Archive for May, 2008

Um… so what did I say, exactly?

(Presentation on “The Management of Grief”)

It’s hard to feel satisfied with a 20 minute presentation when you have a 5-page lesson plan. As an infrequent speech writer, I would never expect someone I write for to be able to cover that amount of information in such a short time… and yet, even though I knew going in just how much I could not cover in the timeframe, I still feel disappointed at all the things I could not cover.

Also on the subject of time. As JJ and Francois and others have mentioned, I was a little surprised at the level of interaction from the class. Although, I do want to thank all of you who did jump in and apologize for cutting off our discussion, I think this (having to cut the discussion short), actually, was the problem for those of us surprised at the lack of engagement. It takes time for a room to build up to interaction, and 20 minutes just isn’t enough to walk through a lesson plan and allow for “students” to reach a level of conversation that really digs in and feels satisfying to a “teacher.” I had not thought about that in advance, thus another disappointment with my presentation. If I were to go back and do it over, I think I would have cut the pre-read exercise in order to really try out the reader response exercise and allow us to spend a little more time on discussion that explored the actual text. That activity was also the most questionable for me, and I would like a better idea of how it works in a classroom.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I have a bit of social anxiety (Thus the turtle neck, because my chest/neck tend to turn a highly fluorescent pink and I often have people asking if I’m okay, which only makes me turn an even brighter shade) and my nerves get so cranked up about speaking in front of people that I have a hard time remembering what I said when I am finished. I trust this will get better if I ever get in front of a class on a regular basis. That said, I don’t think I really explained why I wanted to tie into the Amy Tan piece. This was because Tan and Mukherjee seem to have very different perspectives on heritage and multiculturalism. While Tan’s story is about reconnecting with one’s heritage, Mukherjeee’s is about leaving (at least some of) it behind and creating one’s own path. Together, I think they could strike a balance and hopefully spark an interesting dialogue on how we develop our identities.

As promised, I will post or email my plan and writing prompts. Clearly, I chose to focus on the themes of culture and identity, but as I hope I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation, I find this to be a very rich story. One thing I don’t like about my teaching plan is that it doesn’t allow students to explore some of the other issues that may be more compelling to them. This is part of the problem with such precise goals/objectives created by the teacher. If I want my students to take away a cultural lesson, I am forcing them down that path at the exclusion of others. I’m not sure that is really what I want to do. For example, I chose the piece because I really connected with the grief aspect. I lost 5 relatives while I was in college, including my father. It was a very formative experience to have at that stage in my life. But I would not want to force that theme on a classroom as some students may not have experiences to draw on and others may have experiences that are too fresh to be appropriate or fair to tap into in a classroom setting. But I would want to encourage them to explore that theme if it were the most compelling to them. As such, I may offer students a third choice for the creative writing assignment: to come up with their own assignment, as long as it in some way responds to the text.

So given that I can’t remember what I actually got out of my mouth or how things went, you’ll have to let me know (and don’t be afraid to be honest; although if it’s too harsh, maybe send me an email instead of posting it here). If I start doing this on a regular basis, I may have to record myself. =)

Any comments, suggestions, criticism, brilliant ideas I didn’t think of?

2 comments May 2nd, 2008

Thoughts on Presentation and advice concerning bears

It’s interesting. My rehearsal process for presentations is generally similar to my writing process. I rewrite–or in this case, re-rehearse over and over–in such a way that I’m comfortable with how things begin, but I run into problems as they progress. I had a great many ideas that I wanted to reconcile into an overall thesis, perhaps too many; it felt more scattered-brained than I’d hoped. But I believe I conveyed the general ideas well enough.And I was also charming. Humble too.I spent the presentation trying to keep in mind the inherent connection between high and low-minded fare. After all, it’s been said that the only difference between tragedy and comedy is the music. Show a scene where a young girl is stalked by a chainsaw-wielding maniac, throw in some menacing, ambient music, and you have a tense scene. Throw in calliope music and you have absurdity, a situation wherein the character fails to realize her nightmare is actually grist for the audience’s sense of humor.

This theory extends to composition as well. Consider one of the short stories presented in class, O’ Flaherty’s “The Sniper;” it ends with the chilling comment “Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother’s face,” which, if taken for comedic effect, could almost seem like a punch line. How often has something similar happened in a soap opera (“You don’t understand, Dirk! You can’t kill Logan! He’s your long-lost brother!”)

My point, I suppose, is that this stuff is not hard to write, nor are jokes of an oral tradition hard to convey, as long as they are approached from the proper standpoint. Though the emotional impact is often marginalized, it still exists at the fringes of the text, and can be surreptitiously approached in a way that avoids the author’s initial hesitance to tackle dramatic storytelling–which any author, student or otherwise, always worries is beyond their capabilities as a writer. Indeed, they often find it beyond their capabilities as a reader of text, which is why they often consider deeper interpretation to be pointless.

“We Can Get Them for You Wholesale,” superficially, is an elaborate comic set piece, but it’s also a condemnation of the Costco-ification of American capitalism, and the marginalization of the human condition in a world where the ethics of right and wrong are replaced with fiscal responsibility (and possibility). In such a way, the final page is not just the culmination of a clever comic conceit, but also a memorable and discomfiting epiphany of sorts.

My idea was that certain texts lend themselves to being experienced almost as a performance, most specifically those that have connections with oral folklore. And, considering many of the ideas we’ve gone over in class up to this point–popcorn readings, interactive groups, reading texts as plays–it seemed like a good idea to choose a text which lent itself to those aspects.

In retrospect, I should’ve placed it within the context of those ideas: Blau’s most specifically. I also failed to place the presentation within a theoretical context overall. Although there were shades of Graff in the presentation (combating indifference and self-doubt, in writing and interpretation), it was mostly general. Even still, I suppose I was pleased.

This class has been enjoyable. I certainly hope I see those of you still enrolled around campus in the future. As for everyone else, Vaya con dios and all of that.

Also, additional advice: never hug a bear; they don’t like it.

3 comments May 1st, 2008

It went so fast…

Giving my presentation was sort of fun in a way, but it was difficult as well.  I had a plan.  In my living room, the presentation went smoothly; twenty minutes, start to finish.  When I got to school, I practiced in the empty classroom.  The presentation went perfectly.  The thing that I did not account for was the nervousness.  I knew I would be a little nervous, that is why I practiced.  In the end, though, I did not account for the fact that my brain would go blank as soon as I started, that everything would become muddled in my brain for a few minutes.  It was weird, because the befuddlement lasted for only a few minutes, but it threw everything out of kilter in a way.  It took a while to recover and then I felt rushed.  In reality, there was no rush.  There was time.  It all came out in the end.  I think that in the future, this experience will pay dividends, because I will account for an initial nervousness, a winded feeling, and give myself time within the timing of the lesson to settle down.  I will expect a rough start and just relax into it and wait for it to dissipate rather than being all stressed out about it.  It was a good experience all in all. 

 I think that my plan was good, the packet came out exactly as I had hoped.  I think that because I have never had to plan a lesson or execute a lesson, the timing was the most difficult part.  Facing people in a real situation was difficult as well, but once the jitters left me, it was all good.  Thanks to everyone who joined in and contributed to the lesson.  That participation was very helpful.  The fact that the packet worked out as I had planned that it would, as it did for me when I did my own analysis, was very important to me. 

 All of the lessons that we have learned in this class seem to be effective.  I think that what they do best is to give the student confidence, as they did for me.  I know now that I can take these exercises and use them with students and on my own for my own benefit or to complete an initial analysis before creating a lesson plan.  It has been a confidence builder to struggle through this class, to acquire the teaching strategies, to apply them to my own analysis for this lesson plan and in the development of this lesson plan.  I think that in the end, the fact that I could develop a plan like this is proof that they work.

Also, I’m glad to have been a member of this group.  You guys all made it fun.   

2 comments May 1st, 2008

A Difficult Play

I knew my presentation was going to be tough because I chose a fifty-page play (Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard) for the primary source.  In retrospect, choosing something a little shorter would have been more helpful for class interaction.  I had planned to elaborate on the strategies for handling some of the difficulty plot points regarding the inaction of the characters.  During the discussion of these difficulties, I was aiming for the class to develop some ideas to overcome these challenges.  There wasn’t enough time for this activity or a great deal of interaction.  I expected the time constraints, but the clock closed in fast nonetheless.

The selection of The Cherry Orchard was primarily based on my familiarity with another of Chekhov’s dramas (Three Sisters).  As an undergraduate, reading this play was difficult and confusing.  Why were characters not acting?  The professor providing a straightforward lecture, and the tests required the class to simply repeat the lecture in essay form.  As a result, I never really thought of the play as anything but dark tragedy dealing with economics.  The play I chose for the presentation has economic themes, but that doesn’t explain some of the strange noises or scenes in each Act.  In the presentation I wanted to convey how the class would tackle these strange occurrences and still create meaning.  To that extent, I think the project looks successful.

Another issue was the first half of the presentation.  Originally, I was going to split the group in two halves, one working on a pure summary and one on a character analysis.  Then the two sides would have to figure out what was really going on in the play.  There wasn’t a whole lot of time for that, and the play’s length was an obvious hurdle.

One more deficiency in the presentation was the linking of some of the theoretical elements (Elbow, Blau, Scholes) to the project.  Many of the other presenters did an excellent job connecting these theorists and teachers to their own work.  On that front, I could have done a far more explicit job pointing out how the activities related to the course readings.  In many cases, the class interaction mimicked the theory, but I didn’t point it out.  Specifically, the readings from Teaching The Elements and Pleasures of Difficulty were particularly helpful in their discussion of challenging texts.  

On the bright side, the class picked up on the feeling of inaction, or as JJ pointed out, the unsympathetic nature of the characters.  Along with the confusing cultural implications involving the names, the inactivity in the play related to my own interpretation concerning nihilism.  More importantly, the class was eager to dissect some of the problems they encountered with the drama.  In teaching undergraduates, the difficulty paper is a great way to help students develop the confidence and tools necessary for challenging literature.  When I teach the reading course this fall at the community level, I plan to incorporate both reflections and difficulty papers into the coursework. 

This had been an enjoyable and worthwhile semester.  Many of the strategies and tools we covered in this class will find their way into some of my teaching.  


5 comments May 1st, 2008

ENGL 610:002 // Spring 2008

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