VCFA NOW: the official vermont college of fine arts blog

MFA Nugget: Teaching vs. Learning

Posted by Ann Cardinal on Jul 2, 2012 10:27:00 AM


Patrick Ross

Today's entry is from guest blogger Patrick Ross, a current student in the MFA in Writing Program from his blog The Artist’s Road:

 

I have a dilemma.

True, it’s a conundrum I don’t have to solve for another six months, but forgive me. Being here at my MFA residency on the campus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts is firing both my left and right brains, and that left brain is in deep planning mode for my final semester, which starts in December.

A view of our hilltop neighborhood in Montpelier from my dorm window. Yes, I’m taking the photo through my window’s mesh screen. Let’s pretend I chose to include that in the photo for artistic effect.

In our final semester, we write a 45-minute lecture on a topic of our choosing, which we give at our graduating residency (for me that will be next summer). I’ve attended a couple of graduation lectures already and have several more underlined on my schedule, the pink-paper security blanket I have on me at all times.

It seems there are two philosophies regarding a graduation lecture. You can identify a topic with which you struggle, and use the preparation for the lecture to learn more about the subject and, with luck and hard work, master it. Or you can choose an area with which you have some comfort going in, and focus on providing your own wisdom, supported by what else you learn, to your classmates.

With the former approach, the lecturing student learns a lot. I’m not sure how much the students in the audience learn, however, as the lecturer still is a bit of a novice in the subject. That tentativeness is readily apparent during Q&A.

With the latter approach, the lecturing student doesn’t learn as much, but has a greater chance of truly advancing the craft and knowledge of the lecture attendees, including going beyond the prepared remarks in Q&A.

A local resident walks her dog past my dorm. I think VCFA needs its own dog, a mascot they could give some literary name, like Poe or Flannery.

I came here with an idea for a lecture in my mind. It is a topic in which I wish to learn much more about, but I’m not convinced it would have a broad interest among my fellow students. Yesterday, over grease-conveying eggs and bacon (yum!) in the dormitory cafeteria, a fellow student suggested a lecture topic for me in which I have years of experience. Last night, I raised the possibility with two other students over drinks on a roof deck at a Montpelier watering hole (I had a Mojito, because when you think Vermont, don’t you think of an island drink?). One of my fellow drink-mates, who is a returning graduate assistant, said “Your main goal in your final residency is to complete your creative thesis (your creative writing). Why wouldn’t you choose a lecture topic that wouldn’t require a lot of time to produce?”

Because doing so would make me feel guilty of intellectual laziness?

That said, I find myself imagining giving that “lazy” lecture, to a hall that would have far more students than the one with the lecture in which I would learn more. And I think about that extra time for creative writing, time that might help me move my travel memoir to completion.

I have six months to decide. But, dear readers, you probably already sense what direction I am moving. Now I am just asking myself permission.

Topics: patrick ross, mfa in writing, Montpelier, residency, lecture

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