So a year or more ago–I’m writing this before school and don’t have time to find the post–I told y’all about how my colleague Elinor always starts a new text (or “unit,” as I still usually forget to call it) with a PowerPoint about the author, the work, the historical context, etc.  I said that I do this sometimes, but it’s not my standard M.O.–if I have a standard M.O., it’s to look at a very short passage from the opening of the work, to read it closely and observe whatever there is to observe, usually stuff about the voice and how it gets established, what the syntax is like, the vocabulary, the imagery, and so on.  It’s the first splash of the work on your face, and I want my students to learn that they can handle it.  Also to get into the habit of turning on all those noticing faculties–not critical faculties at this point, just noticing.

This morning, though, I was putting together a few PowerPoint slides on Hawthorne to get underway with SL, and I found myself predicting what would engage them (Brook Farm!  Hawthorne complaining about manure!  His getting and losing his various jobs!  The picture of the house at 14 Mill Street!) and thinking that my attitude has probably deprived some students of support they could use at the beginning of the novel–or maybe even just a few nice pictures to put in their minds.  Also, just the predictability of starting with a slideshow is comforting for some kids.  I can already tell which ones love my digressiveness–for example, we had a short detour in class on the subject of authors’ papers and what happens to them after the writer dies, and how Ginsberg’s sneakers went to Stanford along with the rest of his papers.  It was totally connected to what we were talking about–an article about the light that Steinbeck’s journals shed on the ending of The Grapes of Wrath–but I could see some of the students totally lighting up and others getting anxious, like Should I write this down and will we be tested on it later?

Have to go teach, but more on this later.  In other ways, the class is becoming–successfully, I think–more student-centered and genuinely discussion-based, and I’m interested in that too.  Maybe that’s partly why I am not cranky about the PP?


2 responses to this post.

  1. I always think in terms of “text” and never of “unit,” and I usually start working on novels with a class by doing some close reading of the novel’s opening. Hmm. Maybe something about grad school training?


  2. I do a hybrid, I think–I start with a Powerpoint, but it’s always interactive–my students fill it in on their laptops while I am project, and we also stop for discussion. Some of the tasks I do are asking them to write short reflections on thematic questions, anticipation guides for “big questions” posed in the book, or presenting a piece of art (music or image, usually) that is complementary to the text, or asking them to write short personal reflections on how some of these themes might have played out in their own lives. This connects to my grad school training too, as I did cultural studies, so I’m always trying to frame things in an interdisciplinary way.


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