in my writing journey. I’m not exactly sure why? Maybe I’m trying to prolong the inevitable? That this journey will soon be coming to an end (oh, vey!). Maybe to try and stop my story from being told? I don’t have the answers, but I know that, this sound advice from my friend: “Just write it for you…” came at the most perfect time. Before the panic and the dread of having to complete my story within the next two weeks set in. Or before I had a total meltdown or existential crisis (whichever came first) that would hinder my writing. This simple sentiment was impactful and spurred me into the direction I needed to go in to reach the completion of my thesis. Sometimes a simple word from a friend, that may seem benign, is all the inspiration you need to just keep going. I would be nothing without my support system. I thank God for them everyday. Having said that, below I attached images of The Seashell. My idea was to make it look as much as an actual book as I possibly can. Below I included the cover, a dedication, a important quote that I believe speaks to my overall story and finally the Table of Contents, the parenthesis will be removed soon. I will also include an Acknowledgements page at the end, which I’m currently working on. Thanks again for all the encouragement along the way guys! I’m so very proud of each and every one of us! Xo.

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The Practicality of Discourse Analysis

This week’s reading, “When Students Want to Stand Out: Discourse Moves in Online Classroom Discussion That Reflect Students’ Needs for Distinctiveness” by Li-Tang Yu et al., is cementing my appreciation for discourse analysis as a methodology. The study sought to discover how students’ desire to be “unique” affects their participation in online class discussions. The authors describe each student’s contributions in detail, explaining which students initiated discussions, “killed” threads, made social vs. cognitive comments, etc. Ultimately, the researchers found “no relationship between need for uniqueness and amount of contribution to the discussion.” (Yu et al. 9). 

I genuinely enjoyed reading this article. Admittedly, a lot of the academic theories about different types of identity and “uniqueness-seeking needs” went over my head, but after taking and teaching online classes both pre- and mid-pandemic, I definitely understand the dynamics of an online discussion board. The authors demonstrate their understanding of these dynamics through thorough, detailed descriptions of each student’s contributions. 

These descriptions turn the participants into a cast of stereotypical classroom characters that remind me of people I’ve taken classes with previously. I could picture Nelson, whose comments are described as “dogmatic or monologic” (5), as that one guy who takes the class way too seriously and ends up mansplaining things in a pompous and overly academic tone. (I’m not the only one who’s had classes with a Nelson before, right?) I could also picture Dee, who made many “playful” comments and used emoticons, as a bubbly cheerleader who applauds other students’ ideas and boosts their self esteem (8).

Not only do the authors clearly describe all of the unique contributions to the online discussions, but they also analyze the discourse moves in students’ comments. Yu et al. coded the comments into social or cognitive categories, such as “straightforward information exchange,” “discussion of complexity,” and “agreement or appreciation” (5). Honestly, the process of coding all of that data seems like it would be a fun intellectual challenge, and part of me wants to change the methodology for my thesis from phenomenology to discourse analysis so I can meticulously scan my own data line by line to find out what “discourse moves” my participants make. 

Really, the only thing stopping me from pursuing discourse analysis in my own research is that I’m still struggling to understand its practicality for the field of education. At the end of this study, Yu et al. ultimately conclude that “need for uniqueness” doesn’t affect how engaged students are in the discussion or how much they enjoy the course. So, what’s the point? The study didn’t discover anything new. I guess you could argue that negative results are still results because they can disprove assumptions, but I can’t say I ever assumed that “need for uniqueness” would have any effect on student engagement, so I’m not sure why there needed to be a study about it. 

I enjoyed reading this article because, as someone studying English Writing and teaching Spanish, I’m obviously pretty interested in language and discourse. But I can’t see how this study is useful beyond being a sort of interesting read. What could a teacher realistically do with this information in practice? This study (and the methodology in general) feels very academic and far removed from everyday practice to me. I want the practical implications of my own research to be immediately apparent, so as much as I like discourse analysis, I’ll be sticking with phenomenology for my thesis.

Finding Inspiration In Unlikely Places…

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If I’m being completely honest and transparent, which I believe is a very important element of our thesis work, I must say I’ve hit a writing wall, or an emotional wall this week. I had to take a step back from my work. Why you ask? Hmm? Good question! I’m not sure I have the answer. I just know every time I put my fingers to the keyboard keys, it was crickets. I just couldn’t type. It was as if some imaginary being was pulling my hands back, preventing me from typing. Silence, deafening silence is all I heard. I tried to change my settings and scenery by heading off to my local Starbucks and B&N. It helped in that I was able to create a cover for my memoir, I inserted the table of contents, I also put a dedication in my memoir as well as a special quote that one can read before starting my story. I must say seeing The Seashell start to look like a actual book, rather than just some stark, white, google doc pages, gave me the chills. The good kind! It started to, for the very first time in over a year, started to look like a actual book, a publishable book. I don’t talk about it often, maybe because my negative inner dialogue stops me: “Nives, this is great work, but not good enough to ever get published.” This negative, self defeating sentiment seems to be stuck on repeat in my mind. But the truth is, what I don’t speak into existence, but speaks to my heart almost daily, is the fact that I dream and ache of the day my memoir gets published. I just pray as our journey together comes to an end soon, that I start to believe in my own work, and start to explore the possibility that my memoir, my story, is in fact good enough, that I’m good enough as is. If I’ve learned anything throughout my graduate school voyage, it’s that I need to learn how to have, even if it’s just a little bit, I need to learn to have a little bit more of FAITH!

So you’re probably wondering what the above image is and why it’s in my blog post. Let me explain. This past weekend after finding myself in a writing rut, I needed an escape. Something to shake up all my senses. So I ventured off to NYC with a friend and went to of all places: The Museum of Sex! Ha! (My poor Catholic school nuns are cringing I know!) You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me!? But it was exactly what I needed, without even realizing how much I needed it. I had heard about this museum over the years, and I was always curious. Sure it had it’s raunchy and over the top elements just as I had suspected. But it also had some really thought provoking and provocative exhibits, that made me appreciate the evolution and the deeper meaning of what sex, and sexuality is really all about. Again, you’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with my memoir or thesis, so here goes. One of the featured exhibits was a ode to Betty Dodson who recently passed at the age of 91 in 2020. She was an American sex educator, artist, and a pioneer in the pro sex feminist movement of the late 60’s. I was surrounded by all her colorful and explicit artwork, some of which I must admit made me blush. And as I explored further with one eye closed, I came upon her own very own memoirs!

I was excited to see that this dynamic woman had in fact written not one, but two memoirs. Betty Dodson’s memoir: From Monogamous Wife to Sexual Explorer to Feminist Revolutionary and My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir is the story of one woman’s struggle to liberate female sexuality while enjoying her own. In the 70s, as the feminist movement evolved, focusing on various platform issues including equal pay and voter registration, Betty latched on to sexual liberation as a symbol for self empowerment. She quickly became the leader of the sex-positive feminist movement. And the rest is history. This was inspiring work! Although my thesis isn’t sex related, there is a chapter about how I lost my virginity, fell deeply in love and lost my way in life due to the intoxicating and toxic first love I experienced as a teenager and young adult. So I guess in many ways, sex does play a crucial role in my story, and the direction my life ultimately went in. I thank feminists leaders and icons like Betty for their bravery and the courage to speak out about women’s issues. Especially delicate ones such as sexuality, pleasure and sex. If it wasn’t for women like Betty, my own story may have never been told. Xo.

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Thesis Update 4/13

I have been making some really good progress on my story and am excited to be reaching the end.  I am finished with most of it, and I look forward to keeping my progress going in the right direction.  I said last week that next friday is when I hope to be done with the work completely, and I still feel as though that is a viable option.  Moving forward, something I hope Dr. Zamora can touch upon this week is what it is we need to be submitting with our work.  Proposal?  Annotated Bibliography?  As well as what date she is aiming for as far as final submissions go.  Those are all the thoughts that I have this week.  See everyone in class!