Composing a "Geo-Biography":
How Have the Places Where You Have Dwelled Shaped You?
This assignment opens the semester by positioning you as both a writer and a documenter of your writing processes, by requiring you to write about those processes at each stage of review and to document your efforts in detail. With this information, fellow students and I can provide feedback on processes as well as drafts, and I can help you focus your efforts effectively. (It also enables me to reward work that you put in and that might not seem to "show up" on the page.)
Think of a geo-biography as an autobiography that includes reflections on the way your life to date has been shaped by the geographies you have lived in or visited. Give details from your earliest memories up to the present day, including where you were born and grew up, any family stories that you would like to share, stories from school life (good and bad!), etc. The simplest way to organize this essay is to begin at the earliest stage and take your reader up to the present. (If you want to, you can include some flashbacks or flashforwards, but be careful not to "lose" your readers.) As part of this geo-biography, focus in particular on places that have played a role in making you the person you are. These places can be as intimate as your desk at home, your kitchen table, your favorite place to meditate or the best surf break you know. Try not to restrict your thoughts to these places alone, though. Include references to public places that have shaped you, too. If your family moved during your childhood, be sure to talk about that. If you visited certain locales and they impressed you, mention them. Please talk about your schooling--what the schools were like and what "lessons" (both intended and unintended) you took from them. Finally, see if you can get details on places that influenced your parents, their parents, etc., in an attempt to tell a little bit about family history that is situated in specific places. Where did your ancestors come from?
Our Classroom Procedures:
We will build a learning community in this class, which means you will frequently be working together at all stages of the writing process—brainstorming ideas, providing feedback to evolving drafts, and critically and productively supporting one another as you grow as writers. Because this assignment is the first in the course, it offers you a way to tell "your story" to other class members with a particular emphasis on how places have shaped your life. That is, in tandem with telling your history, you'll be thinking about how that history was situated in specific geographical and physical places. This work will serve as a foundation for our later work in several ways: you will start to know the peers with whom you will be collaborating during the term, you will be learning our approaches to peer review while developing this assignment, and you will be situating your "self" in a broader picture to prepare for the later assignments that ask you to research and write about issues and topics related to the environment and sustainability.
Homework: Go to the Discussion link in our virtual course space and post a short introduction about yourself, including your major, your previous writing experience, life experiences, and a short list of places you might talk about in a geo-biography. Study the syllabus to prepare for a quiz on goals, target outcomes, expectations, assignments and grading, and classroom protocol.
In class: Discuss postings and memorize names. Discuss the concept of meta-commentary and study some examples of writers' meta-commentary about their own writing as they anticipated its effects on an audience, as they discussed the overall aims they sought to achieve, and as they described the image of themselves as authors that they believe they established, with reference to specific parts of the draft.
Homework: Reviewing the prompt from the assignment (see above), compose a two-page, single-spaced geo-biography of yourself, complete with meta-commentary. Save the file as a .doc file and name it with your last name, e.g., henry geo-bio 1.doc. Make sure you have proofread it thoroughly, and post it to our virtual course space. Print out two copies and bring them to next class.
[Class 3 devoted to peer review.]
In class: Read an excerpt from David Kawaharada's "Mango Trees on Kea'ahalo Road," which uses the local geography of Hawai'i strongly as a part of his biographical accounting. Take notes on the author's techniques. Discuss peer reviews and plans. Discuss ultimate goals for the project, which include the following:
Probe in some more detail specifically how places have shaped you and how they have "taught" you to be a specific person in specific contexts.
Use response from peers and instructor to develop at least part of the geo-bio in ways that lead to some questions or some ideas for exploring "place" in your life.
Come up with a compelling title, introduction, beginning, and end.
Proofread closely to eliminate as many errors as possible.
Work on your style—and if you spend a lot of time on a sentence or deciding on a word, document it.
Include an Effort Chart, in which you document in some detail how much time you spent on the many kinds of effort that went into this essay.
Homework: Convert your peer review, self-analysis, and plans to pdf files and save them safely for future use in your e-portfolio. Review the PowerPoint in the virtual space Week 2 folder that brainstorms categories for revising and focusing your geo-biography to probe one or two themes in more depth. Expand your geo-biography to four pages, with new meta-commentary, and post it to our virtual space.
[Class 5 devoted to second round of peer review and preparing students to post a revision, complete with new meta-commentary and effort chart. Instructor provides further response.]
[Class 6 devoted to exploring differences between peer review and peer editing, in which respondents are now focusing less on processes and more on product. The grading rubric is reviewed in groups and whole class to prepare students to post provisionally final drafts.]
In class: Discussion of Geo-bio final drafts and MORE ideas for development based on them: Preview Metaphors We Live By. Study the idea of "systematicity" of metaphorical concepts. Discuss your central metaphors of the geo-bio, in retrospect, and brainstorm their possible systems and sytematicity, jotting notes as you work. File this documentation of your thoughts for a possible return to your Geo-Bio during the e-portfolio phase of our work (Unit 4).
“Composing a “Geo-Biography:” How Have the Places Where You Have Dwelled Shaped You?” was contributed as a representative assignment by Jim Henry for the Postsecondary Framework: http://wpacouncil.org/framework
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