Thursday, January 20, 2005

Two Days in the Life of Spring Semester

I was glad to find out that I'm not the only one who thinks this semester is going to be a thousand times better than last semester! Some of us in the cohort went out to lunch at Mangia (in the Dinkydome) for Terry's birthday (today) as well as Joe and Scott's birthday (tomorrow). (Had penne pesto--tres good!) Anyway, we briefly discussed how we were surprised and happy and loved the two classes we've had so far.

And I just want to share some of the points that seemed especially important and interesting (and some comes from handouts, so shh, don't tell my professors, in case they actually care, which I don't think they would):

Amanda Thein teaches a class called Developments in Teaching English and Speech. She gave us a handout that had discussion generating questions regarding a piece called Life According to Motown. (We read about four pages of it.) Here are some questions she gave us:
Personal response questions:
1. Which events in this text can you relate to? Have you had similar experiences?
2. Can you identify with any of the characters? Which ones and why?
3. Is this text pleasurable for you to read? Why or why not?
Critical response questions:
1. Who is the author's audience? Who are the insiders? How is the text positioned for readers like you?
2. Who is not included in the author's audience? Who are the outsiders? Would people from particular cultures, social classes, genders, sexual orientations read and understand the text in the same way you do? Why is this important?
3. What in your own culture limits the way that you read this text? What does your interpretation say about class, privilege and power?

I thought those questions could really be used in a variety of texts (if not all texts) studied in the classroom. Getting students beyond the "I liked it" is difficult, so it's important to arrive with an arsenal of questions.

We talked a little about English as a discipline--why do we think it's important? OY! That's a huge question! We talked about the practical--being able to write a resume, being able to function in a world without being embarrassed, being able to read directions and instructions, being able to write a memo properly, being able to write and deliver a speech. We talked about enjoyment--being able to escape into a novel without language tripping you up, being able to watch a film and understand the various things going on beyond plot and characters, being able to write a letter to a close friend, etc. We talked about students being critical thinkers and we talked about literature being a community experience--giving the students a sense of urgency to learn more about the world beyond their bubble and finding that in books.

Rick Beach teaches Teaching Literature (now that just sounds silly) and there are a few points that I found particularly important/interesting and wanted to put them here:

Actually, I also need to point out that it was the activity that we did that allowed these notes to come about--we were to sit down with a group and discuss a piece of writing from Coming of Age, Vol. 2 edited by Emra and how we might teach it. Our group selected a newspaper called "Cut" in which the author discusses a moment where he was cut from a team and used that as a defining point where he was determined to defy it; he then goes on to look at other successful people's moments of failure that turned into a strengthening experience. (One example we came up with as a group was Michael Jordan--he was cut from his high school basketball team apparently.) We figured we could have the kids do a prereading journal where they would write about a moment where they didn't accomplish something according to their expectations (not explicitly saying "failure"), which would then engage the students in the topic as well as activate prior knowledge. Students would then disuss how they felt--did they get a pit in their stomach when recalling the moment, etc.? Students would then have ten minutes to read text and we would discuss what went on in the text; this would be followed with a WebQuest-type project where the students would research a person who either took a moment of failure and made it positive (ex: Jordan or Abe Lincoln) or they took a moment of failure and have made it negative (ex: Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson). Students would talk about what rejection means--what the words "success" and "failure" mean, etc.

Other groups had some really great ideas for activities that I want to jot down here too:
Write obituary of character, write journal entries of character, convert a journal entry into a short story, write journal from another perspective, letter from one character to another, role play skit (have characters discuss and/or work out issues), map out narrative structure, frontload historical events--what do you already know and what books/movies represent this, relate to current situation (ex: Viet Nam and Iraq), ending: satisfying? why? rewrite ending, and discuss if journals should be published (ex: Anne Frank, etc.). Some of these are fairly obvious kinds of activities, but to a beginning teacher, I think we need to consider as many old, revamped, and new ideas as possible.

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