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June 18, 2012, 9:00 am-12:00 pm
Facilitator: Professor Doris Sommer, Harvard University
Rapporteur: Alison Hicks, University of Colorado, Boulder
What do you associate with the word clown? Perhaps it’s circus, buffoon, Auguste, Pierrot, traffic cop or a red nose. Wait, traffic cop? For Colombians, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. As mayor of Bogotá from 1995-1997, Antanas Mockus sacked the corrupt traffic police and replaced them with clowns in an attempt to use theatrical displays to “gain people’s attention and, then, to make them think.” Traffic fatalities dropped 50% and Mockus now serves as inspiration for Harvard University’s Cultural Agents project that aims to build society through the arts and humanities. PRE-texts is one of the associated Cultural Agent projects that focus on using the humanities as a tool for civic engagement. Run by Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish at Harvard University, the project provides workshops aimed at engaging even the most reluctant readers, as well as training for teachers and artists. The workshops draw on new and longstanding Latin American cultural traditions such as cartonera or cordel literature to “develop…avid and creative readers by using classic literature as an excuse for making art.”
25 SALALM participants signed up for the three hour workshop with Professor Sommer, eager to experience and engage with the techniques and process that combine textual analysis with bookmaking, drawing, performing and writing. Working from the premise that all literature is recycled (Borges himself remarked that a written text is one of 10,000 options), Professor Sommer facilitated a collaborative process to help us pull out elements of a text and rework them into new interpretations and creations. In this way, we started to understand how literature works, the first step in the process of really understanding and engaging with an author and an essential part of empowering student literacy.
The first task of the workshop was to create a book cover out of the various recycled craft materials on the tables. As participants set to work happily cutting, gluing, drawing and coloring, Professor Sommer called for a volunteer to read aloud, just as tobacco rollers paid for professional storytellers to read Marx to them while they worked. The passage chosen was a 500 word extract from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (Chapter 1, “Holding a child by each hand…”). In true García Márquez style, the passage was fairly dense and full of allusions and metaphors, so another volunteer read the passage aloud again, a deliberate attempt by Sommer to try and channel the dramatic and engage participants as listeners before handing out a copy of the text to look at. We were then given five minutes to think of an aspect of the text that was puzzling, and share this as a question with the group. Very little about the text was left untouched as participants queried the various characters, melting Armenians and the cost of entry to the tent.
As we started to engage with the text, Professor Sommer was quick to highlight various instructional techniques too, allowing us to reflect on participating and facilitating at the same time. Thus, as the questions dried up, she reminded us that every student in the class had to join in fully with the activities. With an almost uncanny knack of working out who hadn’t spoken yet, she reminded us that skipping over a student’s contribution could imply that the facilitator either doesn’t care about the student or thinks they don’t matter. Faced with a classroom full of introverted librarians, this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. After the activity, Professor Sommer asked us to reflect on what we had learned. Highlighting the pitfalls of asking students what they had learned (the answer is usually “nothing”), she framed the question by asking us what we had done.
In the second activity, we were asked to think of an answer to one of those questions and write it down on a piece of paper. These answers were then “published” on a clothes line at the back of the room, drawing on cordel literature traditions. Answers ranged from the monosyllabic to the literary, drawing on the text to continue the story while also allowing our imagination and creativity to stretch the author’s original boundaries. After reading each other’s contributions we were again asked what we had done in that activity; I definitely marveled at my colleagues’ ingenuity!
The next activity was performance: each group was asked to pick a literary metaphor from the text and act it out to the wider group. With younger children, Professor Sommer remarked that she asked children to act out a scene, but for older students, drama can help scaffold complicated allusions, thereby helping them “crack the code” that can cloud understanding. Various metaphors from the text were acted out with varying degrees of success, including the phrases “smoking pitch,” “giving testimony on the Holy Scriptures,” and “the chest gave off a glacial exhalation.” Some mimes were harder to guess than others, but Professor Sommer reminded us that the aim of the exercise was to engage more carefully with the text rather than getting to the right answer.
The last activity involved drawing. Sitting back to back with a partner we took turns describing and drawing a character before hanging our finished masterpieces in the “gallery.” A “curator” then facilitated a discussion of the characters we had drawn, focusing on our inspiration and imagination as we drew from and built on the text.
At the end of the workshop, participants gathered around one final time to discuss the overall workshop experience, and in particular how we could draw on this experience in our own contexts in the future. Several public librarians reflected on how they might use the techniques in literacy programs or with reluctant readers summer workshops. Key takeaways for academic librarians focused around classroom management and how to draw on these core concepts of critical pedagogy in instruction sessions. Participants also remarked about how the workshop gave them a newfound understanding of the importance of collecting cartonera literature.
Panel 8, May 31, 2011, 9:00 am-10:30 am
Moderator: Meiyolet Méndez, University of Miami
Presenters: Maria R. Estorino, University of Miami; Béatrice Colastin Skokan, University of Miami; Meiyolet Méndez, University of Miami
Rapporteur: Sarah Yoder Leroy, University of Pittsburgh
After Meiyolet Méndez welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers, Maria R. Estorino spoke about building the Cuban Heritage Collection (http://library.miami.edu/chc/) at the University of Miami Libraries. After giving some background on the history of the connection between Cuba and the University of Miami, and the interest in collecting Cuban materials by the University of Miami Libraries over the years, she described the official formation of the Cuban Heritage Collection in 1998, which brought together collections documenting Cuba, the exile experience, and the culture and literature of the Cuban diaspora, which had previously resided in different areas of the libraries. The Cuban Heritage Collection received a grant to build a space for the collections, and in 2003 the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion opened. The Cuban Heritage Collection serves the university, the larger academic community, and the general public, and focuses on four main areas: 1) collection development, 2) preservation and access, 3) teaching, learning and research, and 4) outreach. It brings together, preserves, and makes available primary and secondary materials in all formats, including digital resources. It works with faculty to support instruction at the university, and supports research by sponsoring undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowship. In addition, it coordinates events and exhibitions which reach the general public. Some challenges for the future include ongoing assessment of the collections, building more faculty relationships, and working with a changing donor base, as new demographics and associated relationships emerge.
Béatrice Colastin Skokan followed with a presentation on documenting the Haitian diaspora at the University of Miami Libraries. Miami-Dade is a center of Haitian life in the U.S., where Haitians are the second largest non-English speaking group after Hispanics, and the second largest immigrant population after Cubans. They are a marginalized group, and Special Collections at the University of Miami has made efforts to collect primary source materials documenting the social and political life of this group. The current focus is on collecting papers and documents of local activist groups. It also sponsors public events and outreach, such as the special event entitled Documenting the Fringe, which included a reception and discussion on documenting counter-cultural activism. Special Collections holds the Max Rameau papers (1998-2010) which document his activism for the homeless and the poor within the South Florida communities of the African diaspora. Materials are often acquired through donations from community leaders, and developing relationships is a key component in making this possible. Collecting oral histories is another way they are filling content gaps and documenting intangible culture.
Meiyolet Méndez‘s presentation was entitled “Blueprint for a Collaborative Instruction Model: a Multi-Disciplinary Approach”, and she spoke of developing partnerships with librarians working in other departments of the library in order to enhance the work of both. For example, the Cuban Heritage Collection’s desire to increase the use of its archival and digital material, and the Education and Outreach’s aim to incorporate the use of primary documents in information literacy sessions lead to a natural collaboration. Working together, the two librarians could identify classes with a Latin American/Cuban component, and introduce the Cuban Heritage Collection’s digitized primary materials in an instruction session. The blueprint for collaboration is as follows: identify a department in the library you want to know about, contact the librarians there, meet and identify common goals or needs. Reach out according to your strengths and prior relationships. If you are interested in instruction, identify programs or classes where you might work collaboratively. Document your activities. There are also possibilities for non-instructional collaboration, such as events and exhibits, where volunteering and agreeing to do something new are ways to stay aware of activities in other departments.
Questions & Comments:
Peter Bushnell (University of Florida) asked if there was a charge for non-University of Miami users. Special Collections and the Cuban Heritage Collection are open to all.
Gayle Williams (Florida International University) mentioned that it was a shame Lesbia Varona wasn’t in attendance since she would have so much to add.
Marisol Ramos (University of Connecticut) mentioned that she appreciated the presentation because it is so hard to find materials about the Haitian diaspora, and she is excited to find someone doing this. She is trying to collect Haitian ephemera as well. She is also collaborating with archivists at her institution, and wants to promote more collaboration among librarians.
Gerada Holder (National Library and Information System, Trinidad and Tobago) wondered what the collection strengths were with regard to the Caribbean countries. Colastin Skokan indicated that the University of Miami’s strengths are Jamaican and Haitian materials and the Caribbean Documents collection, which includes slave registers from Trinidad and Tobago, significant rare books, and 19th century materials.
Diane Napert (Yale University) asked whether gifts come with restrictions. Estorino said they are working on a standard deed of gifts for personal papers and organizational papers.
Paul Smith (University of California, Los Angeles) asked whether there is an organization in New York creating an archive of Haitian materials, and whether there was any Haitian migration to Quebec. Colastin Skokan answered that the migration distribution is South Florida, New York, Boston, and Quebec. The University of Miami is starting in South Florida, but some oral histories have been conducted with artists in New York as well. The Schomburg Center may be collecting Haitian diaspora material, but she wasn’t sure.
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