Tag Archives: reflect

Spring 2011… At long last!


So, as you can clearly tell, I “took a break” from this teaching blog. Deliberately, you ask? Well, not quite… Though I’d like to think it was a conscious decision. I’m going to restart it, though, because I’m teaching several new courses this term and I want to have a place where I can keep track of my thoughts, experiments, failures, and more. This term, I’ve got a lot on my plate, which really makes my attempt to keep anything like a blog rather counterintuitive, as far as I can tell, but we’ll see what happens.

The term has almost (but not quite) reached midterm, so I thought a bit of reflection was in order. (Three classes + three new preps) + (three tutorials + three new preps) = chaos, of course. EN290, Introduction to Literary Theory and Practice is a gateway course for majors and minors, and I’m using the Michael Ryan Practical Introduction along with Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems. The small class size (six!) really makes for an intimate discussion, but the material, despite Ryan’s highly lucid overviews, is still challenging. I spend a lot of time going over what we’ve already gone over, under the theory that repetition is the better part of valor, but I think it does help the students. The more abstract approaches–deconstruction and poststructuralism, but also structuralism–have proven problematic, in part because I don’t want to water the theory down. However, I’m learning that the most important thing to keep in mind is the example, and the so what; the how, and the why. Bishop’s poems, of course, are challenging on their own, and even with Ryan’s analyses, they are difficult to get at.  My worry with this class is that students may get tired of reading so much Bishop–this is a bit like what I experienced with early EN200 courses that took up the story of Robinson Crusoe and its adaptations.

EN207, Theater History, is a great enjoyment to me, though I’m still parsing out the best way to do it. I’d love to be able to focus on the cultural and material history, supplemented with excerpts from a host of plays; however, this means an entire summer of course prep. It’s one of the things I’m planning on devoting time to over the summer months. This term, though, I’ve been able to narrow the focus to British drama from the Renaissance, the Restoration, and the eighteenth century, or the “early modern” period broadly–well, excluding most of the medieval period, except as a context for Renaissance dram, and including the late-early modern eighteenth century.  We’re reading a fabulous selection of plays: Doctor Faustus, The Revenger’s Tragedy, The Country Wife, The Rover, The Beggar’s Opera, and She Stoops to Conquer. Instead of assigning a great deal of contextual reading, students are using only a couple of essays from the Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre; the Thomson essay is very dense, but do-able with work, something I try to emphasize every day. These materials are supplemented with handouts of primary source materials and lectures, and thus far, it feels just right in terms of reading material. In addition to streamlining the secondary materials, I’m asking students to summarize every reading we do, as we do it; it’s a lot of work for me, but I’m hoping that the practice will help improve writing skills–and, that the summaries of the Oxford Illlustrated essays will be useful as study materials.

The third class on my docket is EN502, a graduate theory course–this is the first time I’ve taught it, and I’m so happy that I’ve got the undergrad EN290 to complement it. I can arrange quite a bit of cross-fertilization between these two courses, which makes the prep much easier. However, the students here are energetic and thoughtful, which makes our conversations quite enjoyable–though it is a great deal of work, I look forward to the class every night. Again, I’m having students summarize every week, in addition to providing an illustration/application of the theory. The illustration has thus far proven the most problematic portion, as I’ve not assigned any literary texts for us to work with as a class; instead, I’m bringing in pieces discussed in the theory. The class seems to be working well with this set-up–at least, as far as I can discern right now.

More details on tutorials later; for now, ta ta.

New Classes, Old Classes, Reimagined Classes

Classes resume on the 11th of January for us here at Marymount, and I have to admit, last term was a bit of a supersonic blur–and the holiday “break” was anything but, given our trip to Philadelphia for a serious several days of interviews. Syllabi are due on the 4th (er, that would be today!), and I’ve been working on my class wiki for the upcoming term. This term, I’m also going to be experimenting with facebook as a teaching and communication tool, though I’m a bit worried that not every student will be using the platform already. Ideally, I would be able to find a simple widget that would allow simultaneous cross-posts on Blackboard, PBworks, and facebook. But that doesn’t really look like it’s going to happen…. Thank goodness for graduate student assistants!

So, in the Spring I’m returning to Composition 102, a writing course that engages the 1920s through film, as well as Elements of Literary Study, a writing/research/introduction to the discipline course that I’ve designed around classical Ovidian myths, folktales, and their adaptations in a variety of genres. My new class for the term is Studies in the Novel, a 400-level majors and honors student course subtitled “Selling Stories of Sex and Gender in the 18th Century Novel.” We’ll be reading novels by Defoe, Richardson, Cleland, Lennox, and Dacre, supplemented by shorter pieces by Haywood and Fielding, in addition, if possible, to a few other primary source contextual materials. The course will be organized around the web, in a very loose sense, as students will contribute their materials for presentations and discussion leadership projects to the class wiki; in addition, I’m going to replace the last, long essay with a “research web” students will create around a topic they’re interested in. A little along the lines of David Porter’s Eighteenth-Century England, but with less emphasis on a coherent project and more on discovering a topic, presenting relevant research materials, and organizing the site. In Elements of Literary Study, I’ll also be returning to the wiki as a classroom tool, for the explication project and the collaborative research project–however, I’ll definitely need to tweak the assignment for the collaborative work, as students last year found it difficult to keep the kinds of annotations they were to do straight. I’d also like to emphasize the use of hyperlinks to create a coherent whole for the collaborative project–though the pages are rapidly multiplying, and I’ll probably also need to have a GA organize it into folders and prepare a document for students on navigating them. In the future, it might be useful to have a priced site, but for now, the free PBworks seems to do what’s needed.

New year’s resolution? To use this blog the way it should be used!

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!

Fall 2009 courses

This fall, I’m teaching three courses: DSC101, EN203, and EN/HU501. DSC 101 is a first-year seminar organized around the analysis of popular horror films, which I’m very eager to get started on. As an introduction to college coursework, the course seeks to make analysis, close reading, and research a little more interesting; as an introduction to college as a new kind of learning space, the course seeks to encourage collaboration, lateral thinking, and effective use of technology (not limited to computers, but tools of all sorts!).

EN203 is my survey course, World Literature: Renaissance through Enlightenment; I likely won’t re-organize this course in any broad way this term, as I’ve got the DSC101 and EN/HU501 to focus my attention.

Final, a graduate course on research, writing, and analysis in the seminar environment, EN/HU501. Check that out online!

A new term and…a clean desk?

The Fall 2009 term is just about to begin, and I’ve been madly prepping, trying to get as much done as possible before classes overwhelm me. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time experimenting with new technologies, putting together research tutorials for posting to the web, and cleaning out my office, which is in the process of being overwhelmed, itself, with paper. Which is ironic, given my penchant for things electronic. Perhaps that is another problem to procrastinate over/with–how best to go paperless, keeping in mind the need for easy accessiblity? So, my desk isn’t quite clean, yet, though I hope it’s getting there.

This summer has been both productive and non-productive, depending on where you stand or what kind of mood you’re in… I taught a summer World Literature course, which was a lot of fun but also full of difficulties, as we had only 5 students enrolled. Any problem became magnified five-fold, it seemed. But, I did a wet run of a video research project assignment I’d been wanting to try out; most projects were successful, though I say that fully acknowledging the rather open-ended nature of the assignment parameters, which was one thing I learned about such a project. The more steps along the way that have deadlines and can be graded, the better! I will rework the assignment and try it again, so if anyone out there has suggestions, drop me a note.

I participated in a summer seminar at West Virginia University on Gender and Disability Studies, with Robert McRuer, and that was engaging on so many levels–I’ve been trying to return to my dissertation, carve out a few articles and so on, and the seminar gave me a jump start. Now I’ve got a whole stack of books on popular culture and embodiment sitting on the kitchen island, waiting to be read. Very impressed with Rethinking Popular Culture; the introduction is wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated, but intensely readable and lucid.

Other things: sent off a paper proposal for ASECS 2010, as well as a roundtable proposal, but haven’t yet gotten around to the annotation I need to do for the Routledge ABES…. Altogether, I feel rather less than more productive. And this upcoming term, with three preps, one entirely new, likely won’t make me rethink that statement!