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Gray McClary

M.A. student in English at Wright State University, interested in the works of James Joyce and literary theory.

A Fledgling Teacher Reflects on His Methods

In chapter three of her book, Teaching Literature: “Methods,” Elaine Showalter posits several techniques to bring to the classroom. As a fledgling teacher, some of her suggestions resonated with what I’ve done so far, while others have me re-considering my future conduct. One of the methods that Showalter advocates is showing students models. She writes, “In assigning papers, we can xerox or make available in the library examples of outstanding student papers from the past, or even papers we have written ourselves. Proving models of good writing, and allowing time for students to discuss them, can help establish realistic goals” (55). Using models is something I’ve used in my own teaching, and it was nice to see it reinforced by a more experienced pedagogue. Giving students a strong sense of what’s expected by not just making available, but discussing a strong model can mean the difference between grasping a potentially new concept like close reading, and greeting their graded work with disappointment and confusion. She also mentioned a professor who has her students actually grade a sample paper based on given criteria. This kind of practice seems like it could students some insight into their teachers own process when looking at and evaluating their own work.

Showalter also has her students complete profiles on her course’s software, where students can present personal information and a photograph, and teachers with computer-equipped classrooms can certainly make use of this. Not only can this aid the teacher in learning more about their students (as well as matching names to faces, which some certainly find troublesome, especially with a larger group), but also to instill a better sense of proper conduct in the college classroom. I’ve heard from other teachers about students posting profile pictures with derogatory hand gestures (see “the bird”), and a student I had last semester insisted on using an unflattering picture of Bill Cosby in lieu of his own, which considering the allegations recently leveled at him, carried a very negative connotation. Making it clear to students that their profile on the course page should present an air of professionalism could definitely help them as their college and future career runs its course.

Another method that Showalter espouses is not granting students the opportunity to revise graded work, instead asking them to learn from their mistakes and apply them to their next assignment. She writes, “Although some teachers allow students to rewrite papers and resubmit them, for both practical and pedagogical reasons, I am against it… I recommend instead that TAs encourage students to set clear goals for the second paper and have them apply in that what they have learned from criticism” (59). At the behest of a professor I respect very much, I’ve allowed my students to revise their work beyond the ‘final’ grade, often giving them a window of about two weeks. What I’ve found, however, is that I often end up granting them too much leeway, operating under the assumption that a simple show of extra effort is worth more points, with the result being a paper that is perhaps graded a little too high for its quality. I’m strongly considering adopting the more realistic policy of having students take my criticism and apply it to their next paper, since it seems more reflective of real-world expectations and saves me the added work of helping them through another revision.

Discussion questions: Of the three theories that Showalter details for teaching literature, subject-, teacher-, student-centered, and eclectic, which do you think is most effective? Perhaps a synthesis of two or more? Which of these would you use to describe your own teaching, or how you intend to teach in the future?

Works Cited

Showalter, Elaine. “Methods of Teaching Literature.” Teaching Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 42-61. Print.

 

 

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Three Prototype Claims for the Gen Ed Lit Classroom

In the final chapter of her book, Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice: A Reflective Conclusion, Kathleen Yancey posits three claims which she suggests can serve as “exemplars” for conversation that “could point us toward a literature course designed explicitly for general education” (102). The first claim deals with the notion of American writers existing “on the margin,” standing in defiance or skepticism of a society that offers them but a small readership (102). Yancey then provides a number of questions relating to this claim, such as whether it’s actually true, what it might mean with regard to certain novels, literature other than the ‘serious’ kind it relates to, and the relationship between artist and society. While these are thought-provoking questions, are they ones that most non-English major undergrads can engage in? Kate has already suggested that a student in a general education classroom might not have the literary foundation to deliberate what texts the course will cover (something that Yancey proposes earlier in her book), and I think that concern could arise here as well. Although it might serve as a way to compare the status of Literature (with a capital “L”) in the US as opposed to England.

The second claim Yancey discusses relates to the idea that Toni Morrison wrote from “inside the black world,” as opposed to writing for a white audience (103). Yancey suggests using this notion as a way for Gen. Ed. students to examine “the relationship between each smaller culture and the larger culture” (103). This, I think, would bode less of a problem for students than asking them to survey a broad swath of literature they might not have had exposure to. The idea Yancey presents of pairing texts with different cultural contexts seems that it could spark some fruitful thought/discussion, and lead toward the reflective way of thinking about literature she emphasizes.

The third and final claim probes “what happens to text when it moves from one medium to another,” in the form of film adaptations and the like (104). Yancey suggests asking students to consider whether the story has changed, how it compares to the original, and the relationship between form and content. Getting students to consider what happens when the same (or radically altered) novel is presented in a different medium could lead to some rich reflection on the value of film and text.

According to Yancey, these open-ended questions, that draw connections between life and literature in a philosophico-reflective manner, have the potential to “help students negotiate all three curricula,” those being the lived (the experience students bring to the classroom), delivered (syllabuses, assignments, etc.), and experienced (how the course differs from person to person) (104).

Works Cited

Yancey, Kathleen. “A Reflective Conclusion.” Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English,2004. 96-110.

Google Lit Trips

This digital tool allows you to trace the journey of characters in literature on the surface of Google Earth. Pop-up placemarks along the way provide resources such as related media and links to supplementary information. All that’s required is registration on the site and a download of Google Earth. The website also allows you to request Lit Trips that haven’t been created yet. Certainly an intriguing tool for any teacher looking for a new way to visualize narrative for their students.

Digital Humanities Pedagogy in Practice

In “Listening in on the Conversations: An Overview of Digital Humanities,” E. Leigh Bonds discusses several examples of digital humanists that have integrated both textual and non-textual projects into their curricula which implement the experimental methodology she describes, with an emphasis on “making” and “doing.” One example she provides saw two professors conducting a short summer course on digital editing, while another had doctoral students experimenting with web-based tools like W-Matrix, corpus analysis and comparison software that allows you to upload your own data and compile searchable frequency lists and concordances, and Wordle, a free service that creates visually stimulating ‘word-clouds’ of provided text. Other instances involved students exploring and critiquing existing digital projects, like the Periodical Poetry Index and the Perseus Digital Library. Bonds also describes a non-textual project, where students used a “free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform” called Omeka to create online exhibits, becoming digital curators.

Bonds argues that “the critical thinking fostered by working with digital tools and techniques complements traditional humanistic inquiry,” and the projects described above serve to reinforce that notion (151). These projects offer inspiring ways to keep the humanities vital in the digital age, and also potential for other similar projects. Examples like the ones above also serve to work against the assumption put forth by Stephen Brier that teaching and learning are an after-thought for Digital Humanities practitioners, as Bonds points out. Offering students the opportunity to conduct research and present their work in various digital environments provides new and exciting methods for the humanities, while still allowing teachers to “create the ‘authentic situation’ that research in education advocates” (152).

The Modernism Lab

Yale University has set up a “virtual space dedicated to collaborative research into the roots of literary modernism.” The site contains a research platform, a wiki page of interpretive essays on modernist works, a digital archive of modernist e-texts, and an Undergraduate Gateway that helps undergraduates study modernism. The website can be found here: The Modernism Lab

Re-Imagining Argument

As Anne Burdick et al point out in Digital_Humanities, 21st-century communication takes place in a variety of media that go beyond the conventions of linear text. This provides routes for re-imagining content and argumentation in the humanities, which sees both scholars and students alike “generating not just texts (in the form of analysis, commentary, narration, critique) but also images, interactions, cross-media corpora, software, and platforms” (10). The advent of these new technologies has placed an emphasis not just on the text of an argument, but its design as well, with the visual element (and its relation to the text) becoming increasingly important for the Digital Humanities. In accordance with these new media, such as digital networks and video which can later be edited and re-mixed, the authors suggest that oratory argumentation, the “embodied performances of argument,” should be given a renewed sense of importance.

And not only do the Digital Humanities offer new and exciting ways of delivering an argument, moving away from the solitary argumentative essay, they also allow this content a broader reach and relevance, opening up “the prospect of a conversation extending far beyond the walls of the ivory tower that connects universities to cultural institutions, libraries, museums, and community organizations” (82). Where in the past, work in the humanities was distributed among small groups of experts, new technologies allow for greater distribution of content. So the Digital Humanities offer students and scholars not only the ability to compose, conduct research, and present arguments in a variety of media, with more opportunities for collaboration, but also to expose their work to a greater number of people via networking and online platforms. The Digital Humanities allows for a shift away from the insular, solitary text and author of the past, and toward a greater participation in an ever-expanding public sphere.

Works Cited

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2012. Print.

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