Dyer’s Manifesto: the mission and charge for MEJ moving forward

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Dear Current and Future MCTE Members:

We are writing in order to introduce to you a significant “make-over” of MCTE’s most important periodical, The Minnesota English Journal (MEJ), and to invite your direct participation in it—as readers vigorously interacting with every article, classroom idea, and reader-posted comment and a contributors of articles of your own composition.

Previously, MEJ has annually represented the work of its contributors well, publishing online once a year a collection of papers driven by pedagogy, theory, and research.  And, for the past several years, the articles accepted for publication were peer-reviewed.

But, after a thorough review of past issues of MEJ and the journals of many MCTE affiliates, we reached the following conclusions:

  1. The articles published in MEJ prior to this moment , though mostly interesting and well-conceived, seemed to enter what we have begun to call “the dead letter office”—that is, not only have few people accessed them after the first blush of their publication, but the writers of those articles have rarely, if ever, received any feedback from others about how useful or illuminating they were.
  2. Except for one issue, MEJ has rarely been able to represent a section on “Teaching Tips” or “best practices” in the English or Language Arts classroom—short papers (some no longer than a solid paragraph) providing some specific information about an exercise or assignment or unit or piece of literature that works in the classroom; that seems wrong for an organization whose first concern has always been teaching.  Easy pieces to write because the stuff of them is right at the practitioners’ finger-tips, with absolutely no need to peer-review them.
  3. While MEJ has customarily represented the work of university and community college and high school teachers, it has not done nearly as well in encouraging and then publishing the work of teachers in the middle school, and badly with materials of interest to elementary school teachers; and MEJ would be a more effective and responsive publication if it sought to publish more work by college-level and high school instructors.
  4. Although one of the very best articles that MEJ ever published was an issue-oriented piece that argued eloquently against the abuse of testing in the public schools, MEJ has failed to attract any other such well-argued opinion pieces on any one of a number of major concerns impacting the teaching profession.

As the new joint editors of MEJ, we have acted on these conclusions in order to present a journal that more effectively mirrors the needs of the organization and profession and, in the process, attempts to show that those who are not yet members of MCTE will have much to gain by reading and contributing to and interacting with the work contained in MEJ.

Our initial “calls” for submissions of a wide variety of material since last November have stressed the “rolling” nature of our publication deadlines.  In fact, now that we have gone “live” with our first “issue” of the new MEJ, our intention is to regularly refresh the content of our journal, replacing articles that our readers have stopped commenting on with new submissions.  As we receive new articles and “best practice” pieces, we’ll upload them when they’re ready, and we’ll let our readers know when we’ve received a sufficient “critical mass” of new material to release the next issue.

As we proceed toward a tentative end-of-August “rolling deadline” for that next issue, we’ll continue to encourage articles that exhibit some of the following features:

  1. We will plan to continue to peer-review the longer scholarly researched papers on theory and praxis as MEJ has been doing; that is an important service for us to fulfill for the entire organization, the promotion of the very best scholarship by our contributing teachers that could be easily downloaded and imported into the classes that any one of us might teach.
  2. In addition to those scholarly papers, we expect that practicing Minnesota teachers at all levels will be sharing what they are doing in their classrooms, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and the methodologies they’ve chosen to use in order to do their work.
  3. We expect that teachers at all levels will share with us the means by which they assess their students’ progress, including those interventions they have developed that help them gauge the relative success of a teaching strategy while there is still time to alter it.
  4. We will offer a rolling and growing section of “Teaching Tips” related to developing successful writing assignments, choosing a book that works along with an approach for helping students open it up, helping students to see the important relationship between reading well and good writing, moving a classroom toward full participation, etc.
  5. We will encourage short or long experiential articles on how to teach effectively online.
  6. We hope to see short or long experiential articles on the engagement of various kinds of technology as a means for improving the quality of research and writing.
  7. We will encourage short or long experiential articles, driven or not by theory, on collaborative writing, as well as collaborations among teachers to deliver parts of a teaching unit or a course.
  8. We will encourage any written efforts, short or long, by instructors (alone or in collaboration with others) who are engaged in the process of drawing their colleagues as well as their students toward the development of a culture of writing in their schools.
  9. And we expect to field a FORUM every month on a particular issue related to teaching that we hope you will want to contribute to.
  10. And we want opinion or issue-driven pieces of current interest to those working in the profession.

To do any or all of these things will require what we hope will be a great deal of communication among you and us.  Reciprocal communication, to be sure, between the writers of the kinds of short or long pieces we have in mind and those who read them.

Therefore, for every piece that we represent in MEJ, there will be a COMMENT FUNCTION appended to it.  As co-editors, we expect to monitor the quality of the comments that are recorded for each piece.  But, more importantly, we see a tremendous pair of benefits in those continuing comments.  First, the fact that comments will accumulate for any given published piece in MEJ means that we contemplate the publication of a LIVING JOURNAL—one that grows and is enriched by the comments it records.  As long as the comments flow, any given published article will never be dead.  Secondly, a comment function means that each writer whose work is represented in MEJ will have a REAL AND LIVING AUDIENCE, one that expresses its common interest in a piece, offers suggestions for its application, disagrees with its major premises while offering some emendations, and (perhaps most importantly) indicates that the piece has been downloaded, delivered to students, and used with results that can be measured and shared.

Having said all of this, we understand that there are no guarantees for success in what we plan to do.  MEJ cannot succeed in any format without YOU and your active engagement, whether by the submission of work that you truly care about (whatever length and shape and subject) and by your determination to enter into an interactive community of teachers of writing and language and literature.  And we will do whatever we can to encourage you to send us your work.

In any event, we want what YOU want, and, until you prove us wrong, we believe you want an MEJ that represents exciting new scholarly research on teaching English along with pieces on the everyday job of planning your work and working your plan, after which you’ve stepped back to evaluate the results.  And we are even more convinced that you want to confront such written pieces with the ability to INTERACT with them as well as to consider USING them in your teaching if you find them useful.

We promise to keep you posted about developments in our MEJ website and our sense of your reception of what we’ve been able to present to you.  To the degree that we’re able, we’ll attend to what you need from us.  We refer you to our “CALL FOR PAPERS” that is currently posted on the MCTE website in hopes that you are working on something right now about which you’d like an interested and enthusiastic reaction from us.  Do not hesitate to contact us should you need further information.

Welcome to the MEJ website. It’s yours.

Sincerely yours,

Bill Dyer                                                                               Scott Hall

Professor of English                                                          English Instructor

Minnesota State University, Mankato                           Irondale High School

Collaborative Online Paper 1: Teaching ENGL 4/533–Enabling World Texts, Past and Present, to Talk to Each Other by William D. Dyer

Teaching English 4/533: Enabling World Texts, Past and Present, to Talk to Each Other

William D. Dyer

I am going to offer, as a means for providing a context for the long student-written collaborative paper that follows as well the brief discussion of how this assignment might apply to other teaching environments and students (written by the graduate student “point person” on that project and practicing high school teacher), an introduction to the actual assignment and the online course for which it was composed.  Very simply, English 4/533 is one of only two world literature courses regularly offered annually at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 

The object of this course is, at the very least, two-fold:  first, to introduce participants to some literary texts that are seminal to an understanding of what we might label “world literature”–from a traditional perspective, truly classic texts.  That is, each of these texts contributes to the development of a “window”  through which we can see the “selves” of several other very complex cultures substantially different from us.  And it is through a very special and culture-transmitting literary medium that we will begin to glean other cultural ways of seeing, being, and believing that have evolved through the centuries and, in no small part, are reflected by these works.  Continue reading