Spring 2011… At long last!

So, as you can clearly tell, I “took a break” from this teaching blog. Deliberately, you ask? Well, not quite… Though I’d like to think it was a conscious decision. I’m going to restart it, though, because I’m teaching several new courses this term and I want to have a place where I can keep track of my thoughts, experiments, failures, and more. This term, I’ve got a lot on my plate, which really makes my attempt to keep anything like a blog rather counterintuitive, as far as I can tell, but we’ll see what happens.

The term has almost (but not quite) reached midterm, so I thought a bit of reflection was in order. (Three classes + three new preps) + (three tutorials + three new preps) = chaos, of course. EN290, Introduction to Literary Theory and Practice is a gateway course for majors and minors, and I’m using the Michael Ryan Practical Introduction along with Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems. The small class size (six!) really makes for an intimate discussion, but the material, despite Ryan’s highly lucid overviews, is still challenging. I spend a lot of time going over what we’ve already gone over, under the theory that repetition is the better part of valor, but I think it does help the students. The more abstract approaches–deconstruction and poststructuralism, but also structuralism–have proven problematic, in part because I don’t want to water the theory down. However, I’m learning that the most important thing to keep in mind is the example, and the so what; the how, and the why. Bishop’s poems, of course, are challenging on their own, and even with Ryan’s analyses, they are difficult to get at.  My worry with this class is that students may get tired of reading so much Bishop–this is a bit like what I experienced with early EN200 courses that took up the story of Robinson Crusoe and its adaptations.

EN207, Theater History, is a great enjoyment to me, though I’m still parsing out the best way to do it. I’d love to be able to focus on the cultural and material history, supplemented with excerpts from a host of plays; however, this means an entire summer of course prep. It’s one of the things I’m planning on devoting time to over the summer months. This term, though, I’ve been able to narrow the focus to British drama from the Renaissance, the Restoration, and the eighteenth century, or the “early modern” period broadly–well, excluding most of the medieval period, except as a context for Renaissance dram, and including the late-early modern eighteenth century.  We’re reading a fabulous selection of plays: Doctor Faustus, The Revenger’s Tragedy, The Country Wife, The Rover, The Beggar’s Opera, and She Stoops to Conquer. Instead of assigning a great deal of contextual reading, students are using only a couple of essays from the Oxford Illustrated History of Theatre; the Thomson essay is very dense, but do-able with work, something I try to emphasize every day. These materials are supplemented with handouts of primary source materials and lectures, and thus far, it feels just right in terms of reading material. In addition to streamlining the secondary materials, I’m asking students to summarize every reading we do, as we do it; it’s a lot of work for me, but I’m hoping that the practice will help improve writing skills–and, that the summaries of the Oxford Illlustrated essays will be useful as study materials.

The third class on my docket is EN502, a graduate theory course–this is the first time I’ve taught it, and I’m so happy that I’ve got the undergrad EN290 to complement it. I can arrange quite a bit of cross-fertilization between these two courses, which makes the prep much easier. However, the students here are energetic and thoughtful, which makes our conversations quite enjoyable–though it is a great deal of work, I look forward to the class every night. Again, I’m having students summarize every week, in addition to providing an illustration/application of the theory. The illustration has thus far proven the most problematic portion, as I’ve not assigned any literary texts for us to work with as a class; instead, I’m bringing in pieces discussed in the theory. The class seems to be working well with this set-up–at least, as far as I can discern right now.

More details on tutorials later; for now, ta ta.

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