Thursday, June 02, 2011

Planning a Class - The Renaissance Assignments

The assignments for a class are right up there in importance. They should help students learn. And they should also give the instructor a sense of the learning. Some assignments do more of one than the other, of course.

I try these days to write all of my assignments (except for composition classes) ahead, so that the students can see right off what they're in for. It helps me have a sense of building assignments and since I'm aware, I can work in small bits at helping students write a given assignment ahead of time. I try really hard not to surprise students in any unpleasant ways (adding stuff at the last minute, changing rules).

Assignments: All assignments are due in print at the beginning of class on the day assigned unless you have a serious problem (if you’re in the hospital or have cleared something with the College office, that counts. Being tired from a trip doesn’t count.)

Word Paragraphs 25%
Short Analysis Paper 10%
Midterm Exam 10%
Longer Analysis Paper 20%
Reflection Paper 15%
Final Exam 20%

Information about Assignments: Use MLA format for citations. You can find information about using MLA format at the Online Writing Lab at Purdue (OWL at Purdue), which you can find on the web. If you look at any text, our primary text, a secondary text, Wikipedia, whatever, you MUST cite it. Always!

In order to write the papers, you will need to read the text(s) well ahead of time. I’m happy to consult with you and help with your brainstorming and such, of course.

Word Paragraphs: You will need to turn in 10 (ten) Word Paragraph assignments out of the 13 on the calendar. Look at the passage cited. Choose the most important word in the passage, and write a focused paragraph in which you tell me what word you’ve chosen and why it’s the most important word in the paragraph. The point is NOT to guess which word I would choose, but to explain as clearly as possible why you chose the word you chose. These are graded on a scale of 1-10.

Sisyphus shared this assignment with me, and it's great. (For a cat, she's very smart and generous!) I've had students doing this in my Chaucer class, for example, and they really liked it. They said that they didn't find it too hard to write a paragraph, but that focusing on figuring out a word really helped them read more carefully. Score! This is one of those assignments that's way more balanced towards the writing to learn side than to the showing me what you've learned side. I give students specific passages to write about in the calendar.

Short Analysis Paper: Carefully read the Ascham and Hoby assignments for the day. Choose one, and then go back and reread one of the Renaissance texts we’ve already read in class. Write a 2-4 page argument connecting the values, ethics, or ideas on the two texts you’ve chosen. (Due 9/21)

This sort of assignment gets students to think about and make connections between two texts. It's (I hope) painful for students to plagiarize, but gives them some room for choice and thinking. The Ascham is a short bit on learning Latin and then on fashion; the Hoby is several pages translated from Castiglione's Book of the Courtier.

Midterm Exam: The exam consists of two sections, one of which involves defining terms and concepts and connecting them with texts, the other of which involves writing a short essay about three passages from the texts. A couple of weeks before the midterm, I’ll post a similar midterm from a different class, so you’ll have a very good idea of what the format looks like.

Longer Analysis Paper: Choose an option. Write an essay in which you focus on making an argument using the text as your primary source. You may use other sources; if you do, be sure to cite them appropriately. (Due 11/9)

1) Write a 4-5 page essay in which you make an argument about why Antonio is a vitally important character in the play.

2) Write a 4-5 page essay in which you make an argument for why Act 1, scene 1 is vitally important to the play.

3) Write a 4-5 page essay in which you make an argument for why the trick on Malvolio is vitally important to the play.

This assignment asks for a deeper analysis and thinking about some aspect of the play that's difficult. It's not really easy to plagiarize (though I suppose one option would be easier than the others), but should give students who are getting the close reading skills a chance to shine more.

Reflection Paper: Choose and option and write a reflective essay. This should probably be 3-6 pages in length. (Due 11/28)

1) Choose 1 text we’ve read in this class, and make a connection between it and something you’ve learned in your [another specific] class. Be sure to give well-developed examples to show how what you’ve learned in the two classes build on each other.

2) Choose 1 text we’ve read in this class and make a connection between it and somewhere you’ve visited while in the UK this semester. Be sure to give well-developed examples to show how what you’ve learned while traveling has contributed to what you’ve learned in class, and vice versa.

Sometimes reflection papers aren't useful. But sometimes they really do help students put together what they've learned, especially when they've been learning in two different areas but haven't necessarily been putting them together.

Final Exam: The final will be in three sections; the first two will be in the same format as the midterm, but will cover the second part of the course; the final section will be an essay in which you’ll write on texts before and after the midterm.

And that's pretty much the Renaissance class, minus some obligatory class policies stuff that's specific to any given teaching context. One done!

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