In retrospect, this was the class I was waiting to take. This was the class that allowed me not simply to get my feet wet with teaching—it allowed me to dive right in and swim with the rest of the school. What made it all come together for me is something I’ve come to understand as euphony. Strictly speaking, euphony is when something sounds pleasing to the ear. In terms of literature and teaching, however, I think the idea of euphony goes beyond language that simply sounds good. In poetry, for example, euphony occurs when the sound of the language matches the mood or the scene that the language is attempting to paint: “But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, / Retreating, to the breath / Of the night-wind…” from Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” is a perfect example of poetic euphony (24-27). Here, the sound of the language precisely matches the intent of the language. There is no way one could read the line “Its long, melancholy, withdrawing roar” quickly without being silly. The line must be read slowly and with melancholy; the language itself is built that way. All of this isn’t to say that my idea of good teaching is to use with my students language that is at once beautiful and matches my intents as a teacher, yet it is almost that. Graff and Birkenstein are no strangers to this concept: the vast majority of their book They Say, I Say is written with the euphony of concept and material. More specifically with regard to teaching and the idea of euphony, what has come to be most important to the formation of my pedagogy is the unison of what I teach and how I teach.
On the front end of the semester, I knew I was going in to the classroom with certain advantages, not the least of which being several years’ experience as a writing tutor at Fresno City College. I may not have realized it at the time, but our modus operandi as writing and reading tutors at FCC was from a rhetorical position. We always left the control and direction of the conversation in the hands of the students, and it was our task to help them figure out their own purposes in writing chiefly by responding as readers. I may not have known how to name what it was that we were doing at the time, but that was certainly it. There have been a number of transitions from tutor to teacher, of course—some of which I shall detail below—but for the most part it has been business as usual for me. What is key, however, is that I now know how to name the things I’m doing which gives me opportunities for reflection and, subsequently, growth as a teacher and learner.
Directly responding to student writing in the form of written comments on their papers is something that, as a tutor, I left (and was instructed to leave) for the big fishes. In my first semester of English 5A, these were still uncharted waters for me. So one of my chief concerns was how to effectively respond to student writing within the larger scope of our program’s rhetorical pedagogy. Most of my experience with comments both as a tutor and receiving them as a student was with comments that were prescriptive and directive. “Move this here,” “unclear thesis,” or “Change your thesis this way and it will be better,” on top of a lot of a lot of “VT,” “SVA,” “Frag,” and “CS” marks. Needless to say, I became fairly sharp with grammar because it seemed like that’s what teachers were wanting from their students, and it was my job to help students get to the level their teachers wanted them to be. But good writing isn’t about having perfect grammar, right? We’re supposed to be teaching our students the idea of Conversation as Curriculum, that their writing is a response to social situations that are important to them, so it only makes sense we engage in the same rhetorical mode of teaching as we’re asking our students to do in their learning and writing. Euphony. Knoblauch and Brannon helped tie a lot of this together for me in Chapter 6 of their book, Rhetorical Traditions and the Teaching of Writing.
One of the keys to understanding responding to student writing is in how we name the exercise itself: it is a response. In order to respond in a way that is constructive and meaningful to the student, our first task is to identify the conversation in which our student is responding; our second is to respond in a way that can push the student further into the conversation to which they’re attempting to respond. The point of caution here is to not let the conversations from our own backgrounds that may be incompatible with the student’s conversation interfere with generating feedback that can actually be meaningful and helpful to the student (118). Knoblauch and Brannon make it clear that the real concern of teacher responses to student writing should be to discover the intent of student writing, perhaps help the student discover their own intent, then use that as a platform for response (121). Ergo it is our charge to respond to student writing as a sympathetic participant in the student’s Discourse while at the same time—I would add—help the student acquire more and more fluency in academic discourse through a gradual yet immersive process. Euphonic teaching does not stop at responding to student writing, of course.
I have mentioned purpose several times already: we want students to write with purpose as a response to a social situation; therefore, in order to teach with euphony, we ought to construct our curriculum with a clear purpose in mind, and that purpose should be clearly communicated to our audience i.e. our students, just like we expect our students to do in their own writing. Generating curriculum with this in mind has been beyond the shadow of any doubt the most helpful aspect of English 270. When I think about what I expect from good student writing, I think about things like purpose, focus, audience awareness, goals, logical flow of information, etc. A student essay that possess all of those things would certainly meet of not exceed expectations in English 5A, 5B, or 10, so I’m left asking myself a simple question: why should the formation of my curriculum be any different? Shouldn’t I have a clear set of purposes and goals for my students? Should I not be aware of their needs? Should each class—like each paragraph in an essay—not have a logical flow from one to the next? In this sense, a well-written unit is just like a well-written essay. Again, it’s all about euphony between what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching.
There are certain classic philosophical strains that persist in my mind and serve as resistors to the emergence of my pedagogy, and this mostly has to do with different modes of reasoning being at odds with each other. The two modes of reasoning here are deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning where you start with a general, widely accepted truth and come to a specific conclusion using the general truth as proof (this often happens in the form of syllogisms: all men are born good; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates was born good). Inductive reasoning takes the inverse approach where you start with a specific example of something and then attempt to arrive at a general truth. You can see danger here—it essentially boils down to the idea that one rotten apple can spoil the bunch. Traditionally, deductive reasoning is the mode of reasoning that has received the most rhetorical credibility in argumentation whereas inductive reasoning is often cut down because of the inductive leap needed in order to come to a general conclusion. Now in terms of the formation of my pedagogy, I’m really excited about the idea of generative learning. It’s not too different from the immersion process of language learning in which we engage when we’re children or working with Rosetta Stone as adults. We work with various specific examples and use our intuition to arrive at general truths after we’ve recognized patterns. At first glance, my privileging of deductive reasoning and my teaching through immersion (generatively) are philosophies that are at odds with each other. I’m still working through this, but for now I am content to conclude that Aristotle’s Rhetoric and teaching rhetorically are false analogies or that inductive reasoning is sound as long as one experiences enough specific examples to safely arrive at a general truth.
All of this is to say that English 270 has definitely made me more consciously aware of the things that I am doing as an educator and even as a writer. (It has also made me endlessly thankful that I decided not to teach secondary school a long time ago). Knoblauch and Brannon had it right in one of our first readings for the class, that teachers ought to be aware of what they’re doing and constantly reflect on what it is that they’re doing in order to determine the effectiveness of their curriculum and pedagogy (2). A teacher who regularly engages in that sort of self-assessment can only grow and march toward a euphony between who they are, what they teach, and how they teach.