Thursday, September 29, 2011

It is rather when
We gloriously forget ourselves, and plunge
Soul-forward, headlong, into a book's profound,
Impassioned for its beauty and salt of truth–
'Tis then we get the right good from a book.

--from Aurora Leigh, EBB

I could do with some "gloriously forgetting myself" about now, EBB. What a week! I'm exhausted. I've edited and edited and edited my students' rough drafts during insanely extended office hours, and explained over and over again just what a thesis is and ought to accomplish. I can better appreciate now what my professors were going through in Journeys, or first year English classes like the Chaucer I took with my beloved Dr. West (I should really shoot her an email or a letter). I had my students practice the workshopping of a paper as a class with me last week, and we looked at a paper that I wrote on The Tempest for Literary Analysis when I was 19. It seemed shockingly bad to me--and to them, the grades they gave it ranged from a D to a B--but I do remember having received an A- from Dr. Entzminger. How generous!

I did a little stress-baking earlier in the week and baked oatmeal pecan cookies to send to Robert in Austin. They aren't bad, but I think I still need to work on my baking skills. They might have been better with real butter and chocolate chips, but I don't think those should make a huge difference.

Most exciting, I think, was my stretch of a lesson today (and tomorrow, for my morning section). In honor of Banned Books Week, I managed to tie Harry Potter in to a lesson from our textbook. Having read the chapter called "Arguments of Definition," my students were today instructed to discuss the 'definitions' of Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, and Slytherins. I had volunteers read the two songs of the Sorting Hat aloud, and I then jotted down on the board defining features of each House as called out by my students. We discussed what evidence we had of these as definitions and compared them to later stereotypes in the series; but the best part for me was when, in the last 10 minutes of class we Sorted ourselves. I had 4 Gryffs, 3 Ravies, 6 Hufflepuffs, and 7 Slytherins. I was shocked at the results! People admitted to being self-serving and hedonistic rather than noble. And virtually no one wanted to call themselves witty or bookish. Go figure. I dressed appropriately for the occassion as something like a Ravenclaw prefect:

shirt: American Apparel
vest: thrifted
skirt: thrifted
shoes: Urban Outfitters
socks: Sock Dreams
scarf: homemade, gifted

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Autumn Blog Revival

I feel pretty confident in my latest brainwave for an engaging and informative lesson, and as the leaves change and autumn rolls into Iowa, I have decided to revive this blog and describe this lesson plan.

The class I am teaching is called Rhetoric, and it is important that you all understand that it is not within the Department of English. The class is required for all first year students, and its purpose seems to be to teach freshmen how to analyze an argument, map a controversy, and advocate a point of view. We are strictly forbidden to assign a novel; the only books we are allowed to order are from a list of approved textbooks and "trade books," the latter being nonfiction books (my trade book is JSF's Eating Animals). I have two sections, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, both with twenty children in them.

Today's lesson was rooted in the chapter of the textbook entitled "What Counts as Evidence?" This weekend I was trying to devise an activity for the class when I had a brilliant thought. In the 7th grade I took a class called Media in which we spent an extended amount of time studying the Kennedy Assassination. It made a huge impression on me; for the next two years whenever I met someone I would ask them "Who do you think killed Kennedy?" before anything else. A softball coach told my mother based on this fact that I was a very unique child.

I watched the majority of the movie JFK last night and chose scenes that I thought would be good for my kids to watch. The majority of the clips are from DA Jim Garrison's actual trial against Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones with the most amazingly ridiculous white mini-afro). During the next class period we weill have a discussion where we critique the film/conspiracy against the textbook; in other words, regarding the Kennedy Assassination, what counts as evidence towards which conclusions? I suspect they will agree and disagree about some things. Although technically the purpose will be to get them to think deeply about what is and what isn't admissible as evidence in an argumnt, I will also be very glad to get them to think about this. As cynical as my kids are about things like advertising, I am not under the impression that any of them have bothered to ponder whether or not there was a massive government plot to murder its chief executive in 1963. Though cynical, they often seem apathetic. Which just breaks my little overenthusiastic English grad student heart!

I wanted to have them look at some of those Fiske and Princeton Review "guides to colleges" in groups later this week and have them read the chapter "Arguments of Fact" in the textbook together. I thought it'd be interesting for them to critique just how factual and persuasive those types of books are, to test them for certain arguments and see what happened. However, it turns out that in both the public and our school library, there is only one copy of a college guide and it is in the reference section and thus unavailable for check-out. Figures. So I'm going to allow the JFK activities to go on for a couple of days. They also have their first major paper due this week, so I might as well be kind and refrain from assigning homework on at least one of the days, right? I've already extended my office hours from 10:30-12:30 today to 9:30-12:30 and 2:30-4:00. And I'm offering office hours tomorrow despite my not actually having any. R says this is why I'm a good teacher, but I suspect it's mostly just more evidence of my being a nice person.