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Monday, July 14, 2014

A rare summertime post

I've been working on syllabi and assignments yesterday and today. Yesterday, I worked mostly on Fiction Writing--largely taking into account the feedback I got from students that they wanted more writing exercises from the beginning, less reading. I'm still giving a fair amount of reading, but I've significantly codified what I want students to look for and note when they do read, focusing on elements of the story construction and craft. I'm also trying to tie the choice of reading to the writing exercises--and I'm giving them specific at-home exercises to work on, in addition to writing their stories. So not only was I working on the assignment schedule--which I like, I think, though I need to check it again when I've been away from it for a while--I also was reworking some of the handouts and creating new ones, essentially one for each of the literary elements I want them to locate in the readings.

NOTE: I actually wrote this one ages ago, but it seems I never posted it--or if I did, I used a different title and now don't recognize it. Do I repeat myself?

In any event, I wanted to note that I was doing some "real" reading (of the "I have to use the intellectual side of my brain" variety) and had an idea about how I wanted to make the 101 students work through their reading so, as I said...

I've been following that approach myself, to see how it feels. It is--as former student Natasha once said
about reading logs--hell on a stick, but damned if it doesn't work. I read and annotate the text like I normally do, using all my own little notations (arrows, stars, and so on) and writing comments in the margins--but then I go back over my own annotations and expand on them in a notebook, revisiting thoughts, working on questions, making connections. The expansion on the annotations truly does help me hold on to ideas better, longer.

Of course, I know students won 't be able to do as much as I do, or get as much out of it, but I'm hoping the practice helps. I've formatted the prompts for their expanded annotations to focus their attention on writing out their understanding of what the author has to say: that's always the trick, to get them past mere summary or superficial paraphrasing. I don't know if this will work any better than the hundred or so other things I've tried, but we'll see.

And I did some preliminary research on the first topic I want to cover with them; I don't know yet what I'm going to use from what I've found, but I do want to have at least one or two things that we all read together, in addition to sending them off to do research on their own.

I was thinking I'd have them read specific pages from the handbook, as I used to do--but in order to ensure that they actually do the reading and, more important, understand that it has something to do with their writing, I need to do something more than just assign the pages: they'd either have to have homework on it, or in-class quizzes or something--and I'm not at all sure I want to spend the time and energy on that. On the other hand, I want them to actually use the handbook: students in the 102 classes didn't do that much, and if I'm going to make them buy the book, it seems I should do enough with it to make it worth the purchase.

I've also been thinking about scheduling conference weeks with them. Part of that thought is coming out of the meeting about the seminar hours that we had on Monday. (Long story what "seminar hours" are: I'll explain some other time.) We won't have a system in place for those hours for a year, but I'm already thinking about how I'd handle them and wondering if reinstating conferencing would do it. Because I'm reinventing 101 from the ground up, it's easy enough for me to simply have the students read less and spend more time with them one-on-one--which god knows they all would benefit from receiving--but it is pretty fucking exhausting, I have to say.

And right at the moment, I'm almost blind from having been focused on the computer for hours, and I can feel my brains turning to pancake batter (oooooo, pancakes!)

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