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LAE 6389 Practice Teaching Literature

Class 7: Writing Assignments

Reading Assignment:

    Blau, chapters 6-10;
Class Objectives:

    Student Presentation: Teaching Resource: Kurt Fawver
    Student Presentation: Syllabus Check: Lindsay Sloan
    Assignment: Obtaining a Student Paper
    Post #6

Notes and Discussion Questions:

This class shifts our focus away from what happens in the class to working on student writing about literature. We will conduct two workshops (time permitting) based on Blau. We will also begin our investigation into Paper Mills and the prospects of students' purchasing papers online. We can begin to put together some ideas on how to create authentic writing assignments that might actually deter cheating.

Blau- Chapter 6: What's worth saying about a text?

In this chapter, Blau presents an outline (and example) of how to structure a set of classroom experiences with a literary text in order to lead students to a personal and transpersonal idea for writing about literature. Do you think this process would be effective? What is your response to the idea of "pointing," for example?

In his discussion on the importance of "pointing," he comments that in teaching, practice often precedes theory, and that teachers need to reflect continually on their own practices. Here he refers to pedagogical (and not literary) theory. What do these observations suggest to you?

Based on Louise Rosenblatt's concepts of efferent vs. aesthetic reading (a continuum, not a binary), what is the value of seeing student engagement in literature as a form of play? How might we encourage this in the classroom?

On page 148, Blau reviews some ways to use the student-generated discussion to cover the instructor's anticipated points of information. Is this leading, guiding, or manipulating? Can you envision this happening effectively?

Do you feel as though you could use theoretical perspectives to help students see their personal responses in a transpersonal way? Why or why not?

Chapter 7: Writing Assignments in the Literature Classroom

Blau offers some reasons why writing in the literature classroom is an essential activity (152). Do you think it is important? why or why not?

"It is pedagogically wise, I believe (even if sometimes unrealistically generous to our students) for us to assume that we generally get the papers we deserve" (154). What does this mean for you?

How might you deal with a student's perfunctory treatment of informal writing exercises, like the reading log?

Evaluate the problems Blau lists for the standard formal writing assignments (157).

How do you get introductory students to possess authentic knowledge and to write with it -- to appropriate rather than impersonate?

Chapter 8: Writing Assignments in Literature Class: Models for a Solution-in-Progress

Note Blau's self-representation, his sense of constant revision to assignments, his reflection on the imperfection of assignments. What does this suggest to you?

The Reading Log (164-167):
What strategies might be useful here for making the reading log an effective tool? Discuss the mid-term reading log audit, for example.

The Reading Process Research Report (168-172):
How might you use this activity? Why? What modifications or adjustments can you envision?

Why might this be an appropriate activity for introductory courses?

The Formal Literary Paper: the Interpretation Project
What are some of the problems with providing professional or academic articles on literature for the introductory student? (174)

What expectations do you have for assigning literary criticism to your students?

Challenging the Hegemony of the Thesis-Argument Essay
Blau provides three typologies for student essays and one alternative to the essay. Can you think of other typologies or alternatives? How might technology provide new models or venues for authentic writing assignments?

How do you feel about assigning page lengths/word limits for writing assignments? Why doesn't Blau assign them? Why do we?

Consider the pros and cons of the portfolio approach to grading student writing. How might this fare in the culture of institutional assessment?

Chapter 9: Honoring Readers and Respecting Texts: Value and Authority in Literary Interpretation (187)

In this chapter he analyzes the double-bind English teachers often find themselves in: we want our students to produce authentic, independent readings of literature, but we are anxious that they come away with a reasonably correct reading. How to balance this is the question.

What are some of the common sources of misreadings for students, according to Blau? What is your experience with these types of misreadings?

He proposes that we distinguish between the value of student readings and the authority of student readings in order to "cut the knot of the double-bind" (196). What is the difference between a reading that has value but little authority, a reading that has authority but little value, and a reading that has value and authority?

I believe that this is a useful way to distinguish which student comments to pursue in class discusson. For example, I have often found that a student will offer a reading of line that may at first appear to be wrong but I want to discuss it further in class because it yields valuable insight in the process of reading the poem for everyone. Be conscious that you attend to these types of student responses as well as the ones that appear to be brilliant readings delivered with eclat.

Chapter 10: What Do Students Need to Learn: The Dimensions of Literary Competence

Evaluate his three components for literary competence as the explicit theory underlying the classroom practices he recommends: Textual Literacy (or procedural knowledge), Intertextual Literacy (or informational knowledge) and Performative Literacy (or enabling knowledge).

Do these make sense to you as the goals of teaching students introduction to literature? Why or why not?

Performative literacy takes central place in this chapter as the most elusive and most desirable of the goals. Evaluate the seven dimensions of performative literacy as student (or teacher?) desiderata.
1. Capacity for sustained focused attention
2. Willingness to suspend closure
3. Willingness to take risks
4. Tolerance for failure
5. Tolerance for ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty
6. Intellectual generosity and fallibilism
7. Metacognitive awareness

How would these desiderata change or shape your practice of teaching literature? This may include (but not be limited to) a discussion of the suggestions he makes for fostering performative literacy (214-6).


Observation of Teaching

This will remain on the N&Q until we have all completed the assignment.

The objective of this assignment is to get you to see undergraduate teaching in action, and so allow you to observe teaching style, method, classroom organization, etc.

In order for this to be effective, it requires preplanning:

  • Ask a professor who is teaching undergraduate literature if he or she would be willing to have you observe and select a date.
  • Obtain the syllabus and if possible do the reading for the day.
  • Create a list of questions you would like to answer by observing the class. Eg. how will the instructor decide what parts of the text on which to focus the class? Will he or she lecture? What methods of instruction will the lecture incorporate? How will the students respond? Etc.
  • Take notes during class to remember your observations and so that you can ask questions of the instructor afterward.
  • Write a narrative of the class observation with as much detail as you can.

  • Speak to the instructor afterward to discuss any questions that were raised for you. When appropriate, share with the instructor your observations.
  • Reflect on the experience and what you have learned about teaching from it. Write up this reflection as a postscript to the teaching narrative.
  • Bring narrative and reflection to class and share in small groups.

    We will discuss your observations and reflections in class.


    Active Learning -- Obtaining a Student Paper

    This activity will be conducted in groups of three. As the first part in a two-part grading exercise, I would like for you to present a group narrative on the process of obtaining a student paper from the internet. You should detail the process you went through in deciding what was available, how you learned about it, what the options were, and the details of the transaction. As the instructor, I will go through the process of paying for the papers and providing any information to a paper mill that is requested. Then I will turn the paper back to your group. The objective of this exercise is to enlighten us about the types of papers that are available for purchase or download by students, to make us aware of the contingencies of these transactions (i.e. cost, turnaround time, parameters of papers, availability, quality, range, topics, other details that I cannot even imagine). Because this source of information has become increasingly problematic, it is in our interest as instructors to know as much as we can about it. In your narrative, please also feel free to record your response to what you learned in this transaction.

    In class we will present our findings orally and discuss. I also ask that you send me a copy of your group narrative for my records.

    After class, I will ask you to exchange the paper with another group electronically so that everyone will be able to download a paper to grade. For next class you should grade the paper the way you expect to grade an essay for your literature class. We will discuss the results and process of grading in class.

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