Overcoming the First Day Syllabus Blues

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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!

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