Category Archives: discover 101

We survived, but what will become of us?


So, the last week of classes is here–which means papers, projects, and presentations galore. In DSC101, my students successfully finished their commentary projects, and they are rightfully proud of their work. Not all the groups were able to sustain the analysis throughout the entire length of their films, perhaps because of time management and pre-planning pitfalls, but all really wrestled with their pieces and seem to have broken through the plate glass dividing summary from close reading. The Signal offered a rich opportunity for analysis, especially in its editorial orchestration of shots and experimental structure, and that commentary I felt was particularly successful. Another team working on Alien did an exceptional job looking at the development of key themes through cinematography and mise-en-scene, despite being composed of commuters who found it difficult to meet. The group working on Dawn of the Dead faced off with a couple of significant material hurdles, not least of which was only having three on the team–a couple groups encountered similar problems, which is prompting me to reconsider asking students to comment on the entire film. Perhaps a judicious excerpting of 20 minutes would be more useful, especially given the challenges posed by the act of selection itself–figuring out how to observe carefully and critically largely depends on being able to excerpt, to select, to look through a prism that you’ve ground and shaped, with reference to the whole. And perhaps my favorite film from the 1970s, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre gave that group a rich set of images and themes to explore–they did a particularly good job with their research (though a monograph isn’t a novel, Jared!). I’d insert a smiley-face there if I could….

I think the methods and practices we explored in this class–for research, for time management and pre-planning, working as part of a team, considering the project as a whole, proactively discovering and making use of the University resources–will carry over into other classes and coursework, and I’m curious to know whether that’s the case. Everyone here will be moving on to Composition 2 in the Spring–I’ve been trying to reinforce the idea that, even though we’re working in film this term, the segment they’ll cover on literary analysis should feel comfortable.  After teaching this class, I more firmly believe that being able to think laterally is the skill-set most necessary for success in any discipline, but the difficulty is providing not just projects but also environments that enable students break out of traditional educational models. Who says you can’t do anything with an English major?





If I have the time, between two new preps next term, I”ll be presenting on the project and its results in the Spring, during our increasingly generative Teaching Toolbox sessions.

Midterm in Discover

Sadly, I’ve been less-than-dilligent about posting to this teaching blog–in part because of the chaos of my recent move, but also because this term has been busier in the classroom than most. My students seem to be slowing down a little, which isn’t surprising around this time of year; nonetheless, I think each group is coming along swimmingly.

Imagination, as someone is said to have noted, is more important than knowledge, and I can’t think of a better place to discover a critical sense of creativity than in the film class. This term, I’m working very hard on encouraging my first year students to test the waters–especially in terms of their own skills and abilities, but also in terms of their approach to research and coursework. Though I shouldn’t be, I’m often surprised when students freeze up or become shy in the face of a new idea or an unfamiliar task; it’s my hope that after this term, these first years will have acquired the academic self-confidence to play with new ideas, to dive into an assignment that asks one to learn new technologies, new skills, new ways of challenging themselves.

My DSC101 students completed the first essay project, and while many slightly missed the goals of the assignment–to organize their narrowed film analysis around a single point, generally the overall implicit or explicit meaning of Night of the Living Dead–I was happy to see most working hard on their ideas. (One student made her first trip to office hours in college with me!) I received a lot of responses that more resembled collections of observations than thesis-driven essays. And then again, this isn’t a writing class–though everyone should be simultaneously taking Composition 101. If I teach this course again, I’ll probably spend more time talking with the class about what they’re doing in Composition, just to help connect the dots.

We’re beginning work on the collaborative commentary project, and spirits seem to be picking up a little–I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with, and how the group dynamics pan out. The hardest thing about this project will be organization and staying on task.

Discussing Film Form

I was very impressed with my Discover 101 students today, who seemed really to get into the film analysis portion of our class–we watched the first ten minutes of Night of the Living Dead, and used it as a springboard for discussing some of the basic concepts of film analysis, locating patterns, key elements in the film, variations in the established patterns, and the four levels of meaning we’ll be working with throughout the term.

Almost everyone spoke, and had good things to say; a small handful were quiet, so I’ll have to draw them out next class! In general, there was an initial leap toward the grandly symbolic, so another thing we’ll have to continue to focus on is concreteness and specificity. Next class we’ll talk more about narrative development, plot patterns and segmentation, characterization, cause and effect.

Night of the Living Dead

Tomorrow in Anatomy of a Film, I’m planning to show a clip from Night of the Living Dead that should work as a good springboard for a discussion of the key elements of film form, which students should have read. We’ll discuss conventions and prior experience; the way we register emotion within the film and in our own responses; the differences between referential, explicit, implicit, and symptomatic meaning; the concept of interpretation; the nature of evaluation; and especially the basic issues of function and motivation, similarity and repetition, difference and variation, development, and unity.

Farah will spend a bit of time at the beginning of class going over some issues of adjustment that the students might be facing, and I’ve also got to go over homework assignments as well as discuss the portfolio project. Should be a fun class–I’m hoping we’ll have time for it all!

Overcoming the First Day Syllabus Blues

I’m determined, this term, to not fall into either the 1.) going-over-the-syllabus-the-first-day cop-out or the 2.) jump-right-in-to-lecture cop-out, both of which so often become standards (usually because we’re so busy prepping courses, finishing syllabi, or participating in the pipe-dream of having all the basic course plans for the entire rest of the term in some  sort of presentable shape. My plans for the first day of classes — tomorrow I have Anatomy of a Film and World Literature: Renaissance through Enlightenment — are really to get right into the material from a practical standpoint.

In Anatomy, I’d like to focus attention on the basic content as well as the expectations of the college classroom by having students break into pairs to read and present on segments of a short article from The Atlantic called “Don’t Fear the Reaper”; this should impress the idea that these films do have an important cultural location. Then I want to leap into the major assignment by showing students a clip from a similar set of projects by GW students. I’d then like to ask for some reflective writing, a “letter to self” that will become, by the next class, a draft of the personal statement for the portfolio. Then, for a few minutes, I’ll show them the Bb site and the blog, just to make sure they know where everything is. Homework should be pretty straightforward: reading, revising the personal statement, browsing the Bb site/s, and reading the syllabus/policies online.

World Literature, I hope, will have much the same shape, though students should have a good sense of the college classroom dynamic by now. I plan to put on the board four or five key features of the Renaissance, as discussed in the Norton Introduction, and try to get a sense from the class of what they understand about those features. Then, we’ll listen to the Italian of a poem by Petrarch–perhaps the first Canzoniere, read it aloud in English, and try to come up with a list of ways the poem might fit into (or expand!) those basic articulations of context. Grasping the “plain sense,” as I. A. Richards describes it in Practical Criticism, will I imagine prove the biggest hurdle, and so I’ll go over some tools and expectations (via Jason Jones on ProfHacker). I also want to introduce students to the possible alternative 2nd essay assignment they might begin thinking about, as well as the complexities of our Bb site–which I’d love to migrate to WordPress…. Ah, well–the future must hold some new projects!

On a side note, I finally finished my Routledge ABES annotation for Ildiko Csengei’s “‘I will not weep’: Reading through the Tears of Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling.” Yay!