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Teaching Fall 2007

My idea is to keep a journal of teaching this semester. I don't think I can do it for all four classes I am teaching, but I can do it for a couple of them. One question I have is whether I spend as much time preparing for an online class as for a face to face class. I want to keep track of preparation time in general. I also want to have certain goals for the semester that I will try to achieve. Of course there are individual goals for each class that I can look at. Basically I want to be a better teacher and more effective with my students. By looking more closely at how things go in the classroom I may be able to achieve this. I had students complain last semester that I was an arbitrary grader so that is another thing I want to look at and decide on. To start, my books have been ordered, my virtual classrooms for Hunter are open but empty, and I need to finish my syllabus and decide what to do during the first day of class.

8/27 I had my first class today, Introduction to Literature. I teach this at 8 am which is before the work day for a couple of students and after work for one young man who works as a bartender. I hurry those mornings but enjoy walking across Central Park. The class follows English 120 in which students supposedly learn to write. Here, in my class, they read short stories, a novel, poetry, and plays and write several papers about the literature. I chose the theme of tragedy and will have them read short stories, poetry (including Rime of the Ancient Mariner and "The Raven"), Frankenstein, Hamlet and Death of a Salesman (the syllabus is below). We can then talk about the tragic hero and the nature of tragedy from many perspectives.

I thought I was prepared for class.  I had printed out the syllabus and a short story by Jamaica Kincaid, so that we could start talking about literature.  I thought that we would read the story together, hear the story read, and then talk about how we start talking about literature. How do we find meaning in a story, how do we know what genre a story is, what is important to finding what the story is about? When I passed out the syllabus a student asked where were they to find the assigned readings.  I looked at the Syllabus and saw that I had not put on the bookstore or the books.  Augh!  I had set up a computer to hear Kincaid read "Girl"” over the internet, and I passed out copies of the story that I had typed up. I saw that on the copies I passed out I had skipped a phrase in two different places.  Well that's the bad part.  I felt that my attempt to get everything done ahead of time was not that successful.

The good part.  I was a bit early to class and started talking to them about summer movies and what they had done over the summer.  When they didn't talk, I called on them individually.  As class started we discussed the syllabus and then I took attendance from the list on Blackboard.


Our discussion of "Girl" was excellent.  Many students talked out and had wonderful insights about the work.  After talking about the themes and meaning of the story, I asked what made it literature.  I didn't expect any definitive insights, but it was mentioned that it had character and some development.  I didn't bring up the words that we will be talking about through the semester, like character, plot, setting, tone and theme, but I mostly wanted them to think about how your start reading a work and how you start figuring out what it means.  Especially I wanted them to see the importance of working together with our ideas combined rather than my just telling them what I think something means.

So I came out of the class feeling good about it and eager to prepare for the next time and angry at my own sloppiness.

In Nineteenth Century Novels we talked first about the syllabus and expectations for the course. Then I talked about the nineteenth century and read Virginia Woolf's description of it from her novel Orlando and finally we discussed the first paragraph of the novels we will be reading this semester. The discussion was excellent; however, a lot of negative sentiment went around about Heart of Darkness. Several students said they had tried to read it before and hadn't gotten anywhere. I assured them that by the time we got to there, they would have no problem. We then had a general discussion about what novels are and what makes reading 19th century novels difficult. They came up with vocabulary differences, wordiness (the old statement that the authors were paid by the word that I argue against), descriptiveness, lack of interesting subject matter, and the basic sense of morality. We started then to talk about how the world of the nineteenth century was different from ours. It was a crowded class and I thought it went well. Next time we will go directly into Emma. I will start with the life of Jane Austen and the class structure of the period. The third period I will get them writing in class.

Victorian Literature started in much the same was as the novel class, although the class is not crowded. I had a few students here who were quite talkative. Now how to bring out the other ones is always the difficulty. We discussed the poem, “My Star” by Robert Browning and I made them think about how you go about reading a poem. We read it a couple of times, someone asked for the title and I gave it, and someone asked when it was written and I gave the year. Someone questioned the vocabulary and I defined the words they didn't know. Then different interpretations were suggested and we discussed whether any one interpretation could be better than another and also about whether the author had the last say. Any interpretation needs to be tried out by reading the whole poem and seeing if it stands up all the way through, and yes a poem can have different interpretations and different meanings. The meaning of a poem can be the feeling it arouses in the reader. I told them the story about T. S. Eliot thanking Howard Nemerov for explaining The Waste Land to him -- there is more in a poem than an author is aware of. He may have one thing consciously in his mind when he writes it, but other things, unconscious or in the reader's mind, are equally valid. I felt it went well and several students have already contributed to a discussion on Blackboard about poetry. We will start with the poetry of Tennyson next time.

I wonder if I will be able to stick to my goal of only preparing for teaching on the days I teach. The time went very quickly on Monday and it's difficult not to chat with the other adjuncts in the adjunct bullpen. Luckily my online class doesn't start until October.

Next time I will find out more about my students by having them write answers to the who they are questions and to set personal goals for the class. These are the items I ask them to answer on a piece of paper:

Email address
Language spoken at home
Where were they born
Have they been to any other colleges than Hunter
Favorite book
Favorite movie

Goal for the semester. This I explain cannot be something impossible like write a novel during the semester but it must be something that is a bit of a stretch for them. I suggest things like perfect attendance, doing their reading on time, participating once a class period. Whatever they have trouble with.

I tabulate the results and read it to them the next class period. And I also give them my answers. This shows the wonderful diversity of Hunter College. But around midterm I look at the answers again and learn a lot about the students. I also go back and ask them how they are doing on their goal.

After the second class meeting: Everything went well in the three classes. I had been to a meeting of 220 teachers and learned that I need to give a diagnostic test for my class to assess their writing and that I need to give a final exam. I also need to schedule meetings for each student and I can cancel classes on two days to compensate. The final exam sounds like more work for me, but I think it is okay. I just wished I had known about this before I had made up my syllabus the first time. When I have changed syllabi in other classes there have always been confused students who can't grasp that things have changed. There will be a lot of grading in Intro to Lit, especially because students can rewrite two of the papers. In class we discussed "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Lottery" for setting, character, point of view, and plot. Next class period I will hand out more information on the definitions of the words they need to know (setting, character, point of view, plot, and theme) and we will talk briefly about "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and then I will give a diagnostic test of the end of the story for them to discuss -- the dead letter office information and the haunting last words, “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”

REVISED SYLLABUS September 6, 2007
Abigail Burnham Bloom abiga52088@aol.com
Introduction to Literature English 220-16
Office Hours Th 2:45-3:45 and By Appointment, 1436HW Office Phone: 212.772.5771
Fall 2007 M, Th 8:10-9:25 am, HN C102

REQUIRED BOOKS -- available at the Hunter Bookstore
Literature: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Gardner, Lawn, Ridl, Schakel. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004.
Frankenstein. Mary Shelley.

Close reading of the texts of British and American fiction, poetry, and drama.
To increase the understanding and appreciation of different genres of literature.
To improve oral and written responses to literature.

M 27 Introduction
Th 30 Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” (14); Jackson, “The Lottery” (208)
M 3 No class.
Th 6 Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (20)
M 10 de Maupassant, “The Necklace” (59); Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (82).
Th 13 No Class.
M 17 Ellison, “Battle Royal” (196); Baldwin, “Sonny's Blues” (220)
Th 20 Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (276); Paper #1 thesis statement due.
M 24 Mukherjee, “The Management of Grief” (224); Erdrich, “The Red Convertible” (359); Panel #1
Th 27 Poetry
M 1 Poetry; Rough draft due
Th 4 Poetry
M 8 No Class
Th11 Poetry; Paper #1 due
M 15 Poetry; Panel #2
Th 18 Midterm Examination; Thesis statement #2 due
M 22 Conference Day—no class, but schedule an appointment with me
Th 25 Conference Day—no class, but schedule an appointment with me
M 29 Frankenstein Volume I (7-58)
Th 1 Frankenstein Volume II (59-101)
M 5 Frankenstein Volume III (103-156) ; Panel #3
Th 8 Frankenstein
M 12 Frankenstein; Hamlet Act I; Thesis statement #3 due
Th 15 Hamlet Act II; Paper #2 due
M 19 Hamlet III
Tu 20 (Thursday schedule) Hamlet Act IV
Th 22 No Class
M 26 Hamlet Act V Panel #4
Th 29 Miller, Death of a Salesman Act I
M 3 Death of a Salesman Act II and Requiem; Paper #3 due
Th 6 Death of a Salesman Panel #5.
M 10 Last Class—Review for Final Exam

Attendance. Regular attendance is required. More than four unexcused absences will lower your grade; six absences will drop you from the course. If you find it necessary to be absent, let me know as soon as you can and turn in your homework the day it is due. You may e-mail it to me at Abiga52088@aol.com.

Be on time for class. Excessive lateness or early departure is strongly discouraged. IF YOU ARRIVE AFTER I HAVE TAKEN ATTENDANCE, YOU ARE MARKED AS ABSENT.

Have available in class the text scheduled for discussion.
Panel discussion: one presentation required, on the day assigned for it.
We will have discussions online. You must have a Hunter internet address.
Homework and in-class quizzes: In-class, written on the day's assigned reading and then read aloud; outside class, on assigned topics. Each homework assignment must be handed in on the day it is due—it may be emailed to me.
You must have a conference with me before the second paper is due.

Papers: three papers are required. Thesis statements must be submitted and approved for both papers. Papers 2 and 3 can be submitted in advance of the date they are due. I will suggest ways to rework them. If you submit a draft paper 2 class sessions before the due date, I will edit and return it to you with comments for revision. YOUR PAPER IS DUE ON TIME; ITS FINAL MARK WILL BE LOWERED BY ONE FULL GRADE FOR EACH PERIOD IT IS LATE. All papers must be submitted through turnitin.com, and you must set up an account for this purpose. Course ID: 1954436; Password: tragedy

Grading Policy: Paper 1 15% Paper 2 15% Paper 3 15%; Midterm Exam 10%; Participation, class work, online discussion, panel presentation 15%; homework, projects, and quizzes 15%; Final Exam 15%

“Hunter College regards acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on examinations, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) as serious offenses against the values of intellectual honesty. The college is committed to enforcing the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity and will pursue cases of academic dishonesty according to the Hunter College Academic Integrity Procedures.”

"In compliance with the American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Hunter College is committed to ensuring educational parity and accommodations for all students with documented disabilities and/or medical conditions. It is recommended that all students with documented disabilities (Emotional, Medical, Physical and/or Learning) consult the Office of Accessability located in Room 1124 East to secure necessary academic accommodations. For further information and assistance please call (212-772-4857) /TTY (212-650-3230)."

9/6 It was the third class meeting of Intro to Lit and several students still don't have textbooks.  I told them how to find the story online.  I am just going to write about the Introduction to Literature class. My students in this class are not literature majors and are generally freshman and sophomores. The class is uneven – some are older students who are excellent writers, others seem to have no interest or ability in anything.

We discussed "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and as usual the same five students talked.  I need to engage the rest.  They had homework on BlackBoard and then I had them write for 25 minutes on the ending.  I am hoping to have some idea of their individual needs in terms of writing after I get through those assignments.

9/8 I think my students need to make clear theses and develop an idea over a couple of paragraphs.  Also need to use quotes. Working towards a sense of what it all means.  I am going to give them a writing assignment that will work towards that.  Now, for last class they had to write on an aspect of “Bartleby” (homework) and also do inclass writing on the end of the short story.  I made notes of how each student did on a homework assignment and on the assessment in class. [At the end of the semester I found that students generally received a final grade comparable with the grades received on their initial writing assignments.]

9/10 I am starting to remember their names. It's always a long and difficult process for me to remember their names. But my courses are some of the only ones they take in college where they get to know each other through group work and participation. I think it helps them to feel more comfortable if I remember their names and it helps them to know each other. One of the problems is that as I get older, the students I have now remind me of students I had in the past, and I tend to call them by that name. They did group work today and reported to the class. I made their homework a more complicated assignment by having them compare one of the stories we are reading for next Monday with one of the stories we have already read. I advised them to state a thesis and use a quote from each of the works. I hope this will be a way of working into the first paper.

9/18 The class was boring; not much response to the two African-American stories that have done well in the past. However, now almost everyone is writing about them. I felt that not many students understood Ellison's “Battle Royal.” They misunderstood the grandfather's dying advice that everyone should “yes the white man to death.” The students didn't see the difference between how the grandfather behaved (he gave them what the white man what he wanted, but his mind was separate) and the protagonist who just desperately wanted to be appreciated and accepted by the white men who are just such terrible people that it's heartbreaking.

Because of the dead, dull first period class yesterday, I wanted to do something different so I decided to get Clickers for the next class. Clickers sound like rewards for mammals, but Clickers are devices that students hold so that they can vote on the best answer of four that I have written up and project onto a screen at the front of the class. The vote for their answer by pushing a button and then we can then see in a graph how many voted for what answer.

For my next class we read “Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been?,” a Joyce Carol Oates story that was once made into an excellent movie and I wrote questions for it with multiple choice answers. So I will try doing the Clickers on Thursday. I am excited to try something new and challenged by the technology and other ideas about how to use it. I had to go for instruction on how to use them so I hope they are worthwhile.

9/ 2 First period we had Clickers and the Oates story. The class started with technical problems. That was a while in straightening it all out, but finally it got going. Someone from the ITF office stayed with me during the class and ran the computer. I had put about 11 questions into the power point presentation format and we got those on the screen and started. I would read the question and then students would vote for one of the four answers. Then it shows on the screen how many students voted for each possibility. Then we talked about the answers. Some questions had one correct answer and some had more than one. It led to some good discussion and went fairly well. I should have used the list of names and called on people who were quiet more and I am going to start doing that so everyone gets used to talking in class. It's very easy to call on the usual participants and forget the others. I enjoyed doing the Clickers simply because I had not done it before. I am not sure that I will do it again. It was a lot of effort on my part and marginally more interesting than a regular class. Some students who had not gotten part of the story, did ask about things they didn't understand. That came out slowly during discussion, but they brought up things that had confused them in their reading and they hadn't done that before. I think that was good. They saw from the questions and wrong answers that others were confused as well. Some students had also looked up information about the story online and I was delighted that a couple of students had a suggestion for the meaning of the numbers on Arnold's car. Now I will have to carefully plan out the next session and how to talk about those stories. I said that now we have talked about threatening situations. We had Bartleby and the lawyer stuck with Bartleby and how to handle it, it's a weird situation and he doesn't know how to handle it, but it's not life threatening for him. Now we have a young lady in a life threatening situation. We will move from there to the next and last two stories where the people in the story have to deal with a loss.

One fallout of the use of Clickers has been admissions that they didn't understand something. Perhaps seeing on the screen that other people were unsure or that other people were mistaken made them more brave about asking about meaning and what happened at some point.

I also assigned homework as they read so we will see how that will turned out. I want to make sure they do the reading and that they understand what they read. I can see for some students that it is coming along.

We finished up the short story section of the class and moved to the poetry section of the class.

Later: I enjoyed reading the poetry with my students. Although most students started by saying they didn't understand poetry, when we talked about a specific poem, they all came up with thoughts of the poem.

Midsemester Review
Fall 2007
1. How are you doing with regard to the goal you set for yourself at the beginning of the semester? (If you don't remember what it was, perhaps you should set another goal for yourself.)
2. How do you think you are doing otherwise in this class?
3. What could be changed to make the course more useful to you?
4. What is the most important thing you've learned in the course so far?
5. How am I doing? Do you have any recommendations for me?
6. What, if anything, has confused you in this course?
Please write any other comments you wish to make.

I think this review is very helpful. A few students are always very insightful. I am surprised by how my perception is so different from many of the members of the class. I try very hard to incorporate their opinions into the remainder of the course. But when they say that they don't like sitting in a circle or doing group work, I cannot dismiss these things entirely. I have changed how I do homework so that instead of giving homework that concentrates on plot elements, I give a more open assignment asking about their reaction to what they are reading.

10/ 29 Today we used the Clickers for the second time in my class for the first day of our discussion of Frankenstein after they had been assigned to read the first volume of the work.  I had written questions quickly on Thursday and then had a session to remember how to do the whole thing.  It worked out pretty well. The class goes quickly perhaps with so much make work.  It was easier to get the equipment working this time.  One problem was that the class started out very small and then several people arrived late--they said there was a problem with the subways.  Everyone voted, but it didn't lead to too much discussion.  There was quite a lengthy discussion of the central issue of why Frankenstein freaks out when he sees the creature.  But I didn't really have time for an introduction to the novel and some background information on Mary Shelley. That will have to come next time when we talk about the second part of the novel.  I will also have to talk about a paper on Frankenstein. I did think the questions got students thinking about the issues of the novel. More students talk than when I just ask questions to the class.

I'm looking back on the class now. Somehow the end of the semester got so busy that I didn't have a chance to continue writing. I thought that teaching the plays went very well. I had students read an act from Hamlet for every class and then in class I went through the act to highlight what I thought was important and finally I showed that act from a film. I have several different versions of Hamlet so they were able to see Olivier, Richard Burton, as well as Ethan Hawk in the role. They liked Death of a Salesman because of its modern feel.

We did do quite a lot of work on the nature of tragedy. I ended up having it be about half of the final exam. I reviewed for the final by doing a quiz, a literary bee. I lined up all the students in the class and then I asked questions that I had written up the night before. If someone got the question right, he went to the end of the line; if someone got the question wrong, he sat down and the question went to the next person. I enjoyed it and I hope that students did. The answers may have come too quickly for them to really take them in. But I did have a handout on the nature of tragedy and I had put the information up online.

I wish I had been able to work with more students on writing this semester. They did a lot of writing -- papers, homework, in class, and online. They were also able to rewrite their papers. Always with the rewriting, I find that students correct things that I have questioned, but they don't rethink the paper at all. For many students I did not raise the grade for the rewrite. I wish I had made the process of revising and rewriting clearer to students. I did work with one student who had a large percentage of her paper show up on turnitin.com. She said that she knew that would happen because she had worked with sources but she wasn't sure how to do it. I am not sure that I was helpful to her. I know she wasn't trying to plagiarize, but she could definitely get in trouble. I would do turnitin.com again as at least I had no incidents of total plagiarism. I was disappointed that I didn't feel it was helpful for students to read and comment on each other's papers. No student changed his paper following that session. Perhaps more examples of better papers would have been good. I worked on developing a grading rubric which may be helpful in the future. But somehow I don't think I broke through to them, or at least not to many of them. I think all of this will help me to be a better teacher in the literature classes that I have.

I always have students in my classes give oral reports. For this class I had the students give the report and also put it up online in a Wiki for the class. I found this interesting as it was easier for me to understand the oral reports when I saw them written. But students didn't really comment on each other's work or correct each other's work or add to it, which is the whole point of the Wiki. I don't think I would use that again in another class.

Of course the class is called Introduction to Literature and I definitely introduced them to many different types of literature. I think I helped them be able to read poetry and many students commented on that. But I could have been more helpful with the writing, if I had just been able to figure out how. And I feel frustrated by the conferences I had with students. I did see students individually, but I summed up their achievements and what they could work at to do better in the class without giving them something concrete to work on in their writing. Yes, I told them to participate more and get their work in on time, but I didn't tell them that they made frequent grammatical errors of a certain kind that they should watch out for. I feel that I should have helped them more.



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