Thursday, September 06, 2012

Embracing Disaster

It's already happened, not even the second hour of the comp class, and disaster.

For today's class, I'd assigned a reading by David Bartholomae, an excerpt from his "Inventing the University." 

For Friday, their first assignment was to summarize it.  And then next week there was a more focused summarizing assignment of the same essay.

If you've read the essay, you know already what my disaster was.  This is not an essay you should give to students in the first week of college, at least not our students.

First, it's an excerpt, and the honchos who asked us instructors to read it over the summer (but didn't suggest that we assign it to students; that was my own stupidity) didn't give us the works cited.  (That makes me cranky because we focus so much on that sort of thing with students but often fail to do a good job modeling how to use a works cited ourselve for them.)

It's a really smart essay, but also subtle, not organized in the way that students can read easily (it's more spiraly than thesis, points, conclusion).  And it talks about students appropriating and being appropriated by discourse.  First, they don't really get what discourse is.  And they sure haven't thought about being appropriated by it, mostly.

As I was prepping for class last night, I panicked.  My usual starting thing is to give students a reading, then on the first day, give them a quiz (open notes).  I stop them about half way into the first quiz, and ask how confident they feel.  Most don't feel confident.  So then I give them a copy of my notes for the reading, and we talk about notetaking strategies.  That way, they have a sense of my expectations for giving quizzes, and hopefully, they also get a sense that taking good notes will help them on quizzes, and they have some strategies for taking good notes.

So I was prepping those notes, and more panic.  I gave up and went to bed, but couldn't sleep.  And then I figured out a solution, got up, sent out an email.  What we'll do is discuss the Bartholomae (and the other reading), but then they'll do their first writing assignment on another piece of writing that's more accessible for them, and also important and elsewhere on the syllabus.  So it should be okay.

And yes, they'll soon realize that I have no clue what I'm doing in this class.  Huzzah.


  1. I've so been there....I always find it challenging to teach first-year students readings from composition about students' experiences. Somehow, they have trouble seeing the experiential narratives that I think will be of interest to them. I love your idea of interrupting reading quizzes--I bet you will end up improvising your way to a good solution.

  2. Anonymous6:29 AM

    It might be a good time to turn them on to Tim Burke's "How to Read in College," and view it as a purposeful grappling with a reading that's really challenging:

  3. That's great, Anon! Thanks for the suggestion!