Message Threads and Post Compilations: Instead of having students post short write-ups about each text they read, I encouraged students to dedicate time to reading and thinking about the reading. To facilitate this, I asked students to regularly post questions about the readings rather than answers. In alternating groups, students posted a question about the reading twice a week. These questions provided students the opportunity to reflect on the reading, communicate concerns over the content or politics, and practice making well-supported arguments since a question is ultimately a claim in reverse. This task engaged students intellectually without being taxing, allowing them time to read and develop ideas in a less formal and prohibitive context. Students could also pose answers to questions they saw, and many participated by both posting a question and answering others’ posts.
Students also were assigned a designated date for reporting the findings of the posts from the night before. This compilation encouraged students to look at their peer’s questions and draw conclusions, common threads, or areas of concern for that day’s class discussion. It also helped students form a community that addressed people’s interests and arguments with respect and by name. Directions were as follows:
For each of our designated class meetings, half of the class will be expected to stage a strong question or offer a possible answer on our course message board. These reading updates will help you focus your readings and analytical skills and provide starting points for discussion and writing responses. Each day we meet, up to 2 representatives from the posting group will be responsible for compiling the questions and summarizing the conversation as a primary way to open discussions to the class, noting trends, concerns or areas to address. To earn points here you must both participate in each night’s reading thread for your group and come prepared on your designated day to compile the findings. Threads will close each night at 10PM. Responses posted after that time will not earn points.
Reading Responses: Since a summer course covers a lot of material quickly, these reading responses offered the opportunity to synthesize each week’s major concepts or themes. These short argumentative writings are based on Wayne Booth’s claim structure from the Craft of Research and helped students cultivate critical writing skills about difficult and often theoretical material. Instructions were as follows:
Each week you will construct a tightly focused 350-400 word (1 1/2 -2 page) reading response. These responses should select a small part of at least two of that week’s texts to construct an argument about. In these responses, you need to make a compelling claim supported by a close reading of a significant passage or scene. These must be in MLA format and should be uploaded to WebCampus no later than 10PM each Thursday. I will return these responses ASAP so you can use the feedback for future responses.
Author/Critic Presentations: Students were responsible for doing background reading and bringing supportive and contextual information to class to help facilitate the readings. This assisted not only in the understanding of materials class wide, but gave each student the opportunity to participate in class more readily. Students signed up for an author or text on the first day of class. The directions were as follows:
These presentations will require a little Internet searching. So long as you cite your sources, any source is fair game. You will need to create a handout that is at least 1 page in length, but does not exceed 2 (front and back). Upload your handout to the appropriate WebCampus message board before class begins on the day you present (if a group of two, you must BOTH upload it). Your group will also be expected to help lead the discussion that day as the resident expert on your author/critic and deliver a brief 3-5 minute presentation of material.
Areas to Consider: Brief biography; Works written, genre; Key issues or topics; Audience reception overall; Known for, notes about their career, politics, reputation, place in American literature, etc. For critics and theorists, try to pin down what they argue and how they present it to the reader. Feel free to meet with me 1-2 class periods prior to your presentation if you need help!
Final Essay: At this course level, the best representation of a student’s engagement with the material is through critical writing. I assign a final essay because it helps students intellectually engage with the content we have been covering, and acknowledge that understanding changes with each additional text, providing competing interpretations. In addition, students have been practicing evidence-based argumentation throughout the term, and a final paper provides them the opportunity to revisit their smaller arguments and exercise the skills required to develop these concepts further. In this way, students are responsible for coming up with their own topic within my expectations of length (6-8 pages) and scope (to use two critical texts and two fictional texts, etc.).
In this five-week session, I meet with students during week 3 to start developing ideas for a final paper. These informal conversations allow me to guide students toward texts that represent their interests, or refocus their initial ideas to cover more critical ground. This is often done in conjunction with a preliminary outline, that students workshop together in class.