Activity Theory: Dog Tutus, Literacy, Early Writing, and Reflections

I got really into thinking and, therefore, writing with the questions from the Quick Write we did in-class on Wednesday so I am going to attempt stretching out this thinking as well as applying it more directly to the Russell reading.  One thing I’ve learned to do well outside of school is random crafts, especially with my friends. Some of the things I’ve created include making several sugar scrubs, tie dying and/or cutting shirts, making tutus, and the most recent craft I did was making fabric cork boards. The materials I need depend on the actual craft but usually involve one-to-two trips to Joann’s and my hot glue gun(s). My boyfriend and I have a three bedroom house so that we each have a space for all our stuff and to do those things we enjoy that need a certain space; for example, one of my activities that require a specific space is aforementioned crafts and one of his is cleaning his guns without scaring the dog. I find a lot of things online that I then have to make for myself, my friends and family also tell me about things that help facilitate this type of crafting, and then some things also require me to look up more detailed instructions. In addition, what I make and how I make it sometimes depends on things going on in my life at the time.  One example is when I was in two weddings one right after the other in 2015 because I made a lot of small but time consuming crafty things for each of the bridal showers. 

When doing most crafts I tend to be a perfectionist the first time that I attempt to make something and then change how I execute it in order to make it easier for myself when I do that same craft again.  As Russell states in “Activity Theory and Its Implications for Writing Instruction,” “All learning is situated within some activity system(s). And one learns by participating—directly or vicariously—in some activity system(s)” (7).  For example, my friends and I had an entire day (yes, over 9 hours) of buying supplies for and then making our own tutus.  It took so long because we were measuring and cutting each strip of tulle perfectly not realizing that both ends will roll and then not show at all when the tutu is all finished.  Therefore, when I made tutus for my nieces and then for my dogs I had learned that cutting the tulle quickly rather than perfectly was more efficient but I never would have known this without first participating in the activity of making that first tutu.  Don’t worry I did include a picture of one of these dog tutus that I mention!

I also want to spend some time discussing the reading in relation to some of my experiences as well as hopes with teaching English 130I last semester and in the future.  I started the semester by having students reading, thinking, and writing about their own literacies concerning both the academic arena and their lives outside of school.  The first paper that students write is a Literacy Narrative in which they explore the writing they already do, some of the rhetorical choices they make when writing, and how this writing affects their sense of self as a student and a person.   In terms of Russell’s Activity Theory my hope with this short paper is that students will become more aware of the fact that they are already writers and that many of the skills they use in their everyday literacy activities, for instance scanning an article on Facebook rather than reading the entire thing, can be useful skills to apply to their academic writing as well.  I think that by first showing students that the skills they already have can be in some form transferred to academic writing that they will then also begin to see how the activities with reading and writing they do in my class can likewise be used in their other university courses as well.

In addition, I structured my 130I course in a way that learning is scaffolded with the smaller writing assignments leading up to and preparing students for the larger writing assignments.  This is also a way for students to get comfortable with writing different genres, as Russell additionally explains, “As one becomes adept at more and more activities that require writing and hence at writing more genres, it is more likely (but by no means certain) that one will be able to master a new genre more quickly, since it is more likely that there will be some features of the new genre/activity that resemble features in a genre/activity one already knows” (11).  One way that this activity and writing scaffolding works in 130I is through the use of blogs and reflections.  The blogs are a genre meant to be an early writing activity that ask students questions in order to get them writing and thinking about things that they can then incorporate into the larger writing assignments.  For example, before students actually write the Literacy Narrative they will have done an in-class group activity talking with their group mates about all the reading and writing they do and then they will have also done a blog post talking about it as well.  The blogs as an early writing activity are meant to show students that with assignments for their other classes it can be very beneficial to start writing early because the act of this writing itself is a way to start thinking and figuring things out.  Reflections for the larger assignments and the class as a whole are an additional genre that I hope is teaching students ways to be thinking and writing for other classes.  The genre of reflections is a way to have students think back about the decisions they made when writing to show them that writing is a process and there are various ways to approach the same assignment.  After doing countless reflections students get used to thinking about their writing and realize that certain writing assignments may never be completely “done.”  As with the blogs, my hope with having students continually reflect on their writing is that this activity will be something that they also do (both “directly and vicariously” as Russell would term it) with their other academic writing.           

I hope this blog post wasn’t too rambling!

  1 comment for “Activity Theory: Dog Tutus, Literacy, Early Writing, and Reflections

  1. kjaxon
    February 18, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Really appreciate how you wove the ideas of your own crafting and your course design with Russell. Your students are lucky. Thank you for such a lovely post.

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