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.


Sapience said...

You don't have to ask for a desk copy, you can ask for a review copy. If you might assign the book someday--it doesn't have to be for the next semester, even--the publishers want to send it to you. Every year, they come to our first-year writing program and hold a book fair for instructors. They push loads and loads of books on us (even ones we don't ask for) in order to a) meet their quota, and b) expose us to their products so when we are faculty some day, we might use their products. In my opnion, you should have no guilt whatsoever asking Wadsworth/Cengage for a review copy, even knowing you won't be assigning it as a textbook while you're a post doc.

Anna said...

This post is very timely. I think I will use this exercise not only in my class but in my brainstorm sessions for my diss. A useful reminder of things we learn but sometimes forget is always helpful.