Tag Archive | iPhone

The Sounds of Writing and Learning

“I Rise,” image by Flickr User Lua Ahmed

Welcome back to Sounding Out!‘s fall forum on “Sound and Pedagogy.”  Developed to explore the relationship between sound and learning, this forum blends the thinking of our editors (Liana Silva), recruited guests (D. Travers Scott), and one of the winners of our recent Call For Posts (Jentery Sayers) to explore how listening impacts the writing process, the teachable moment, and the syllabus (and vice versa).  Sharpen your pencils and/or give your typing fingers a good stretch, because today’s offering from Liana Silva asks you to exercise unexpected writing muscles—your tongue, mouth, and vocal chords! If you need a make-up assignment for last week’s post by D. Travers Scott, “Listening to #Occupy in the Classroom,” click here.  And don’t forget–same class time next week!–JSA, Editor in Chief 

When I started this draft, I sat in an office that is not mine, next to an old, whirring Westclox Dialite electric clock. When I write, I usually pop my headphones on and blast my “Writing” playlist on my iPhone. But that day, I was soothed by the sounds of a whirring clock and the air blasting through a wall vent. On another day I worked on my draft while I listened to sports talk radio, a big part of my morning routine; toward the end of the drafting process I shared this blog post with a writing consultant at the writing center where I work.

For me, writing is always connected to sound. Sound inhabits the spaces where I write, either in the shape of music, typing, or voices. These sounds are never far from my writing process. In fact, something so small as the typing of the keys as I write this can be construed as the soundtrack to my writing. Sounding Out! guest blogger and author Bridget Hoida made a case for how sound is part of the texts she reads and how she weaves sound into her own writing; in my case,  I can’t think of writing without sound. It is my soundtrack/sound track, in the sense that sound is the track on which I lay my writing process, like the lines of a ruled notebook.

“Writing” by Flickr user Sara Bjork through Creative Commons License 2.0

However, many writers and educators tend to think of writing as a solitary, lonely, quiet endeavor. Last month, at an orientation where I was speaking, I heard someone refer to the “quiet activity of writing and learning.” As I looked around me, stunned, I seemed to be the only one surprised at this assertion. Although it is a common perception, as a writer, ex-writing instructor, and writing center staff member, this did not make sense to me. Both writing and learning, for me, are connected to sound, whether it was listening to music while editing or talking through my ideas during class discussion. If, to paraphrase Brandon Labelle in Acoustic Territories, places configure what sounds are deemed acceptable and unacceptable, do schools configure what are the appropriate sounds of learning?

I approach this question about the sounds of learning from the angle of my work at the writing center. For years I taught first-year composition, and later on in my academic career I started working at a writing center (where I currently work). At the Writing Center we are surrounded by the sounds of writing and learning. A student will walk up to one of our locations and meet with a writing consultant. They will discuss the writer’s text, in the case that the writer brings a draft. After this discussion, the consultant will read the writer’s text aloud, a practice that all of our writing consultants must adhere to. The text comes alive in the voice of the consultant; the good, the bad, and the ugly are made audible, concrete in the voice of the consultant. This enables both parties to hear the paper, but also to listen to the paper and, ideally, understand it better. The consultant and the writer then talk about what works, what doesn’t, what could be improved and how. Learning takes place through a conversation. It is at the writing center where writing and learning processes are no longer silent, but actually audible. The value for a writer of hearing their text aloud is not new; in 1967, Anthony Tovatt and Ebert L. Miller did a three-year study on how listening to their writing helped high-school writers improve their writing skills (see their article “The Sound of Writing”). My concern is how learning is coded as silent, despite evidence to the contrary.

I wonder about the implications of describing learning and writing as “silent” processes. Silence already has a domesticating quality: it is portrayed as the gift of the restrainted, of the eloquent, of the elite, and these ideas about silence and noise emerge from 19th Century ideas about respectability and middle-class values. As an example, American Studies scholar Daniel Cavicchi states in Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum,

“In fact, both in the North and the South, genteel people came to value the quietude of silent reading and listening as a form of ‘productive leisure’ that was explicitly opposed to the louder, more boisterous pastimes of slaves, immigrants, and workers.  As in the days when European colonists and Native Americans struggled to understand each other’s sound worlds, aural difference now became a wedge that allowed those in power to place certain groups figuratively and literally outside the bounds of civilization” (52).

Ideas of learning as silent are coded in broader discourse about silence (or, to use Cavicchi’s more accurate terminology, quietude) and noise, about what is respectable and what is not. How do these common connotations of quietude as dignified and sound/noise as unpleasant carry over to descriptions of of learning? It is possible that society has normalized these types of learning (the “silent” types) as of a higher caliber, and schools have a major part in that: reading to one’s self in silence, filling out exam questions and not talking to anyone, typing in a quiet library at a computer station fit for only one. Even a lecture dignifies silence, in a way: students sit down and listen to what the teacher/professor has to say while they digest, quietly, what is being taught. In opposition, the sounds of learning can be associated to the sounds of collaboration, as it were: tutorials, consultations, advising sessions, discussion sections, movie viewings. Although talking is not the only way to collaborate in order to learn, I posit that these learning activities that are usually non-silent fall prey to hierarchies of sound and silence.

“Student Writing 2002,” Image by Flickr user Cybrarian

These hierarchies of sound and silence tell listeners that the learning activities that are portrayed as silent are more legitimate than those that are portrayed as boisterous, loud, animated—in other words, activities producing sound. In fact, it doesn’t have to be either/or. The fact that they are set in opposition to themselves is in itself problematic. Isolating sound from the learning process acts as a way of emphasizing writing as the main component of learning. Jody Shipka in “Sound Engineering: Toward a Theory of Multimodal Soundness” describes how writing is thought of as “the communication of scholarly, rigorous arguments or ideas, something more often associated with the production of linear, print-based texts” (356, emphasis in original). This dichotomy of rigor versus play can be portrayed also as visuality (as embodied in the written text) versus aurality. The writing center can be the place where these ideas are tested, in the sense that it is a location of collaborative learning where some learn by writing and others benefit from talk while others benefit from listening. By privileging quietude and solitude as the ideal modes for learning, we miss out on other important vehicles for learning, such as sound.

***

If I started this post with the whirring of the Westclox clock, how did I end this post? I ended it on a busy Sunday evening, while my daughter slept and my boyfriend talked on the phone. I finished it with the chatter of the air conditioner, the clack of baseballs against bats coming from the living room, and the click click click of the keyboard keeping me company.

Liana M. Silva is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out!

I Hear You, I See You

(The title of this post comes from an episode from Season Two of NBC’s Parenthood; Zeke, the patriarch, learns in marriage counseling that he must listen to his wife and let her know he is listening.)

I’ve been toying with several ideas for blog posts all this month–and considering that this is my last post for a while, I wanted to go out with a bang. (I’ll still be posting, just not every month, so stay tuned for our regular contributors who will be filling in for me.) In the wake of Mother’s Day, and since this was my first Mother’s Day, I decided to write about something a little more personal: my daughter and sound, and my decision to record her during this first year of life.

Since she was in the womb I’ve recorded Miss E’s sounds. I’ve posted before about my experience listening to her heartbeat at every obstetrician appointment. Late in my pregnancy I managed to record her heartbeat. I still play it and replay it in amazement; those beats were a sign of the life growing inside of me. I felt like I was eavesdropping on her every time we tuned in. It was sonic peeking. After she was born, I wanted to continue recording the sounds she made because I wanted to have recordings as well as pictures for her when she grew up.

For the past eleven months I’ve recorded my daughter’s sounds at different stages with my iPhone (as I’ve mentioned in my latest KC post, my iPhone is my preferred recording device if only because it is always within reach). I record when I remember, or when she adds a new sound to her repertoire. However, I try to record her once a month. The same way that she has gone from not moving at all to crawling all over our apartment, she has gone from not making any sounds to babbling, squeeling, and laughing. The sounds she makes are an indication of development, but they are also a sign of her awareness of the world around her.

As a first-time mom, I expected a lot of things early on. I didn’t understand why she held her fists closed for the first few weeks or why she didn’t follow me around the room. It almost felt like she was ignoring me. The same thing happened with her sounds. The fact that she didn’t respond to my words with sounds worried me. I always wondered if she was sad! And it’s no wonder: all she would do was cry. Of course, I realized soon after that her crying was her only way of communicating with the world. One of my first recordings of Miss E is of her shrill crying, and it still makes my chest tighten up when I hear it.

My second recording is of her at three months. By this point the cries have morphed into more of a grunt. As I typed this post I listened to my recordings, and it’s remarkable how inarticulate she sounds compared to what she sounds like now. But back then, I was excited that she was making more sounds other than crying. Indeed, the fact that she wasn’t always crying was a relief. These new sounds, to me, were her attempt at trying to communicate, or rather discovering ways to communicate. It’s almost as if she had discovered that she had a voice. The silences talked as much as the sounds, for at this stage she spends more time awake (and more time awake without crying).

As Miss E has grown throughout this first year, her sounds have started to vary. Very much like a language, she has different registers, different sounds depending on what she wants to say. Whereas before she would only give me a smile when she woke up, now she provides me with a running commentary on her dreams and her giraffe while I change her diaper. Even her giggles developed different registers. She had different kinds of giggles! Now she makes sounds on her own, not as a response to something I had done but because there is something she wants to respond to. I read in her babbles the beginning of her path to independence. it’s a long way until she moves out of our household, but the fact that she wants to talk to other people or talk about what she wants, and not in response to what I am saying or doing is amazing. It’s also a little sad, for it’s also an indication of her willingness to move on to other things.

We tend to forget that during that first year babies have little interest in interacting with people outside of their nuclear family. They stare at strangers or shy away. But the moment they start talking to themselves or their toys, you are no longer the center of their world. And it’s a bone-chilling thought.

Recording her sounds is important to me just as much as taking pictures. (I don’t take video of her mostly because we didn’t have any way to do that until recently when I updated my phone to an iPhone 4). I wanted her to have visuals as well as audio, and even though video recordings could do just as well, the effect of just listening to sounds and being able to focus on that is an interesting (if jarring) experience. Those sound recordings trigger memories just as vividly as pictures do, or even more so than pictures. I hope to keep these recordings until she is older so that she can see herself as well as hear herself when she was just a little girl. I want to know that “I hear you, I see you,” that hearing is just as relevant as seeing.

Bonus tracks: Here’s Miss E at several stages in the last year.

Miss E at 3 months (trying to get Mommy’s attention)

Miss E at 10 months (banging and making music)

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