Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Reorganizing the Seminar?

I'm teaching a senior seminar on Race in/and early modern drama this spring, and spending some time looking at a variety of critical readings.  I've already ordered the plays, and have some documentary stuff ready to go.

Traditionally, I've organized senior seminars like this:

First few weeks: theory, criticism, then a play or lit text, historical texts

Second few weeks: more theory, criticism, plays!

Third few weeks: start students on research project, plays!

Final few weeks: lots of work on research project, a play or lit text

In some ways, this works really well.  reading theory/criticism early sets the agenda, and then we're well prepared to talk about plays.

BUT, because I start them on their research projects early (and they tend to write good projects as a result), they usually write their research projects on one of the texts we read in the second few weeks.

I'm wondering what would happen if we read some plays fast in the first few weeks, then in the second few weeks, read theory, criticism, other historical texts, and then in the third three weeks, go back to the plays in more depth, and such?

How do you organize courses when you want students to produce a strong research project at the end?


  1. When I want to have them work on a research project all semester long, I have them choose a text that we are NOT reading in class from a small list that I've selected. (Or, in Shakespeare, just one of the plays that we're not reading, since I know those well enough to not have to reread them in order to read a student's paper.) Anyway, when students choose their own text to read, they have to be the authority on it and not rely on class interpretation to guide them. I really love this approach. It works so well both for me and for the students. I don't have to read 20 papers on Midsummer Night's Dream and the students get to have a deep experience with a play that they are interested in reading for their own experience. I do meet with them at least once in the semester to have a chat about the play and make sure they understand what the hell they just read. But other than that, they are doing much of the work on their own, using the techniques we implement in class.

    I am considering doing that with my Women Playwrights class, too, but having them pick a play by a writer that we ARE reading in class, but a different selection. So we are reading Nina Raine's Tribes and a student might choose to write about one of her other plays, Rabbit or Tiger Country. Hey - I think I've got an assignment there!

  2. I'm interested in what you decide to do, so do share!

  3. richard10:48 AM

    I build a much larger list of subject material (in your case, plays etc. I would guess), then in the first 2 weeks we assemble the syllabus collectively. Also, if students want to do their final project on material we have discussed in class, they have to bring new material, either critical or comparative, as part of the project, and I require them to credit their fellow students (or me...) for any insights they got in class discussion that they use in their final project. In a sense, they have to do more work if they pick material we discussed in class than if they pick something else.

  4. This is a good question. I'm leading a very small senior seminar this term. Only one student really has the subject background (Stuart British history), so I'm trying to get them to identify their general skills and analytic insights honed in other history courses. Each session I'm trying to weave in period-specific context they can then link to those general skills. For instance, in our next meeting, as part of the lead-up to their essay proposal, I'll introduce them to EEBO as an example of a key primary source site and share a list of topic inspirations drawn from a survey of scholarship in the last ten years.