Hello! It's been a while, hasn't it? I have been all out of blogging mojo. And, frankly, teaching and grading mojo. I have no clue why this fall was so exhausting compared to other semesters when I have had a lot more on my plate, but that was the case.
I am debating shuttering the blog --- or at least I was for most of the semester, since I couldn't find the energy to say anything entertaining or interesting or even to think about posting anything at all. I was uninspired. And wondering if there was any point in keeping it up.
Today, however, I am visiting family and am bored. Everyone I know is still working this week, and my nieces/nephews are all in school still, so there is not that much exciting to do here. I am therefore dithering about with my spring courses as a pleasant time-killing activity until people are available to entertain me. And since no one is around here, I need to find people to be social with through the magic of the internets.
The problem is this: people, I am bored by literature surveys. Not that I don't like teaching them, but I think to myself, surely there is some more interesting way of assessing the students, is there not? As an undergrad my surveys were very traditional and held to the midterm-two papers-final exam format, which I always enjoyed and did well in, so I have followed that format in my own surveys. Now, however, I am suddenly bored by the thought of it. So come brainstorm with me.
If we throw out the traditional format of a midterm and final (for coverage and recall of lecture content) and two papers (to teach argument and analysis over a single text at length and in more depth) then we open up the doors for re-justifying the literature survey from the ground up: what is the survey supposed to do? what content goals do I have for the students to be introduced to? What skills and abilities do I most value and want my students to come away with? How important is coverage vs. depth? Textual reading vs historical context? Literary movements?
If I assign a traditional analytical paper, when should it be due? Should it cover a single text, compare multiples, be revised in light of later historical developments down the survey road? (BTW I have TA'd for a class that did this and I had many complaints about how lumpy and mechanical the "grafting" of the two texts/arguments was in the final product.)
If I assign a single large paper near the end of the term (and I really don't want to deal with research-type term papers in this survey), how does that link up with the lecture-discussion-quiz structure of the rest of the class? Or does it seem like some sort of random, disconnected assignment that a prof "throws in" near the end? I don't like that feeling so much. What sort of messages does that send the students about the importance of revision or drafting or planning the writing process? And why assign one instead of two, or three? How many licks does it take to get to the center of ... whatever pedagogical goals essay writing covers?
Maybe I should have the students create Youtube videos of cats, subtitled with the lines from one of the texts we have read. That sounds horrible. And yet...
Now if I assign a "creative rewriting" sort of project, does that emphasize creative connections at the expense of analyzing closely what is in the primary text? Someone I know has been doing imitations and creative rewritings based on the idea in this article that translating a text into a different expository format helps students understand/remember it more. I've had students re-write a text in the voice of another, or write your own sonnet using so-and-so's principles, but would having them write in other genres be helpful? Byron's OK Cupid profile? (with angry messages left from jilted ladies) MacBeth's resume? Frankenstein's creature's travel narrative with the Canterbury pilgrims? The lab report writing up the scientist's results in "The Birth-Mark"?
Leaving aside the point that with first-generation college students in particular, the results you get and have to comment on might be painfully egregious, I think these assignments may promote interesting connections and creative thinking, but not necessarily improve students' close reading or ability to sustain extended analytical arguments, which are sadly lacking in today's culture across the board. Then again, does writing one poorly-structured lit essay for me that gets a B- for "interesting ideas, but a lack of organization and development" actually help a student in any way? Particularly when I teach almost all non-majors and some of them might never be forced to write an essay in their other classes ever again? (Surveying, exercise science, I'm looking at you, majors...)
Likewise, I am interested in the idea of doing something "online" for an assignment but cannot think of anything with enough value. Blog posts and wikis, once you take away the public, shared aspect of them, end up being poorly structured analytical essay that students are even less likely to plan out or revise due to the immediacy and slapdash nature of the medium. And other suggestions I have been given involve new programs and mechanical skills that students need to take quite a bit of time to get up to speed on, time that I am not willing to take away from historical context or discussion of authors and texts. Hmph. I am willing to be converted, however!
Give me some suggestions. Give me bad and terrible suggestions as well as good ones --- the act of shooting down ideas often helps me clarify what I do want.