I’ve got some pieces in the works, but my entire month has been utterly consumed by my summer classes, so until I can finish them, here’s a quick overview of what’s been consuming me. I’m teaching two sections of Composition and Literature 2. I had the students buy How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster as their “textbook.” It’s a really accessible introduction to concepts and techniques of literary analysis. I love not using a traditional textbook, but it certainly does take more work. Here’s the reading list we’ve covered:
- “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
- “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
- “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway
- “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances” by Walt Whitman
- “After Apple Picking” by Robert Frost
- “The Power of Myth” – video interview of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers
- “Talking New York” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan
- “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
- Anthem by Ayn Rand
- The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (okay, we actually watched the Kenneth Brannagh film adaptation)
(Speaking of Much Ado, I will be going to see a production of that in August, which is something I’m very much looking forward to. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival always puts on such a wonderful show.)
The students have also chosen the following stories for their upcoming group presentations:
- “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
- “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
- “Salvation” by Langston Hughes
- “The Chaser” by John Collier
- “Hunters in the Snow” by Tobias Wolff
- 3 Shakespeare soliloquies (from Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet)
- “The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton
- “Lament” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger
- “Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
- “Eveline” by James Joyce
Not too shabby. We’ve been following what I like to call a “Learn, Practice, Teach” philosophy of gaining knowledge. I started out teaching them certain concepts of literary analysis, they they practiced with essays (so many papers to grade – what was I thinking???), and now they will teach their story to the class this coming week. I’m really pleased with the response I’ve been getting from the students so far. Of course, I’m still being chewed up with papers to grade and some lessons to plan, but after next week, when I’ve been spit back out, I’ll have time to create a more thoughtful evaluation of the work we’ve done.
For now, here’s an activity I like to do on the first day of my literature classes. It’s something that the students are generally quite wary of at first, but then they find themselves absorbed in the challenge and I’ve been told it was one of their favorite activities. First, I ask each student to give me their favorite word, or at least a word that they really like. The words go up on the board. Then, in groups, the students must then write a poem using the words. There are only two basic rules:
- Use only the words on the board. Do not use any word that is not on the board.
- Words can be repeated or modified for part of speech.
Usually at this point, students beg me for permission to use function words. “Please, can’t we PLEASE have ‘the’?? Or at least ‘and’??” After they get over the shock of being forced to understand relationships between words and creating meaning without the use of grammatical function words, they start to get excited about how imaginative they can actually be by creating associations and images using only content words.
Here’s a list of words from one of the classes this summer:
power, pride, what, ridiculous, dying, bent, change, amazing, rambunctious, turn, exuberance, quiet, shenanigans, excessive, money, exclamation, jealousy, respect, entertain, friendship, awesome, and (yes, someone said that before they had any idea of what they were going to be asked to do.)
I may have missed a few words, but that’s most of them.
Ready to write a poem? Knock yourselves out!