Search

inspire-lab

Author

Kate L. Imwalle

Kate Imwalle is a PhD candidate in English Literature at Miami University of Oxford where she focuses her study on Women’s Literature after 1800. She graduated with highest honors from Wright State University in 2016 with an MA in English Literature and Women’s Studies. Her thesis explores Elizabeth Bowen’s portrayal of the effects on the psyche during trauma. Specifically, trauma during wartime. She currently teaches at Miami University and the Lake Campus of Wright State University. She is also a professional English tutor for the Student Success Center of Wright State University’s Lake Campus, and a co-editor with Dr. David Wilson (Wright State University) for Anti-Oedipus Press.

Another Approach to “Sound as dumb as you are”

In The Literature Workshop, Sheridan Blau offers his own insight to problems within the literature classroom as well as personal experiences with certain assignments. Chapters seven and eight cover Sheridan’s disapproval of academic language that is not genuine to the student’s typical diction in an everyday setting, as well as his approval of the first person in a student essay,  and deriving away from the standard thesis-based essay in academic writing. With Sheridan’s main aim of his work being to discuss “the ways in which writing assignments pose problems,” his solutions do not entirely dissolve these problems in the writing classroom (151).

During Sheridan’s time as a college professor, he was noticing that as soon as students were asked to switch from casual journal writing to a formal paper, their ideas and insights vanished from their work. Sheridan believes that a mental block was occurring within the students due to the strenuous expectations that are attached to the “formal paper.” The students thought that they had to articulate their ideas into a way that sounded more professional, prestigious, and ultimately, with a voice that was not their own (157). As a result, Sheridan provides three other formats that a student paper can exist in, and asks his students to “sound as dumb as you are,” in hopes that the statement will take the edge off of manipulating their own voice into something else (161-62). As reasonable as this case may seem, do we really want to ask our students to sound “dumb” under any circumstances?

Sheridan explains how a junior high school teacher does not allow her students to use the word “I” in attempts to dislodge the idea of using the phrase “I think” for any portion of a student’s argument. He writes: “I wasn’t sharp enough at that moment to suggest that she would then more logically forbid the use of the word think rather than the word I, or, most logically, forbid the whole offending phrase rather than any innocent word at all” (159). Using the same counteractive mode of thinking to Sheridan’s “sound as dumb as you are” method; wouldn’t it be more logical to ask a student to sound as smart as they are? Or, even less intimidating, sound as they already are at present? Sheridan admits, “Of course, nothing we do in our teaching can guarantee that students will engage in good faith or with their most focused attention” (153). With this respect, it is even less likely for a student to “engage in good faith” or put forth “their most focused attention” if we ask them to sound as dumb as they are. Instead of asking them to put forth their most authentic, yet, casual and unprofessional work, we might instead focus our attention to vocabulary and language so that a student’s most authentic self is also a linguistically well-versed self. Thus, the actual problem might be that there is not enough student engagement with language and vocabulary rather than too much expectation put on the formal paper. Sheridan supports this theory in his latter chapter when he states “students … become more sophisticated in the second half of the academic term as a function of their growth as readers” where, some students even notice their change overtime (167-68). In this light, it would almost be unthinkable of teachers to allow their students to write within their present comfort zones when they are capable of so much more. Thus, a smoother meshing of student authenticity with signs of growth in language and academia may be a better fit for a classroom rather than to ask the students to “sound as dumb as you are.”

Works Cited:

Blau, Sheridan D. The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003. Print.

“In the real world of the semester, the first class offers a never-to-be-recaptured moment of excitement and opportunity … I think a literature course should begin, on the very first day, with a sample of the most stirring, memorable text you plan to read.”

Elaine Showalter (Teaching Literature, 46)

The first day of class in a literature classroom is one that goes unused by most. College educators have identified this issue and it has been circulating discussion for some time. As a result, The National Council of Teachers of English have provided various examples of what other college professors do on the first day of their class:

What Works for Me: First Day Activities 

In addition, here are some journals that have also covered the first day class:

Defining the Variable

Unlike some other literary experts, Elaine Showalter in Teaching Literature, insists that we do not need to be able to define literature in order to have the ability to teach it (21). On the flip-side of this statement, do students need to be able to define literature in order to understand it? I can recall being asked on the first day of one of my intermediate literature classes in my undergrad to spend five minutes writing down my own, personal definition of literature. Yes, I had taken at least four literature classes prior to this one, and yes, I had read and understood all of the novels assigned for each course. Yet, I found it astonishingly troubling to write a definition in accordance to my experience of what literature was. It was more than just text. It was more than just the idea of the novel. I understood what literature was to the extent of my education at that time, but I could not place my understanding of it into words.

Using Showalter’s argument and my own experience as a placeholder, a literature class does not function the same way other college classes do. In biology, a student must be able to define osmosis and even use the process of osmosis in experimentation. In addition, they may also fill in the correct multiple choice bubble on a test that answers the appropriate steps in order for osmosis to occur. The pedagogical methods in which a student learns osmosis may slightly vary, yet; the actual definition or process of osmosis remains constant. We can take out osmosis and insert the FOIL method in algebra, and the outcome will be the same. The FOIL method never changes and thus, all students who understand the FOIL method will give you nearly identical definitions of it. Literature does not work in this way. Ones definition of literature will be based on their experience with literature. An individual with a PhD in literature and specialization in Medieval British Lit, may be considered an expert of what literature really is. This person may never have read The Picture of Dorian Gray, Midnight’s Children, Alias Grace, or The House in Paris, and yet they are an expert in literature. They do not necessarily need to read Alias Grace – an Atwood novel published in 1996 that highlights female struggle and Neovictorianism – in order to form their expertise of Medieval British Lit, or even literature in a more general sense. However, another PhD literature scholar, focused on Feminist Lit will have most likely read Alias Grace, and will look at the specific text, along with most others differently than the Medieval British Lit scholar. It is arguable that if we were to ask the two individuals -both experts on literature – to give a definition of literature, that their answers will vastly differ. Canterbury Tales and The House in Paris are both literary texts, yet, “being a literary text” is nearly the only similarity that they share. In this sense, how can we ask a teacher or a student to define literature if literature itself is the variable?

In most cases, when an individual enters a literature class (teacher or student) no two people have read the exact same literary texts. Thus, literature is the variable in its own pedagogy and the student or reader is what remains constant. Therefore, a definition of literature is nearly meaningless because of the degree in which it varies. A single definition could never suffice for all of the literature in the world. In this light, an understanding of literature is what teachers and students must strive for. We should take privilege in being a discipline that is not definition based. Osmosis will be forever attached to its definition. Literature changes and evolves through time; it is never constant the way that osmosis is. Thus, an understanding of literature is what should be most important, not a definition.

Works Cited:

Showalter, Elaine. “Theories of Teaching Literature.” Teaching Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 21-41. Print.

Teaching Literature, not Comfort Zones

In Kathleen Yancey’s first chapter of Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice, she shares five intriguing observations when it comes to the Gen. Ed. literature classroom. First and foremost, she argues that “the writing and reading tasks I assign in school aren’t the same kinds of reading and writing that students do outside of school. And what students do outside of class; it’s not making its way into my classroom either. This, I think, is a problem” (1). Although Yancey’s argument is understandable, is it necessary for all student reading/writing/ activities done outside of the classroom to be brought in? Arguably, one of the most beneficial skills students learn while in college is seeing and understanding new perspectives. If we only consider the students desires and preferences when it comes to learning, we may be taking away the entirety to which they can actually learn. In this light, one may qualify the pathway to student success in terms of how much they are challenged and to what extent they are taken out of their comfort zones while learning, rather than what a student is capable of within the sphere that they have already made for themselves. Although  video games, Oprah’s Book Club, and Amazon.com’s Listmania have their place within students’ lives, I am not sure if they need to be reiterated into a college classroom where a student should be learning and participating in new methods instead of those they are already familiar with (2). Incorporating student interests and communities that they are already engaged in can be beneficial, however, limiting the spaces in which a student can learn to these specified elements could be dangerous.

Yancey’s fifth observation is another that yields complications. She notes that the “teaching of literature is slowly changing.” (3). Although this may be true, some of the examples that she gives appear hazardous to student success. Yancey provides us with Beverly Peterson’s suggestion of “inviting students to challenge the literary selections” (4). The general idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list for a class comes with a significant amount of variables that Yancey does not take account of. A graduate class of literature students may in fact benefit from challenging the reading list on a syllabus because it would allow them to engage with more than just an individual text, but an entire genre, time period or theory that they have already been given a foundation of. For example, a graduate seminar covering twentieth century British war fiction may easily swap out an Elizabeth Bowen text for a Virginia Woolf text because they have most likely already read some of Woolf, or are at least familiar with British authors in the twentieth century and can go from there. However, Yancey is not making this suggestion; she is focusing on Gen. Ed. literature classrooms, which arguably completely changes the idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list. A General Education class fits under the category of “Gen. Ed.” because it participates in allowing students to obtain a knowledge in a wide variety of fields before they move onto their more specified major. Thus, a student in a Gen. Ed. literature class, is not necessarily a Literature major, and therefore, will most likely not have the foundation in literature or skills required to challenge a literature reading list in a sufficient manner like a Literature graduate student would.

As a side note, I do agree with a generous portion of Yancey’s chapter. There does need to be a “role of play” in the classroom, as well as an incorporation of student reflection (3, 12). Web based tools can help us get there, along with “boundary-crossing” to help factor in students’ interests (8, 2). However, we must also consider the purpose of college institutions and the extent to which those outcomes can be made if we decide to stay within the student’s comfort zones.

Works Cited:

Yancey, Kathleen. “Context, Vocabulary, Curriculum.” Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2004. 1-19.

 

What would Crusoe’s Pinterest Board look like?

Adeline Koh from “Introducing Digital Humanities Work to Undergraduates” argues that “you and your students are all already digital humanists, because you all use technology in your daily lives.” Although there may be a sharper divide between digital humanists work and just simply using technology, she does make a point that we may be more organically accustom to using DH tools than we are aware of.

Koh gives multiple examples of incorporating DH tools in the classroom for beginners, such as Wordle, Google maps, and Wikipedia.

In addition to these ideas, another engaging activity for undergraduates would be Pinterest. For example, what would Robinson Crusoe’s Pinterest board look like? What would he pin?

Taking this idea a step further; it’s one level of engagement to ask a student to pin things on Pinterest. It’s another to ask them to give adequate explanations or support from the text to help explain why Crusoe would pin certain items.

Works Cited:

Koh, Adeline. 14 Aug 2014. Web. 15 Feb 2016. “Introducing Digital Humanities Work to Undergraduates.”

 

Starr Sackstein combines drawing and literature in her classroom. In her article, “Make it Visual: Students Draw Austen’s characters,” she believes that the process of students drawing what they read “connect them to the work and allow them to make meaning on their own.” Through drawing, we can bring literature to life in the classroom. Sackstein argues that “Too often students are accustomed to teachers having an expectation of what they are supposed to learn about a text that they don’t know how to approach a text on their own. They never learn to trust their gut when they read.” Arguably, drawing can bridge this gap in literary studies.

More literary teachers should consider incorparting Sackstein’s methods into their own classrooms.

Sometimes, Less is More

Peter Menelsund’s article “What We See When We Read” offers a compelling insight to close reading in literature. Some may argue that an author’s writing ability depends on the complexity of the images they are able to project into a reader’s mind; however, “Most authors … provide their fictional characters with more behavioral then physical descriptions.” Therefore, Mendelsund believes that the idea of “seeing” in literature is something that generally does not happen as vividly as we might at first think. Instead, he argues that “You may feel intimately acquainted with a character … but this doesn’t mean you are actually picturing a person.” Thus, “We fill in the gaps.”

In this respect, we learn from what is not there. Our experience with the texts we read depend on the unseen and the unclear. As Mendelsund notes, when trying to obtain a clear picture of a character, “The closer you look, the farther away she gets.” In fact, the critic argues that the physical descriptions that we are given “hardly seem to matter,” and “don’t help us truly picture a person.” Therefore, our idea of a certain character is not necessarily an image. We understand them by their behaviors in relation to other characters, in which they become “a set of rules that determines a particular outcome.” In other words, we understand them, can even to some extent predict their next move, without ever really “seeing” them. Mendelsund argues that “It is precisely what the text does not elucidate that becomes an invitation to our imaginations.” We then learn from what is not on the page.

Extending off of this idea, we can further complicate the notion of “seeing” when we bring the digital humanities into the picture (no pun intended). With DH’s emphasis on the visual and their wide array of digitally enhanced visual tools, they may be able to allow literary readers to finally “see.” The idea of a digital program that sifts through a text, interprets all of the words that are physical descriptors, and translates them into a visual correspondence of those words, one may finally be able to see a character and provide meaning and significance to the physical descriptors that, according to Mendelsund, previously did not matter.

However, in light of Mendelsund’s argument, do we need to see? Arguably, Literature is the only discipline in which we do not need to see in order to learn or understand. In Math, we need charts and numbers. In History, we need maps and artifacts. In Science, we need chemicals and graphs. Literature does not work in this way. We know a character, a house, a landscape, without seeing it; and we think critically in order to do this. Thus, in some ways, the idea of “seeing” can actually hinder the extent of our learning in literary studies. The gaps, arguably tell us more than anything else. If DH would provide us with the visual, would we then be taking away from the uniqueness of the literary discipline where we feel and understand a particular aspect of a text without seeing it? I believe this is the question that we need to consider when incorporating the Digital Humanities into our traditional literary pedagogy. We must be careful when it comes to bringing in new forms of teaching literature and be aware that sometimes less is more.

Works Cited:

Excerpt from What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund

Image from same source

Bridging the Gap through Newspapers

As most DHer’s are aware of, there has been a constant debate over how much control computers and the digital world have on innovative learning. Some believe that students should be able to learn without the overwhelming force that the digital world has. Thus, teachers have been creating new ways in which there is a happy marriage between the traditional forms of pedagogy, and the digital.

Instructors such as Mark Sample argue that we need to teach students about writing, research, revising and engagement without using the essay that, in some, does not allow the student to learn everything that they should. Sample urges the notion of “public writing” and “creative analysis” where students post blogs online that contain more than just text (images, sounds, objects, etc.).

In order to move away from the casualness that blog posts typically have, student and/or class newspapers might be the solution. There are multiple websites that offer free templates for newspapers in which users can create their own traditional-looking newspaper and both post it and/or print it for public display. Because blog posts are typically not printed out for public consumption, the newspaper format allows the student to go through the revising, editing, and formatting processes much more seriously, because, once the newspaper is printed and distributed, it cannot be edited like the casual blog post. However, newspapers can still contain images and creative qualities that the former essay cannot. Therefore, the newspaper might just be the bridge that the print and digital world need.

Here are some websites that can be used to create newspapers:

http://www.newspaperclub.com

http://www.makemynewspaper.com/

http://crayon.net/

Works Cited:

Sample, Mark L. “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Another “Woven” Approach to Creative Analysis

Mark Sample’s essay, in many ways, diverts from the typical attitude that many English professors share. Unlike those who feel that the best way to evaluate a student in an English class is to require them to write an essay, Sample compares the essay to the standardized test in which “the only thing an essay measures is how well a student can conform.” Therefore, Sample believes that the essay does not allow the student to be assessed in sufficient depths of engagement. One of the most compelling thoughts that resonates on so many levels in Sample’s article is that “nowhere but school would we ask somebody to write something that nobody will ever read.” As many English instructors that assign essays to their students will agree, this statement is true in so many ways. Thus, questions arise: Are we really giving our students the right impression of English composition, if, in fact, what they compose is not relevant to their active, present world? In this sense, are we not giving off the impression that English and the process of writing essays are, in some ways, meaningless? Is it not arguable that if we show students that what they write does matter and effect their world that they might care more about what they write? Sample delivers a solution.

Sample explains how he has inserted more and more “public writing” into his classes in which students post blogs and wikis that are accessible to the public world. However, the actual content that students post, does not necessarily have to be only text. Sample explains how the word “text” itself, derives from the Latin meaning of “that which is woven.” Thus, students are encouraged to include image, sounds, and objects that also generate meaning. Hence, students “weave” rather than write. Sample’s calls this new method “creative analysis.” An entirely new set of critical thinking skills are required for creative analysis where students allow the images, objects, etc., to say what the words cannot. In this sense, students are engaging on an entirely new level than the former essay method. The new space that is created with creative analysis allows nearly infinite possibilities, where, the essay can only let students work in a space that has a predetermined, and limited range.

One critique that might be considered in regards to Sample’s argument is that there are essential realms in the world where the essay is in high demand. Newspaper articles, scholarly journals, reviews, and others are all still very much alive and circulated in our public world. Therefore, I would argue that not everything written in a school will always go unread. However, the school and university faculties may be at fault for not giving these student essays the proper audience that they deserve. Although I see the benefits in creative analysis, I can also see the untapped potential that the traditional essay has not yet engaged with. If the problem with traditional student writing is that it goes unread, there are other ways, besides digitally, to accomplish publication. Computers allow a wide range of possibilities when it comes to making a student’s idea or creation public, however, there is also a sense of casualness that cannot go unnoticed. A student can post a blog with numerous writing errors, under developed ideas, and missing information without penalty because they can easily go back and edit the post. Although this is beneficial on many levels, the digital world also allows a sort of sloppiness that other forms of publication do not allow. Therefore, we must at least consider the potential that these other forms have. Student newspapers, peer review, and class discussion on student writing can be equally as engaging as Sample’s creative analysis. Allowing students to engage in creating a class newspaper, containing their work (both text and image) that gets spread around the school, and has the potential to also be published digitally can allow the proper bridge between the two worlds of digital and print where students are still being creative and giving their work a public audience, yet, do not have to depend on solely a computer to do so.

Works Cited:

Sample, Mark L. “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

Image by Shelley Thorstensen

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑