Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bitchin' Camero Bitchin Camero

I gave back essays today and one student was stamping her feet in frustration --- "oohg, erg, argh, I got a better grade last time! I hate this class! I got a C+!"

Immediately another student called out "I love this class!" They were peer review group members, so she goes over and asked what he did to fix the end of his essay. "What did you get?" she asked.

"A C+."

It was pretty hilarious. At least I have them engaged and involved, right?

And going through the piles of peer reviews, I found one girl had written on her partner's paper, after increasingly enthusiastic comments at the beginning, "This essay is bitchin'!" Seriously? We're bringing that back?


Thursday, November 17, 2011

In Memoriam

That professor I mentioned as being in and out of the hospital earlier has just died. Please keep her in your thoughts.

I agreed to take over one of her classes. Everything over here is horrible. Everything.

Now, do I start working on the pile of job apps coming due or the piles of overdue essays? Gah.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Not what you thought

I had a student come to my office hours today because he had an idea about the reading (!!!) but was confused about how to organize that into a paper and relate it to another reading. I promised I would bring in instructions for our next class period. I have some stuff on my flash drive, but it might not be as useful as I had thought. I still am looking for how to teach structure without being too formulaic!

Anyway. I photocopied a bunch of stuff out of Writing Analytically and returned it today (I can't order a desk copy since the postdocs are not allowed to request different textbooks for classes; we are all on a dept. wide text for the comp and all the GE surveys.

I am going to do a variation on one of their exercises, "Seems to be About X But Could Also be (or is Really) About Y" --- which I have renamed in my title for brevity and rhyming goodness.

As the authors of Writing Analytically explain, "The person who is doing the interpreting too often stops with the first answer that springs to mind as he or she moves from observation to implication, usually landing upon a cliche. If this first response becomes the X, then he or she is prompted by the formula to come up with other, probably less commonplace interpretations as the Y."*

As an example, they mention a Nike Freestyle tv ad that contains basketball players dribbling and passing and maneuvering to the accompaniment of hip-hop music. The authors suggest that the ad seems to be about basketball (or shoes) but is really about...

Here they tell you to create a rapid-fire brainstorm list, such as:
  • Seems to be about basketball but is really about dance.
  • Seems to be about selling shoes but is really about artistry.
  • Seems to be about artistry but is really about selling shoes.
  • Seems to be about basketball but is really about race.
  • Seems to be about basketball but is really about the greater acceptance of black culture in American media and society.
  • Seems to be about the greater acceptance of black culture in America but is really about representing black basketball players as performing seals or freaks.
  • Seems to be about individual expertise but is really about working as a group.

I'm going to put up a bunch of Mad-Lib style sentences around the themes of this unit and ask them to complete them, then to do a rapid-fire list around one that really interests them, and then connect their lists to our various readings.

For example: 
America seems to be ______ but it is really ________.

Then I will have them do the reverse: This reading seems to be about theme X, but really it is about _____. I hope this really inspires creative thinking and analysis that goes in a little more depth than the obvious. Did I mention that in addition to defining and exploring what is analysis is, the authors define what is an idea and what makes a good idea?

This doesn't get me to them having thesis statements or outlines, but I have the rest of the week to concoct something that works.

See why I liked this book and told you to go look at it? I always love ideas for class exercises. Got any more? then pass them along!

*Oh dammit! I have cut off the page numbers on my photocopies! My bad.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Writing Analytically: a Quick Review

Remember how I was complaining about how to teach larger essay structures and not use the 5-p essay format? Someone suggested the textbook, Writing Analytically, by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen. I ILL'd it and need to give it back soon, so I'm doing a quick go-through, and hence, a very rough preliminary review for you all. In sum: I like it. It has a lot of useful ideas.

The drawback to a quick go-through, of course, is that I am seeing all sorts of useful ways of approaching analysis, and interesting ideas for restructuring assignments, but not really anything to throw in to the middle of a semester ---- it would be worthwhile to take the time of sitting down and reading it slowly and in depth while recreating a syllabus, or even for ordering and using in a course. I would get my own copy but I'm tight on money right now, but I'm writing up this post as much as a reminder for me as a recommendation.

So why is it useful? As people have pointed out in the comments of previous posts, college students don't really write classical rhetorical essays in their classes, and they will write essays in a lot of different disciplines besides English literature. I was mostly trained up in writing-across-the-disciplines myself, and sorta taught myself bits of rhetorical analysis and Toulmin, so the WAD argument (hehe, WAD! snicker) makes sense to me. (Side note: is this a West-Coast/East-Coast thing? A push away from classical or rhetorical and more of an emphasis on science/social science writing?)

The first chapter explains what analysis is and isn't, and claims that analysis can be broken down into 5 steps: 1) suspend judgment, 2) define significant parts and how they are related, 3) make the implicit explicit, 4) look for patterns, and 5) keep reformulating questions and explanations. Sound confusing? It is all explained simply and clearly, and gives little examples and activities for practice. It might be worth it to just photocopy it for your students and work that at the beginning of a semester, but chapter 2 is all about the "habits of mind" that prevent students from actually developing analysis in any depth. It is also useful --- though I don't know if assigning this to my students would actually produce good results. Hmm.

There are some really useful exercises in chapter 3: the toolkit of analytical methods. ---- Remember my little "pick the most important word in this poem" exercise? Well it helps somewhat, but only on certain assignments. This chapter has some more ideas for getting students to look closely at language: a paraphrase activity, a "notice and focus" and something called "10 observations on 1" --- I need to reread that to really grasp what they are getting at, but, remember, I am hurrying through the book. There is also an activity they call "The Method" (it sounds cool --- I need to do it while wearing Men in Black shades and an earpiece, no?) where you look at patterns, exceptions to patterns, and binaries.

Now, the authors claim that these toolkits and activities can be used in all disciplines, not just literary ones, and they have lots of great art history examples and a few history ones, but the book is very humanities-focused. I think these activities would go great in a literature course and I am assuming that learning the importance of close observation and understanding of patterns would help in more social science or science type courses, but I don't know that for sure.

The book also covers the basics of rhetoric and argument (warrants and claims) but as a single chapter or partial chapters that are examples of how to do analysis rather than the be-all and end-all of analysis. The second half of the book sets up a "process-oriented" approach to recursively inventing and refining a thesis and having the analysis shape the organization of a paper. It has interesting sections on moving between induction and deduction (defining these) and a nice explanation of the 5-p essay and why it is limited (and they call it Procrustean! I feel vindicated!). The discussion of paragraph structure and word choice is similarly focused around how these elements shape the analysis and the analysis shapes the form. Again, I don't know how well this kind of sophisticated and unstructured structure would work for my students here. I'm willing to try, though!

Part 3 is about using sources analytically in developing the research paper, which I haven't had to teach here yet. The ending has some grammar and style sections, so I guess you could get the version of the book with readings and use it as your main textbook.

Before I return the book I'm going to copy a few pages and see if I can throw some of the activities in my Stripey class, if not my comp class, if I can figure out how. I like the philosophy of this book and it has some inspiring ideas. Go check it out --- it might give you good suggestions for your intro to lit courses or regular lit classes in addition to freshman composition!