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Queens College Writers at Work:
Rikki Asher and David Gerwin

Queens College Writers at Work is a program sponsored by the Office of College Writing Programs. Every semester, we feature Queens College faculty at events where we discuss writing practices. Our flyer illustrates some of the more commonly addressed topics: ¡§How does a writer imagine a subject, gather information and find the right language and form? What are a writer's habits and practices? Where and when does she or he write? How does she or he draft, revise and edit?"

By Rhona Cohen
4 May 2004

In the second and final spring semester Writers at Work event, Dr. Rikki Asher and Dr. David Gerwin presented some of their work in the fields of Art and Social Studies Education and then talked about their writing processes. The Writers at Work series opens up the possibilities we have as teachers and as writers by initiating a conversation about writing and about teaching and learning through writing in which we rarely have the opportunity to participate. And once again this forum yielded some inquiry worthy of further investigation. Here I want to share with you some of the discoveries that Dr. Asher's and Dr. Gerwin's presentations and conversation produced for me.

Dr. Asher began by reading from two articles published in School Arts, a magazine of special interest to Art educators involved in teaching classes from elementary school through college. The first article, ¡§Planned and Unplanned," from which she read focused on her process as an artist and as a teacher. The title refers the reader to the multi-dimensionality of urban environments, the elements of which become apparent when we observe the planned and unplanned effects of urban development. This piece was very reflective, exploring the how of her creative process and the why of her teaching practices, an appropriate topic for this event that set the tone for the guided discussion about writing practices that would follow. The second article, ¡§Telling Community Stories" had been produced through a collaborative effort with Dr. Gerwin and Dr. Terry Osbourne. In this article, she presents the processes she utilized to produce a mural in collaboration with a QC graduate class of future art educators. This mural hangs in the Rosenthal Library and merits not only a personal viewing but also possible classroom viewing and reading if you find yourself discussing, for instance, the history of Queens, urban planning, history, the practices and processes of ethnographic study, migration... In short, this mural and the research that went into its production (also archived in the library) provide rich texts which could lead in various productive directions for teachers in various disciplines. In ¡§Telling Community Stories," Asher points out the many ways that this is so as well as providing for the reader an interesting narrative about her processes as teacher and artist in the creation of this particular piece.

Dr. Asher's reading was followed by Dr. Gerwin who read from his recent book Teaching US History as Mystery (co-written with Dr. Jack Zevin). He read from three sections of this book. In the first section, ¡§David and Jack Duke it Out," we hear two voices, a conversation or an argument about whether the ¡§minor mystery," the who, what, where, and when of historical investigation yields the most valuable classroom conversation. Jack asserts in this section that the ¡§major mystery" is value laden, so to speak, forcing conversations about the meanings of the who, what, where and why issues which historians are charged to comprehend. The second selection from this book opens with a question, ¡§What is a ¡§fact" or ¡§evidence" or ¡§data"? In this section Gerwin and Zevin's voices are merged into one and they ask us to consider the data that we collect, examine and analyze. Instead of presenting ¡§facts," Gerwin and Zevin want teachers to counsel and teach students to investigate evidence. This might allow for a more fluid understanding of the past and the flexibility to see that all kinds of data could ultimately produce lucrative

findings. What importance does the lunch we eat today or tomorrow have to the historian or social scientist? Ultimately, Gerwin explains that many pieces of data that might seem unimportant to us today might produce compelling and relevant meanings about myriad topics in the future. Finally, Gerwin read from a portion of his book that takes on what issues might be historically significant. Here Zevin and Gerwin are discussing a decision that teachers must make, asking, ¡§On which historical events or figures should the history teacher focus?" But ultimately the book is wrought through with questions of importance to historians, researchers and teachers alike, Questions about history and about the ways that historical investigations can be connected and utilized in the history classroom, in the study and understanding of social research, and in our lives outside of the classroom as well.

After the readings, Hugh English, Dara Sicherman, and Robin Harper led our two speakers through a fascinating conversation about their processes as writers. By investigating their individual and complicated process we all, I think, made discoveries about our own writing practices, needs, and expectations as well as discoveries about writing in the classroom and what we are demanding of our students when we ask them to write for us. I couldn't even begin to write down all that we discovered together, so I think that instead I will end this reflection by asking you to reflect for a minute in the same way that we asked Gerwin and Asher to at this event. One of the interviewing techniques we utilize at our events is a word association game about the writing processes of our participants. And so I end here with this same practice here. What do the words ¡§academic writing," ¡§revision," and ¡§deadline" mean to you?

Finally, I'd like to invite you to join us at our next Writers at Work event, where we can all take a minute to reflect on our practices as writers and how they might affect our classrooms and our lives.

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Volume 1, Spring 2004 ( Download pdf file, 1,620 KB)

From the Editors
Teaching Writing in a Multilingual Environment
Queens College Writers at Work: Murphy Halliburton
Queens College Writers at Work, Rikki Asher and David Gerwin
Simplifying Writing Across the Curriculum: A Review of Art Young's Teaching Wring Across the Curriculum