Monday, October 20, 2008

More thoughts on Strong Resonse texts

So, I got lots of good comments about texts for the strong response paper. I think everyone is on really different pages with this assignment, which caused everyone's suggestions to be also very different.

In order to decide on texts, I've taken time to really think about the students this semester, where they are, and what they need. I just did a week on personal narrative writing with them, and as I taught them, I realized that they needed this earlier. I may have pushed them on issues and politics a little too much in the first too papers, and I am not sure they were ready for that.

This tells me a few things. 1) I think paper #3 for them needs to be a little out in left field because if they start to feel like all the assignments are too related, they start to bring their writing "sins" and worries with them from paper to paper. Some of them freeze under this pressure. 2) We did so much focus on the thinking process in papers 1 and 2, that I think I need to give them an assignment that to them feels more like a writing assignment/ process. Again, we know that all assignments are both, but sometimes it isn't about us or how we perceive the process. It is about the students and what they see. 3) I want to take advantage of the current political climate and election if I can. 4) I want all my students to get a strong sense of success after paper #3 as they prepare for the next two papers.

So, with all that said, I have decided to let my students choose essays from The New Yorker magazine. I gave them a word limit and a specific place to look for the essays online. There are enough that I am hoping each students will be able to find something that is challenging and interesting. It also exposes them to new ideas that are current and real. So many of my students were nervous about talking about local issues in previous papers because they did not feel informed. I am hoping that this adventure with the New Yorker will actually empower them and give them more confidence in their ability to find out what is going on and have an opinion about it. Plus, these essays are well written while also leaving room for response and critical thought.

Am I off in left field? Let me know.
What problems should I prepare for with this?


Goshert said...


Your choice of New Yorker articles as texts for summary/strong response writing projects can both be productive and raise unique challenges. Certainly, following Alyssa's earlier comment, New Yorker aticles can be quite sound on the surface, but in crucial ways deeply flawed and thus rewarding to students who carefully read, analyze, and engage with them. The challenge, in my view is ultimately one of genre, because while it might be said that the New Yorker is close to the peak of American journalism, it remains, at the end of the day, journalism, and thus typically fails to demand of readers the kind of critical engagement that scholarly texts tend to offer. (As I scan the current issue of the New Yorker, I'm struck by framing techniques that really seem to limit critical, contextualized, nuanced understanding of curent issues--but more detail on this matter offline if you'd like...)

Your decision does make me wonder about ways in which avenues for beginning a critical research project in papers #4 and #5 might, in fact, be sparked by students recognizing the limitations of journalism and looking for something more deeply problematic. Perhaps this is the moment at which entering an academic conversation about ideas raised in a piece of journalism becomes meaningful and worthwhile to the student.

Thus, to follow up on another point raised in your question, if the research question--the motivation for the research project--is derived from the student's growing engagement with and curiosity about a current issue, then perhaps the research work itself seems less artificial, less like "just another assignment." I can see some really valuable student work developing from the kinds of texts I believe you're suggesting here.

OK, enough for now. Comment at will.

Jill Fellow said...

John, I agree with many things you have said, and I like the idea of taking the students complaints with the writing and topics as a jumping off point to have them more fully engage with their personal research efforts in papers 4 and 5. I think you and I see the New Yorker a little differently though. Most of it is not journalism. Most articles are actually essays in disguise... maybe not strongly written, but essays. I guess the great question is: if a journalist sees them as not journalism, and an essay man sees them as not essays... what are they? dear me. Thanks again for your help. The students are doing really well, and so far the text has shown to be a great one for them to be able to respond to. We'll see how things go next week when I get the rough drafts.

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