The Zine Challenge: Early Reflections

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One student expresses her concern with how girl’s lacrosse is played and is arguing for the sport to be more physical with the addition of more protection like boy’s lacrosse has.

I have now been collecting data for a month, which also means my students are in the thick of zine making. The ride thus far has been relatively smooth and entirely fascinating. I did lose an entire day’s audio recordings due to my computer falling asleep and refusing to wake back up, BUT I have my reflections of the day, photos, and video recordings still. I was a little devastated at first, but quickly reasoned that I cannot possibly be the only one who has had this happen. The fascinating part of the study and the class in general right now is how I’m seeing everything they do through my researcher’s lens. While simply anecdotal right now before analysis, my students’ actions in the classroom and the discussions they are having appear rich in both identity exploration and relationship building.

A good example of the identity exploration comes from a few students really focusing their zine creations on a passion as well as those focusing on a side interest. The zine making has been paired with me teaching rhetoric, so the zine challenge my title refers to is actually an assignment my students are working through in class and outside of class when desired. It challenges students to choose a topic, an audience, and a rhetorical strategy for their zine and for the zine to be distributed. As to not undo my hard work in setting up my study, I have offered an alternative assignment that still meets the needs of learning and using rhetorical strategies, while not forcing creativity or a particular mode. I have had one student take the alternative assignment. I’ve also made the challenge a completion grade as to avoid grading their work on as much subjectivity. They create it or they don’t or they do an alternative assignment for the grade. Honestly, this set up still isn’t ideal, but I cannot escape my duties as their teacher as they prepare for the EOC and certainly need ways of exploring and using rhetoric. Zines are a nice way to explore those standards.

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Students use the photocopier to get a high-contrast black and white image from their phones.

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A student takes on issues related to all the current presidential candidates.

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A student, so excited about the aesthetic of a photocopied version of her phone along with photos, uses the full image of her phone instead of cutting the pictures out.

Students have expressed both their enjoyment of zine making as well as some dismay, but even those who groused about the proposition of zine making have come around to enjoy exploring their favorite topics or to use the zine as platform or personal voice. Students are arguing everything from how girl’s lacrosse should be more physical and require more protection to the history of hip-hop to female objectification. The subjects are intricate and rich and very poignant in some cases. One young lady is exploring racism, specifically racism centered against black communities. She herself is black. She appears inspired by an interaction in class just a week ago where a peer in the class, hoping to use a powerful example of pathos, wrote a misguided comment on race on the board as part of an activity. To respect both students, I am not going to reveal the saying here. The event was rich with opportunity for us as a class though. The young female student was aghast at the comment and made it very clear that what the male student had written (a Korean young man) was not okay and was quite vocal about her disgust with his actions. The male student’s intentions were good, certainly, but his choice opened the classroom up to a discussion about the issues with intent versus impact when words and culture collide. A younger version of me would have been terrified by this conversation, but slightly veteran me really embraced the chance to knock a few walls down and see students process and re-evaluate their own mode of thinking. By the end of the class, the female student had forgiven the other student. Her current focus on racism in her zine seems very much inspired by the event that had good intentions but harsh social consequences.

Relationally, zine making has given me an opportunity to strike up personal conversations with students individually and in groups where we explore their topics together. I can see them opening up to me and to one another. The issue I see is they are only really comfortable in their own groups. I am considering shaking up the table seating chart when we get back from spring break just to see the results of repositioning them. Going back to the incident I wrote about above, this process of zine making and discussing rhetoric also allowed me to follow up with the young man who wrote the offending phrase about how he felt about the process. He was quite mature about the incident and our discussion brought us both to a degree of better understanding of one another as well as the concerns the young black female student in the class had.

I’ll stop rambling now, but I think this small reflection demonstrates the power of what could be happening in my classroom. I won’t know for sure until I’m analyzing every word and action my students take, but in the meantime, I am thrilled at what I’m observing.

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