Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blog Odssey Day Two: Those who can't teach, blog.

Man, it's almost midnight, and I just about forgot I said I'd try the daily blogging thing. But remember I did, and here we are! The most significant thing that happened to me today is that I taught my Engl 109 course--and that's probably going to be the most significant thing that happens to me on a Wednesday for the immediate future, until the class is over at least. In previous terms, I've had a lot of trouble adjusting a course from a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule to a Tuesday/Thursday. It required a firm idea of what elements of a lesson plan to expand on, what to contract, and what to jettison entirely for something new. It wasn't quite as time-consuming as coming up with the course from scratch, but just making the switch was a bit stressful.

Well, we're three weeks into the 3 hour/ once a week schedule, and  I yearn for those simpler times.

Designing a three hour course is rough going. This was actually the first time I kept my students for the full class, and I think that may not have worked in my favor, especially since some of them were clearly starting to anticipate an early release as a regular thing. Their expectations aside, the big problem was that there was a definite point of diminishing returns around the two hour mark. Can't say I blame them to be honest--hour two is usually when I start to fade out in a seminar myself. Hitting the happy medium between letting them out too earlier and keeping them past their best before date is a tricky target.

That said, we probably came closer today than we have previously. I divided the time into three rough time slots. First, we spent forty-five minutes discussing a selection from their readers ("Abuses of the English Language" by George Orwell) and this guy's youtube rant.  And it was a pretty good discussion. One of the students caught me up in an error on Nineteen Eightyfour--the essay was published originally in 1946, which is before 1984's 1949 publication, not after, like I said--for which she gains a marked measure of respect. And other surprised me with a very thorough summary of the essay. (Granted, my instructions for the readings were that every student should come prepared to give a summary if called upon, but it was another thing to actually see them DO it.) I was uncertain about the discussion part of the classes, since it's been a long time since I've lead discussions on individual articles and pieces rather than abstract rhetorical methods, but it's shaping up nicely, I think.

Then there was the lecture portion, which was me giving a very long speech about the value of sentence clauses. I'm a firm believer that writing works best if you understand the basic units and build up, and so I usually spend a bit of time on the difference between complex, compound, complex-compound, and simple sentences. Granted, it usually bores AND confuses the students, but I still think it's worth knowing. This time, to reinforce the knowledge, I had them break into groups and construct two of each type, then turn in the result to me. I think that worked okay; like any group assignment, it took longer than if they had constructed it separately,  but it gives them a chance to talk out what they've learned. My second point concerning learning these sentence types is that it helps you analyze individual authors, and I drove that home by having them go through the passages of two writers with highly stylized methods. First, we went through a passage by Cormick McCarthy from The Road. McCarthy writes most of the novel in sentence fragments, simple sentences, and compound sentences: "The ash from the fire burned. Bright and hot. The boy took the ash and spread it and made it into a shape and the man gathered up their meager supplies and they huddled together under the blanket and they kept warm for the night."  The other passage was from Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. It's a horrible book to inflict on first year undergraduates in ANY capacity, but the sentence structure is particularly nasty: Proust has a habit of constructing a single sentence the size of a paragraph. I'll cite the exact passage:

“I gazed at her, at first with that gaze which is not merely a messenger from the eyes, but in whose window all the senses assemble and lean out, petrified and anxious, that gaze which would fain reach, touch, capture, bear off in triumph the body at which it is aimed, and the soul with the body; then (so frightened was I lest at any moment my grandfather and father, catching sight of the girl, might tear me away from her, by making me run on in front of them) with another, an unconsciously appealing look, whose object was to force her to pay attention to me, to see me, to know me.”

Dense, right? And it's a single sentence. I had them guess at the number of clauses, and then I guessed too, and we worked through it together. We found nine.  How many can YOU spot?

Later Days.

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