class meetings on secondary readings

Back in February, KF posted a question to Palimpest: “How do you get your students to engage actively with a small piece of a long text before they’ve read the whole thing?”

I have the opposite question, I suppose: When you’ve assigned 2 or 3 articles of secondary reading, how do you provoke, manage, promote, (what-have-you) class discussion?

In my course on “Histories of Writing, Reading, and Publishing,” we’re reading a good many secondary articles here at the beginning of the course (like Darnton and Feather). Discussion is going pretty well, but I feel like we’re perhaps moving a bit too quickly through the material and that we might not be doing it justice.

One way I try to frame discussion is through some basic questions:

  • What are the main points of this essay?
  • What are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does it differ from / disagree with other material we’ve read?
  • How does it apply to the issues we are considering?

So what do you do?

[Cross-posted at Palimpsest.]

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3 thoughts on “class meetings on secondary readings

  1. Ooh, that’s a hard one. This semester I’m making my students read much more than I have previously, but I don’t think I’ve worked out how to have a GOOD discussion about the texts yet. I try to grab one or two main points and get the students to try to think about them in relation to some specific example. For instance, we’re talking about Emergence now, so I’ll ask them whether they think Flickr has any emergent qualities. Actually I should have asked them that today but we never got that far… and it’s so easy to kind of answer the questions before asking them. Sigh.

  2. One of my undergraduate instructors had us write reading notes for each major work that we read.
    These reading notes were limited to one page and single-spaced. This length limit made us focus our thoughts quickly. The first paragraph was pure summary and no opinion was allowed. The second paragraph involved some critical analysis. We had to find something we didn’t agree with in the text and use quotes from the text to support our opinion. Then, the third and final paragraph was something we agreed with or liked about the text and again, we had to use quotes in this paragraph to support our opinion.
    With harder texts, such as the Aeneid, we just did a 2 sentence summary of each chapter.
    I found writing reading notes to be very helpful. It helped me to interact with the text and really do a close reading — much more so than if I had no formal response to prepare. Plus, I was much more prepared in advance to speak intelligently in class.

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