At the end of each of my courses I ask students to reflect in a number of ways about the work they’ve done over the past several weeks. While the specific questions I ask vary a bit from course to course, I tend to return to some version of the following:
Narrative: Tell the story of your work in this class this semester. Where were you—as a reader and a writer—at the start of the term? Where are you now? How did you get there? What were some key turning points (or stuck points) in the unfolding of this story?
Snapshot: If you had to pick one moment or event to stand for your experiences in this class, what would it be? Try to describe that moment as vividly as you can.
Accomplishment: What piece of work for this class do you feel most proud of? Why? What did you learn in doing it?
I thought it might be interesting if you spent 10 or 15 minutes thinking in writing about these questions in relation to the course you’ve just taught. Don’t feel you have to respond to all three questions. A full answer to one or two of them would be great. We’ll read and talk about your responses when you’re done.
And, fyi, here’s the Seminar in Composition I taught this semester at Delaware, on Writing About Repair.
Sorry I was unable to participate in what seemed, from the phrases I could pick up here and there, to be an interesting conversation about responding to student work.
I think the draft that Caroline shared showcases perhaps the two biggest challenges facing beginning student writers: (a) having a point or idea that drives your writing, and (b) finding the right voice or register to use in making that point. I agree with the comments I could hear—which were basically to tell the student to foreground the idea or question driving his essay, to give his readers a better sense of what all his evidence was evidence of. I’m not sure that I would try to guess myself at what the writer was trying to say, though. Maybe he wants to write about gender, maybe not. Rather, I’d ask him to begin his next draft by explaining some of the binaries he lists near the end of this piece: “homeliness” vs. “foreignness”, or “humbleness” vs. “violence (?), or “desire” vs. “war”. That is, I’d try to get him to build on some of the keywords and ideas he has already introduced.
I read the writer’s style, which truly is strange, as a kind of tortured effort to mimic a discourse that he doesn’t really know yet, to sound like what he thinks an academic or intellectual might sound like. David Bartholomae has written a much-admired essay called “Inventing the University” about this. One way of trying to get him to tone down his style might be to ask him to write a brief summary or abstract of his piece for someone who has read neither his essay nor Babel. That might push him to explain some of his key terms and oppositions in plainer English. But I suspect it will take him a while to work through the anxiety that I think is behind many of his very odd and inflated sentences.
I actually feel a little more impatient with the author of the Calvino essay. I’m not entirely sure he has actually read Invisible Cities. But even if he has, he doesn’t analyze the novel so much as use it, inkblot fashion, as a mere starting point for some sort of pop philosophical riff. I don’t think I learn anything new about Calvino from this. I’d be interested to hear how Isobel responded, but I think I’d be tempted to tell the student that he needs to start over, to try something else.
And what most intrigues me about the Mill-Carlyle essay are the comments in red. Are they the student’s reading of his own piece? Because they seem oddly more insightful than the piece itself. Again, I wish that technology allowed me to hear more about this essay and the course it was written in.
Our hope is to hold another version of this seminar in June 2017, so we would very much appreciate your help as we refine and move forward with this project. Could you please do some reflective writing for about 15 minutes in which you respond to any or all of the following questions:
What should we make sure to continue to do?
What might we do more of?
What could we perhaps do differently?
You don’t need to put your name on your document if you don’t want to. Please email or hand your reflection to John Paulas. He will organize them for Ramona and me to review.
Please take an hour to do some more work on your course materials. I will be wandering about the room and happy to advise about scheduling, WordPress, and other logistics. At the end of the hour, I’ll ask you to email me the link to your site, so I can project it onscreen. I’ll then ask each of you to speak informally about for two minutes (but absolutely no more!) about the theme of your course and a writing project that you plan to assign students in it.Then we’ll have our arcade.
Have your laptop open with your course website displayed. Turn your screen to the middle of the room. Walk around, see what people are doing, and talk to them about it.
Last Thoughts From Me
I thought this week was at once exhausting and invigorating. I’m excited by the courses you are designing, and I think Berkeley is lucky to have you! Please don’t hesitate to contact me in the coming weeks and months. I’m eager to keep in touch.
I can offer more, but this is a good start, I think. The first article above is likely the one they would want to start with to see a detailed way I use the contract in my classrooms. The book’s chapter 4 offers an in-depth look at how the contract turns a course toward conditions that are fertile for antiracist work in the classroom. It shows my own classroom. The middle article is an empirical study of contracts in Fresno State’s writing program (in case, they need research to offer to chairs or others for using contracts).