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Creativity in Student Work

posted: 5.18.15 by Emily Isaacson

This was the year that I embraced creative projects in my literature courses.  My department chair has been doing them for ages, and he’s been very encouraging.  His only stipulation is that English majors must write a long seminar-style paper at some point in an upper-division course- but we leave the choice of when to write that paper to the students.  Additionally we’ve got lots of non-majors taking our courses, and we want them to see connections across disciplines, so working on something other than pure literary criticism is useful to them. So this year in addition to the traditional term paper, I’ve given students the option to put together creative projects or write papers based on their own majors, using the literature. For example, several psychology majors have described the pathology of characters.

In the fall, I had the students put together an exhibition of their work. This spring, I coordinated with my department chair, who taught the other upper-division literature course, to have the students put on a mini conference where students gave brief presentations about their work.

Students who take the creative option must still write a researched introduction, but they’re otherwise given free rein to do what they want.  Letting them explore literature in this way not only gives them the opportunity to make connections between the material and their own interests, but also gives them the opportunity to really shine.

And shine they did.

One student used social media to explore Katherine Mansfield’s stories, another created a board game based on Northanger Abbey; someone created a commonplace book of tips for how to get by in Bath (also based on research about Jane Austen), while another wrote and performed songs based on Wide Sargasso Sea.  Students in both semesters developed thoughtful lesson plans using the works that we read; both semesters, students reworked pieces of literature as film scripts. And the students who opted for traditional papers wrote some incredibly thoughtful and thorough scholarship.

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I don’t know how to teach students to be creative.  This semester in particular, I was reminded that they already are — and that I just need to give them room to be so.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Creating Assignments, Emily Isaacson, Learning Styles
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Horizontal divider Heather Sellers

Grading Versus Responding

posted: 5.4.15 by Heather Sellers

When I was finishing my PhD in creative writing, my boyfriend was a rhetorician.  He was a bit older, and a professor (not mine). I was very influenced by him. He taught me how to close-read, how to make Stromboli, how to play tennis, and how to interact properly with a cat.  All new to me.  I was enthralled. Except for one thing. Instead of “grading papers” he always said “responding to student work.”

As we were both teaching full course loads, we talked about teaching every day, at every meal, and in the evenings on our walks. So, I said “grading” a lot and he said, all the time, “responding,” and it irritated me.  Obviously, by “grading” I meant reading, writing comments, reflecting, and then assigning a grade. His term seemed tedious, and perjorative, and complicating unnecessarily a simple thing. Grading.

Ultimately, we became collaborators instead of romantic partners, and ultimately, I stopped using the word “grading.” He’d written many articles and a terrific book on all the different ways teachers comment on student work—and when we began analyzing the comments creative writing teachers make on student work (with everyone’s permission), I slowly but profoundly came to see our collective endeavor as So Much More Than Grading.

Response.  The word means answer or reply and I found that when I wrote comments on my students’ writing, I was much more focused on a relational and empathic conversation with them than I was on an evaluation. I spent my comments playing back what they had written, and suggesting places where they could go further, write deeper, say more. I mentioned exactly what I wanted to know more about. I absolutely said what I felt the strengths were and listed the two or three areas they’d want to focus on. In revising that particular piece, yes, but more importantly, what to focus on as a developing writer.  These “assessments” required a lot of discernment and I liked that process, a lot.  It sure wasn’t “grading.” I was in conversation with my students; we were on the page together.

So, as I read more deeply into the pedagogical literature on teaching writing and response (Rick Straub, Wendy Bishop, Patrick Bizarro, Andrea Lunsford), and worked on the project analyzing what we say to our students in the creative writing classroom, I gradually changed my language.

“Do you have a lot of grading to do?” I’m asked frequently this time of year. Well, no. Kind of. The grading—figuring out which letter grade to assign the students based on how well their work displayed what we set out to learn this semester—isn’t what takes up my time. It’s reading and responding meaningfully to their pages. Maybe the distinction seems picayune. But what used to irritate me has become a profoundly important distinction.

In this age of STEM, with rapidly declining enrollments in the Humanities, it’s more important than ever that we articulate what it is we do, why it’s necessary, and exactly how it matters. (I highly recommend Peter Meinke’s article, “Double Major.”)

Our students will likely have jobs where giving and receiving responses to work in progress is a crucial part of success. Not grading. In fact, delaying evaluation and judgment in order to learn how to build rapport, work in a group, and think more creatively is essential. At the end of the term, we’re not grading. We’re discerning, with empathy, and I call that response.

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Categories: Assessment, Creative Writing
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Thinking with Analogies

posted: 3.24.15 by Emily Isaacson

In preparation for our university’s re-accreditation process, my department has been reviewing the goals and objectives for our majors.  One of the things that we want to make sure our literature majors understand is the distinction between the major eras of British and American literature. Our upper division courses are broadly defined — Students in British Literature, Studies in American Literature, Studies in the Novel, and so on — which allows us to break out of the periodization paradigm. However, we run four survey courses that all literature majors,  and most writing majors, take: the standard issue Brit Lit before and after 1798, and American Lit before and after 1860.

Thus, our goal is for students at the freshman/sophomore levels to form an idea of what constitutes each major era of literature — in their junior and senior year, they may engage in a more intensive study of a single time period (I’ve taught early modern drama) or a study of a theme across time (in the fall, we’re exploring concepts of trauma and disability through an examination of monsters and monstrosity in British Literature).

But how to get students to remember the differences between the eras in order to help them gain a sense of literary history?  At this point, my own understanding of literary history is intuitive — and sometimes I forget that it’s not as obvious to students why Tennyson is a Victorian or why Swift is clearly a product of the eighteenth century.  I may lecture at the beginning of each new era on what the essential components and hallmarks are (and I’ve written previously about using fashion as a way into each era), but that doesn’t mean students are putting the pieces together as we read through the literature.

To deal with this, I tried something new when finishing up my last survey course.  To help students review for the final exam and to help them get a sense of the shifts from Romanticism to Victorianism to Modernism/Postmodernism, I decided to have them work out analogies from pop culture to explain the differences.  My example was from Friends: Phoebe is Romanticism, Monica is Victorianism, and Ross, with all his overwhelming anxieties about the world, is Modernism.  And then I set students to the task of coming up with their own analogies and explanations of their choices.

When students shared their ideas, we had a range of things — Twilight, zombies, superheroes — that made sense to them, and looking over the comprehensive essays on their final exams, I think that the exercise helped students delineate the time periods.  I plan to try this again in the fall with the pre-1798 course, and I’m looking forward to whatever weird analogies my students determine.

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Categories: Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Emily Isaacson, Learning Styles
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Horizontal divider Heather Sellers

The Pyramid: How I Teach Revision

posted: 3.10.15 by Heather Sellers

About four weeks into the semester, I write these words on the board, inside a pyramid:

Proofing and Grammar

Editing

Revision

Then, I explain the pyramid to my students, but in a very careful way.

I learned a lot about how to teach from being a step-parent and in the classroom, as on the step-homefront, I don’t tell them what to do, I share what I do. I teach from the side. I even act slightly puzzled, just slightly disinterested—probably this wouldn’t work for you slides my tone. Nothing to see here. But I’m also very engaged—with my own process: I act like I’m sharing a secret, too—step inside my studio, if you want to. I don’t let everyone in. This is not the standard curriculum. This is a writing class. We are co-alchemists and my job as teacher is to be sly and stealthy.

Here’s what I want to get across to my students in my revision lesson sneak attack. Revision is writing.  But I don’t want to say that sentence. Not ever. Because I have a feeling this sentence makes little sense to a new writer, a young writer, a college student/writer. “Revision is writing” certainly made no sense to me as a student: it sounded to my nineteen year old ears as something teachers say to sound teachery when they are trying to make something boring and time-wasting sound helpful, like broccoli. But the truth is every single working writer I know creates a draft, a piece, and then she begins to work. And it’s the act of “revision”—re-seeing—on which we spend most of our time as writers.  I don’t think students are lazy; I really believe they want to improve as writers. I think students simply don’t know how to spend the time on a piece of writing. They don’t know what to sit down and do for hours, all the hours it takes to craft something potentially substantial and significant.

So, I show them exactly what I do.

I draw the pyramid. I tell the truth: about 80% of my time is spent doing what I call re-seeing the piece.  After I writing out the images and scenes, I read the piece aloud and see what I have. I read to stabilize the narrative in place and time, layer in the dialogue, and clarify confusion. I print, read the piece it aloud again, and adjust, cutting and adding, sharpening and tuning, over and over. I will do this for as long as I have time (depending on the deadline). For a poem to take to my writing group, I will do ten or twenty rounds of this seeing and re-seeing on the page, in the course of a week. I read the work aloud to my writing partner, aloud to myself, aloud to a close friend who happens to be an editor, catching, each time, parts that aren’t clear, parts I need to see more fully.

Editing—making the sentences more artful, fact-checking, formatting, etc., takes about 15% perfect of my writing time for any given piece and proofreading for typos, spell checking and grammar checking—5%.

When I gave this lesson last week in my introductory poetry class, Aaron sat up, took his feet off his skateboard-cum-footstool, and he said, “This is the most helpful thing so far.”   “Like ever.” Natalie took a cell phone photograph of the board, and several others followed suit. Yuni got out a Hello Kitty notebook for the first time this semester, and drew the pyramid, which now had the percentages written by it and she said, “Could you say this one more time?”

“Why does no one tell us these things?” Danica said.

“Do other people do this?” Chantelle asked, holding her hand in the air as she spoke.

I nodded solemnly. My friends who are writers, they do this. We have talked about it, I say. And I make sure to always say each one of us has to find the way that works best, our own way. It’s very individual.

Then, I pull out from a folder one of my poems in progress—a thick packet of pages. I  make it seem like I just happen to have this with me. I say I don’t usually share my work in progress or talk about my process with my students. In this case, I pulled out a poem about meeting my 80 year old aunt in St. Augustine, very near the Fountain of Youth, as it happened.  I held up the first draft, which was written on the inside cover of an issue of Poetry while I was in the car. I hold up the printed out typed versions with all my many notations, all my re-seeing. I show them the drawing I did after struggling to get the opening of this poem clear, a quick sketch of the fountain at Columbia House with my aunt and her partner and my friend and his hat. Then I show them the copies my writing partners have written on, and I hold up the printouts of the emails I got back with notes on various versions of the from Dylan, Elaine, Norman, and Stephanie. Elaine’s—with track changes and many, many more words of commentary than are in the poem—draws a gasp.

“How freaking long does this take?” Joe asks. I’m dying for Joe to spend more than five minutes on anything, ever. I look him dead in the eye and say “The whole thing? From start to finish?” I hold all the pages in my palms as though I’m weighing time itself. Long dramatic pause. “Probably 25 hours?”

“For one poem?” Ken says. “Shit.”

I nod.

“Shit,” Coral says. “I need to spend more time.”

“I’m editing,” Danica says. “I thought I was a great reviser. I’m editing.”

“You’re a great editor.”

I don’t ask the students to track their time or do anything with the revision pyramid. Most semesters they ask about it again, later in the course. I see their work improve, week by week. I think learning how to spend more time on a piece of writing takes time.  For my introductory courses, presenting the pyramid and a cold hard sausage-being-made look into one writer’s folder of drafts is enough.

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Categories: Revising, Writing Process
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The Bits Blog on Literature

posted: 2.20.15 by smooney

The Bedford Bits blog provides instructors with teaching ideas from leading scholars, authors, and professors, focusing on composition generally, while LitBits was created just for literature instructors.  However, sometimes the great contributors on Bits have approaches and perspectives that are equally useful in the literature classroom.

For this week’s post, we have gathered a collection of great posts on poetry, using technology and culture to engage students, and writing as a social action.

 

Holly Pappas, Gen Ed Poetry: Finding a Real Toad or Two

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/literature/gen-ed-poetry-finding-a-real-toad-or-two/archived/

Holly Pappas offers an assignment that will help engage students who are overwhelmed by or bored with poetry, and explains to her students that they don’t need perfect understanding to appreciate what is happening in a poem.

Joelle Hahn, Poetry, Proliferating

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/uncategorized/poetry-proliferating/archived/

Technology has made an undeniable impact on the written word, and Joelle presents a variety of online resources for navigating online poetry.

Traci Gardner, Using Pop Culture to Hook Students on Poetry

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/teaching-with-technology/using-pop-culture-to-hook-students-on-poetry/tgardner/

Song lyrics, commercial jingles, and Dr. Seuss all play a role in Traci Gardner’s plan to entice students into loving poetry.

Andrea Lunsford/Jeanne Law Bohannon, Multimodal Mondays: Day in the Life: A DIY Assignment Using Immediate Media, Archives, and Animation to Engage Student-Scholars in Digital, Public Writing

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/uncategorized/multimodal-mondays-day-in-the-life-a-diy-assignment-using-immediate-media-archives-and-animation-to-engage-student-scholars-in-digital-public-writing/alunsford/

An explanation of how Twitter, Storify, and Go Animate bring digital learning and literacy to the classroom.

Traci Gardner, A List of Ten Inspired by Literary Starbucks

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/assignment-idea-2/a-list-of-ten-inspired-by-literary-starbucks/tgardner/

Traci Gardner uses Literary Starbucks as a model, creating an assignment that allows students to playfully explore the minds and characters of great literary figures.

Michael Michaud, Writing is a Public Act: Take One

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/authors-2/michael-michaud/writing-is-a-public-act-take-one/archived/

In this exploration of how the private writing of the college classroom differs from the public writing of the internet, Michael Michaud discusses his efforts to bring student writing into the public sphere and generate discussion about the impact that writing can have.

Andrea Lunsford, Writing to Make Something Happen in the World

http://blogs.bedfordstmartins.com/bits/authors-2/andrea-lunsford/writing-to-make-something-happen-in-the-world/alunsford/

Andrea Lunsford discusses “good writing” in the context of words that serve a performative – even a transformative – purpose in the world, sharing and causing waves of social justice and change.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Discussion, Poetry, Reading Online, Teaching with Technology
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Engaging Students in the Reading

posted: 1.28.15 by Emily Isaacson

One of the great challenges for many of us is getting students to really engage with the readings. Students may read before class, but don’t annotate. Student may not read at all. And many students don’t necessarily think on their feet about the readings at hand. One of my challenges in the classroom is getting students to go back to the text itself, rather than simply talking in abstract terms about what happened in a story or a play.

As a member of my university’s faculty development committee, I’ve found myself in charge of a workshop on this very topic: getting students to engage with the reading. Given that’s it’s time for a new semester, I thought it might be useful to share a list of activities to use in the classroom to help foster thoughtful engagement with the text itself. Some of these are things I’ve written about before, some are ideas from other people that I’ve found helpful.

In-class discussion questions

Everyone approaches classroom discussion differently, and every class dynamic requires some different approaches to the way we present the questions to the students.

  • I’m a frequent user of small groups in my classrooms, and I’ve developed a number of ways to get the groups working on ideas. This particular exercise is one that encourages students to consider their own answers — but then to also evaluate the quality of other people’s answers.
  • This semester I tried something new with students who were reluctant to jump into full-class discussions. I projected 4-5 discussion questions (usually culled from the instructor’s manual to the textbook) and gave students the first 5-10 minutes of class to find information that would help answer those questions. I wish I could tell you where I ran across this idea, but it worked wonders with a class that was reluctant to join in discussions.
  • I’ve long used student-generated discussion questions in my upper division classes.
  • This guest post by Ben Bunting has some nice ideas about literature and contexts as discussion openers.

Writing as Discussion

Many of my courses are writing intensive courses, so I try to integrate written analysis of the literature into classroom participation.

  • I’ve found success with having students write analytical paragraphs as part of their approach to the texts, which can work in any classroom where analyzing information is central.
  • Barclay Barrios suggests having students write argument haikus about complex informational texts, which could certainly be translated into discussion-openers in a literature classroom. I will be doing this next semester, most assuredly. (Barrios has also suggested a way to do this with Vine.

In class reading

Actually having students read in the classroom can be useful, particularly early in the semester when they’re just figuring out how to do the work of the literature classroom.

  • Critical Reading , as exemplified here, is a technique I picked up from the Foundation for Critical Thinking. It can be useful when students are approaching a really challenging work. It helps students recognize the need to slow down as they read, and can build confidence in the idea that they can actually do the difficult reading.
  • I also like to have students make use of contexts sections in anthologies.
  • Having students view characters through the eyes of other characters in the text can be a useful way to understand character motivation.

Multi-modal approaches

Encouraging students to have fun with the literature, while still looking carefully into the text itself can be a useful way to engage students who are not English majors.

  • I recently had students create comics about Charles Dickens.
  • In teaching “The Things They Carried,” I’ve had students create categories of the items in the book — and I think this is something that could be adapted for a wide variety of stories and poems.
  • Barclay Barrios has written both about drawing the argument (which I’ve adapted as drawing the poem)

The aural nature of literature

And finally, literature — especially poetry — should be approached through the aural experience.

  • Joanne Diaz has students perform Shakespeare’s sonnets as slam poems, which encourages the students to consider the varying patterns of the poems.
  • Joanne Diaz also has her students use the Woodberry Poetry Room to teach students about active listening.

I think that all of these are adaptable for different levels and for different texts, which is generally how most of my teaching goes: I see what others are doing, and I adapt it to what works with my particular groups of students. I’m looking forward to another semester of teaching — and I certainly plan to adapt some of these activities in new ways for my classrooms.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Creating Assignments, Critical Reading, Emily Isaacson, In-Class Activity, Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology, The Classroom
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Promoting Literature on Campus

posted: 1.13.15 by Emily Isaacson

This year, in teaching my Shakespeare course, I used the 450th birthday as an excuse to get students to bring Shakespeare awareness to campus. To that end, I created an assignment that I called “Pop-up Shakespeare,” which I described like this:

You will be developing some sort of experience for your fellow Heidelberg students, whether it’s through chalking Shakespearean sonnets onto the sidewalks, developing a Shakespeare film festival, performing flash mob scenes, or creating a Shakespeare-related volunteer project (just to suggest some ideas). For this assignment you can work with a group or alone. You must document the event through pictures; you will also write a brief analysis of your work, explaining why you chose to do what you did.

The object of the assignment was to encourage students to have some fun with Shakespeare and to exercise some creativity in doing so. It was ultimately a small part of the final grade, but I wanted something that would make Shakespeare just a bit less intimidating and would make literature a bit more visible on campus.

The results were fun — and I heard from a number of colleagues in other departments how much they were enjoying the different things that students were posting around campus. We had some sidewalk chalk, we had a movie night in one of the residence halls, and mostly we had a lot of great signs.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Emily Isaacson, Literature, Popular Culture
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Form vs Formula

posted: 1.6.15 by Ayşe Papatya Bucak

This semester I’m teaching a graduate workshop called Forms of Prose.  If you are a nonfiction writer, this suggests things like the lyric essay, narrative journalism, and the personal essay.  If you’re a fiction writer, it probably suggests only short story vs novel. But I am teaching the class as an examination of any of the implied or stated rules imposed on a work of prose.  Some might be arbitrary rules about rhythm, rhyme and repetition (as in much formal poetry), and others might be the unspoken rules of reader expectations.  For example, we will look at how the workshop story bemoaned by the world at large (or just the anti-MFAers) might actually be a consequence of an abuse of form.  That when form is poorly executed it becomes formula.

By way of example, let’s take the fad of six word stories and essays.  I’m generally not a fan. Especially not of the possibly apocryphal Hemingway version: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”  Supposedly Hemingway said this is all the story you need to tell.  But I suspect one of my finest teaching moments may have been when I said to a totally-disturbed class: that story is only interesting if that baby has no feet.

Listen, I get it.  It’s heartbreaking; that story can make me cry, because anything suggesting the mortality of babies can make me cry.  But a reliance on abstract emotional manipulation is not the same thing as great storytelling.  Which is not to say a six word story couldn’t be great.  Because herein lies the difference between form and formula.  Form forces a writer to rise above restrictions to reach originality; formula allows a writer to rely on restrictions to be relieved of the burden of originality.  Formula works on some readers, of course (including me: hello, Sophie Kinsella, I love you), but it isn’t what anybody enters an MFA program aspiring to, so my class is going to set all kinds of rules, just to show how well writers can surprise readers when we follow them.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Ayse Papatya Bucak, Critical Thinking, Writing Process
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Fostering Creativity in the Classroom

posted: 12.23.14 by Emily Isaacson

Recently, a colleague in the social sciences asked me how I was getting my students to put together creative presentations for class.

My first response? I genuinely don’t know. Not all of my students do things that are out of the ordinary, but sometimes they really do put together presentations that challenge themselves and challenge conventional ways of presenting interpretations of literature.  The best examples from this semester were in my post-1798 survey of British Literature course.  One group, after presenting a bit of background on the work of Lewis Carroll, acted out “The Jabberwocky.”  Another group turned the epistolary juvenalia of Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan” into a play, based on everyone texting each other and using hashtags to indicate themes.

Not everyone, of course, does such things. I had plenty of student presentations that stuck to a fairly standard formula of background information, overview of the text, then interpretation of the text. These are fine. They do the work of the assignment.  And for the most part, even though they weren’t quite as exciting as watching a student use a toy lightsaber as the vorpal sword to slay the jabberwocky, they made good use of visual aids and were thoughtful in their commentary. (I suppose it helps that I have a list of pretty specific expectations for what not to do with PowerPoint — most importantly, I insist that students cannot just read from the slides.)

But to get back to that question: How do I get students to be creative? How do I get them, ultimately, to have fun with what they’re doing?

I don’t have a complete answer for those questions, but I think that there are some ways that we can foster creativity in our classrooms and encourage our students to not take themselves too seriously, even as we take the study of literature (or any subject, really) seriously.

The first is that I do not take myself particularly seriously, even though I consider literary analysis to be serious work. Some of this has to do with teaching students about audience — and making sure that students begin to recognize the difference between the (relatively) casual conversation about the text in the classroom and the more formal analysis of the text in their written work.

But it really isn’t about me.  It’s really about getting students to engage with the texts in front of them, and getting them to work on the texts in a variety of ways. I’ve written before about my own adherence to multimodal methods in the classroom, and I think that this helps foster that creativity.  We draw things in my classroom.  We write group paragraphs that analyze quotations in class.  We use analogies to explain major concepts. We do dramatic readings of the literature. Most importantly, and what takes up a lot of my prep time, is the fact that I try to only use each technique once or twice — so whenever we’re doing some sort of group work, it’s different from the  activity that we’ve done before. This is especially true in my 100- and 200-level literature courses, where I’m trying to teach students about the many different ways that we can talk and think about literature.

It does, unfortunately, take time to foster this creativity — many of my most creative projects this semester came from students who have taken multiple classes with me, and so know that my classroom is a fairly safe space to try something new and weird. The study of literature is all about ambiguity and the many ways that we can consider a work — and once students become comfortable with that idea, their creativity can really shine through.

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Categories: Creating Assignments, Emily Isaacson, In-Class Activity
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Reflections During Week 14

posted: 12.9.14 by William Bradley

With two weeks left in the semester, my students are busy revising creative nonfiction essays for inclusion in their final portfolios.  I admit, this is a very relaxing time for me.  While many of my colleagues are frantically grading papers and writing exams, I’m showing up to school to listen to students give presentations on their favorite authors and to answer questions during office hours.  I’m thinking about getting a hammock for the office, actually.

Of course, portfolios will come in and the days leading up to Christmas will be filled with frantic grading.  But I’m enjoying the peace right now, and am reflecting on all of the good work I have read from my students this semester.

Back in August, the students entered the classroom for the first time unsure of what to expect.  Everyone knows what fiction and poetry is, but the idea of a “creative nonfiction” workshop is foreign to most of them.  Some of these students are in my class because someone recommended me to them.  Others are majors who need the course in order to move on to more advanced classes.  Others just need to get an arts elective out of the way.  Most, though, aren’t taking the class because they already have a deep and abiding love for the essay or literary journalism.

I hope that, over the course of the year, they have grown to love these forms.  Not just because I love these forms myself, but because I have seen this group of students come together and understand each other better as a result of sharing their own personal narratives.  These 18 and 19 year olds began the semester a little nervous, sometimes reluctant to allow themselves to be too exposed in their writing.  But at this point, I think that we have all become friends—or, if not friends, then very supportive colleagues.  We have shared family secrets, discussed our private anxieties, and revealed truths that we usually keep hidden when we’re in the dorms, at the bar, or in a department meeting.  We’ve established a sense of trust with each other, even though—or, perhaps, because?—we didn’t know each other 14 weeks ago.

Some of these students will go on to study English and creative writing.  Some will go on to publish their work.  Most will not.  But I hope that these students will look back on the experience of taking this class fondly, and I hope they feel like they learned useful things during our time together.  Of course, if they find that they’re able to express themselves through writing more effectively, that’s great.  But more importantly, I hope that, through reading and writing creative nonfiction, they’ve come to understand that they’re not alone in the universe.  I hope they realize that their friends, their classmates, and even their professors struggle with private stresses and anxieties.  I hope they have learned that, sometimes, we all feel isolated, or freakish, or terrified.  And I hope that they’re able to take this knowledge with them after they leave my classroom, better equipped to try to understand someone else’s point-of-view.  This, I think, is the most important reason to study creative nonfiction.

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Categories: Collaboration, Creating Nonfiction, William Bradley
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