the carnivals of teaching: now with even more hurdy gurdy music!

The Teaching Carnival has turned out to be pretty amazing, thanks to the efforts of those who have hosted over the last several months. The next one is scheduled for March 15 at Mo Co Zone. Alice Bedard-Voorhees, the author of Mo Co Zone, had been trying to get me to participate in a podcast interview on this carnival series, but I flaked out and completely forgot. (Sorry!). She did, however, interview Liz Kleinfeld, carnival host and author of revisionspiral. You can listen for yourself right here.

Below is the comprehensive list of Teaching Carnivals. We need hosts for future carnivals starting with April 1. Please, as they say, step right up!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

what we major in when we major in english

I’m teaching our senior seminar this semester, a capstone course for the English major. Here’s my description:

This semester you should conduct the most thorough research and engage in the most challenging thinking of your college career so far. There are two threads to this class. First, you will reflect on and synthesize what you’ve learned over the last four years about literature and culture, theory and research. You will also fill a gap you identify in your undergraduate education. Second, you will think and talk about what comes next for you, after you graduate. Most of our class sessions will be devoted to (and most of your grade will be based on) the research required for your Capstone Paper, which is the first thread. However, we will also discuss topics relevant to the second thread in class and in individual conferences in my office.

Because this is a seminar, the content of class meetings will be shaped and driven by you, the students. You are responsible for presenting your research as well as for responding to others’ presentations. Come to class fully prepared each and every time the class meets.

Here’s what we did for today as we started thinking about ways to imagine what an English degree looks like:

  • Print a copy of your college transcripts and separately list all of your English courses. Make some notes (from memory, if necessary) on the readings and assignments you completed for these courses.
  • Read our U’s academic catalog description of the English major and familiarize yourself with the department’s offerings and the major’s requirements.
  • Conduct the same research at other schools by reading the catalogs of at least 10 other colleges and universities. Your selection strategy should be threefold. First, choose some nearby schools: Clemson, USC Columbia, Furman, Wofford, Converse. Next, pick a mixture of the “flagship” institutions of nearby states and private schools in those state: for example, the University of Georgia, Emory University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Davidson, the University of Virginia, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University. Finally, look at schools from some other parts of the United States: for example, the University of Kansas, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Washington. How do their offerings and requirements differ from ours? Be prepared for this research process to take a few hours.

This turned out to be a pretty interesting discussion, though I’m too pooped right now to provide much detail. I will suggest that you go look at Emory’s requirements and UGA’s requirements. These are pretty significantly different ways of designing a degree.

For Tuesday, I’ve assigned these essays:

I think I’m really going to like this class.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

freewriting in my 102 class

Two servings of English 102 (Composition and Literature) are on my plate this semester. I’ll probably write more about this class as the semester goes on, but I thought I’d blog a bit about today, the second meeting of my Tuesday-Thursday section. I’m having students turn in an essay next week, and this seems pretty soon to both them and me. But I want them to get used to writing before they think they’re ready to write. We are all too susceptible to thinking that writing is only supposed to take place when we’re inspired, when we’re comfortable, when we’re ready. I assigned some readings to that effect for today, readings designed to get them to think about writing as a sloppy process with many steps and many loops back to earlier points in the process. And there’s nothing magical about it. Someone tells you to write and you start writing. Big deal.

Yes, yes, their sleepy eyes and half-hearted nods seemed to say. We know this already. Of course.

Okay, then, here’s your assignment:

Paper 1: Personal Essay (taken from page 27 of Writing and Community Action)
“…question yourself and articulate what you believe…” (Deans 27)
Due Date: Tuesday, January 23
Length: 500 words, minimum
Value: 10% of your final grade
Description: For this essay, select one of the following:

  • A turning point in your ethical development.
  • A meaningful event that you experienced while involved in community service.

Although you should keep the focus on your personal experience, the essay should speak to what readers can discover from your rendering of personal experience. The essay should be based on autographical narrative, develop a central tension and turn, and make use of literary devices such as description, setting, character, and figurative language.

Okay, okay.

Do you have any questions? Do you understand what it’s asking you to do?

Yeah, sureOkay, take out a piece of paper. I want you to freewrite for ten minutes.

What?! About what?

About what the assignment is asking you to write about.

But…but I’m not ready!

What did we just spend all that time talking about?

But I don’t understand the assignment!

I just asked you if you had any questions and you said no. Now stop delaying and just start writing.

It was an instructive experience. We think we’re being smart by talk talk talking about all of this stuff about writing. And the students know to look interested and to nod at the appropriate places. But when the rubber hits the road, it’s extremely hard to shake off the associations we have with writing.

Anyway, I did some freewriting along with them. Then I emailed it to them, like so:

Well, here’s what I wrote today. I think we all know what kind of first draft Annie Lamott would call this. Feel free to give me some feedback that would help me revise this into something better I’ll bring in a revision on Tuesday:

I began to think differently about people with disabilities when my knee began to hurt last week. What surprised me was how angry I felt—at my leg (I guess), at the other people I thought were staring at me, and at people who tried to hurry me to walk more quickly than I felt comfortable doing. It wasn’t anything dramatic. One day I was walking into the grocery store and my left knee suddenly felt like someone had jabbed a steak knife in from the side. It hurt so much that I had to sit down right in the middle of the parking lot. I’m not an athlete, and I hadn’t been doing anything to injure myself. I guess I’m just getting old. It wasn’t my fault.

It had never occurred to me that people with disabilities might feel extremely self-conscious. But as I write that it seems like a stupid thing to say. It had never occurred to me that someone could be angry at their body for breaking down, for malfunctioning. But thinking about my own reaction—and imagining that others might have the same reaction—has sort of pushed me to try to remember to be more patient with others. Well, I’m not that impatient to begin with, so that’s not quite right.

Any time I experience something painful or awkward or difficult, I try to reflect on what the experience might teach me about others who also experience those things. Otherwise, it’s just an unhappy time in life. Empathy is what I’m after. If all we do is stay within our own comfort zones, then we’re not likely to become anything greater than we are now.


Feel free, fearless blog reader, to give me your own feedback on this “shitty first draft.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

select bibliography and/or living with tech limitations

Below are links to a very short bibliography on John Gay’s 1728 play, The Beggar’s Opera, about which I intend to blog a bit more later. The student who chooses to complete paper 2 will choose one of these articles, or she will find another article on her own.

Note two things about this bibliography, each of which reflects my willingness to (for the nonce) deal with certain limitations.

First, I’ve taken to creating all my course materials in Microsoft Word, instead of some open-source alternative like Open Office, which I formerly used. This is a Microsoft campus, and all the hardware and network stuff is designed to work with Microsoft software, so … *shrug.* In order to create a webpage version of my documents, I choose “Save as Webpage” rather than code my own HTML, which I used to do and which satisfied some perverse typographical perfectionist bug in my brain but which took a crazy amount of time. To create the PDF, I just choose “Save as PDF” from the Apple OS X print menu. Now, this shift in my process is not exactly a limitation, but it reflects a willingness in the interests of time on my part to put up with sometimes code-heavy webpages–have you looked at the HTML that Word creates? it’s ugly–that display a bit wonky.

Second, I’ve decided that students do not necessarily need to read and write about the absolutely most recent scholarly work. So I’m pointing them to JSTOR, the full-text database to which our library subscribes, not Project MUSE, the full-text database to which it does not. JSTOR is strong as a archive, but it has a “moving wall” of something like five years with many journals, some of them being the most prominent in the field: only articles that are at least five years old will appear there. By contrast, Project MUSE has the most recent goods. Clearly research about and analysis of literature does not have the kind of shelf life that other fields do, although as we all know, some arguments and assumptions become quite outdated. In the end, however, I’m not going to stress about freshness, but I will see what I can do to get my campus to subscribe to Project MUSE.

Oh, and I did not give in to the aforementioned bug and format the bibliography according to MLA style, I just saved the entries right out of JSTOR and posted them, with their bizarre stable URLs. On a campus with a JSTOR subscription, all a student has to do is click on the link and voila! she can peruse said article.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

feedback sought on paper 4

This is the final paper in British Literature, 1660-1740. I have a lot of questions, so please weigh in. It’s kind of a short description. Maybe too short. Ideally, by the end of the semester, students will have had a good bit of practice (through two papers and lots of class discussion) at

  • analyzing literary texts carefully and thoughtfully,
  • understanding how these literary texts affect and are affected by the culture in which they are written and read,
  • reading and evaluating literary scholars’ arguments,
  • generating good research/analysis questions,
  • and answering good research/analysis questions.

In other words, while at the beginning I might hold their hands a little through some of the basics of studying literature, by the end of the semester, they ought to be more capable and independent. Is that an unreasonable expecation?

I don’t give them suggested topics. Should I? I require them to address 2 or 3 different texts in the hopes that this will make plagiarism more difficult. Is that a mistake? I require them to use 5 scholarly sources in their paper. Is that a reasonable expectation?

Should the description be longer? Should it be more directive?

Literary analysis concerning 2 or 3 works we’ve read this semester
Due Date: Monday, April 30
Length: 1,500-2,000 words
Value: 20% of final grade
Description: This assignment requires you to write a persuasive argument supporting a clearly stated thesis concerning at least two but no more than three of the works we have read this semester. Any topic you choose should be cleared by me before {insert date here}. Your paper must cite at least five scholarly sources. Your paper must use textual evidence to support your argument and to engage in thoughtful analysis.

Finally, (and I’m just kind of writing and thinking this through at the same time) I’m make the paper due on last day of class–as you can see from the course calendar–and I’m also giving a final exam. In the past I have required students to turn in a 1- or 2-page prospectus two weeks before the paper is due with the aim of getting them thinking about and working on their final papers early enough to devote a decent amount of time to the project…I’m not sure why I didn’t include that here. Part of my hesitation is that their work on the final project starts to compete with what we’re reading in the last weeks of class. For example, if a prospectus is due two weeks before the final paper is due, then they’re not going to be writing about The Beggar’s Opera unless they read ahead. On the other hand, the final exam can cover that material pretty thoroughly.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email