Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A lengthy email to my students

Subject: A recap of today's class, and a reminder
Date: Tue, November 20, 2007 5:36 pm
To: "[ENGLISH R1A-012 F 07]"

Hello everyone,

Today in class we talked about reading. We noted that some reading is more difficult than others. We noted that reading the words “POTATO CHIPS” on a bag and then finding potato chips inside is not the same kind of activity as reading a novel. We noted that there are different levels of literacy, and that some reading is quite difficult.

We observed that when we run into difficult reading, we resort to different tactics, among them:

-Discussing the reading with friends and classmates

-Attending office hours (it was noted that, in fact, no one in the class has yet come to office hours unless panicking about a paper)

-Doing easier reading online, in the form of summaries, “study guides,” Wikipedia articles, JSTOR articles, etc.

It was, in fact, the last of these that had precipitated my grim mood.

A show of hands revealed that the majority of the class uses online "study guides" to help them understand the reading.

I argued that this was like looking up the answers to your calculus homework in the back of the book instead of doing the problems yourself -- it misses the point of doing the reading, namely that they are supposed to be getting good at parsing what's on a page and making sense of it themselves. In other words, it DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF TAKING THE CLASS.

What's even worse is that at least the answers to the calculus problems in the back of the book are probably right. With internet sources we have no such guarantee: for one thing, they could be written by some sketchy guy on Telegraph. But even more importantly, reading is not *about* having The Right Answer (TM).

So we talked about some better ways for you to get your questions addressed without resorting to the dubious oracle of St. Google.

Here’s what you came up with:

-Visit my office hours

-Send me emails with questions before class so we can discuss them during class (to have questions or topics discussed in class, email them to me before noon on the day of class)

-Post to a BSpace forum (I have set one up; you should be able to post new topics)

-Meet informally outside of class with friends to discuss readings

-Have me post reading guides beforehand (I will do this)

-Discuss your questions in small groups at the beginning of class (I will ponder this)

-A slower reading schedule was suggested, although it is too late in the semester for us to do this. I will bear it in mind for the next class I teach.

Note that most of these suggestions involve strategies *for you.*

Please take reading seriously. I don’t mean this in a kindergarteny, "reading is fun!" "knowledge is power!" kind of way.

I mean it in this way: our world is largely controlled by text and language, in the form of literary fiction, but also in film, television, news media, advertising, business memoranda, and blogs. Popular entertainment often shapes attitudes and perceptions. Reading well is crucial in an environment dominated by language.

You are in this class to learn how language works and how meaning is constructed. You are being asked to learn something extremely difficult. I assure you that you will not be finished learning it once you complete your R&C requirement. I am here to facilitate that learning.

If you have questions, don’t know what questions to ask, or need help understanding things in the course, CONTACT ME. If you need some kind of instruction that you feel you are not getting, TELL ME. If you desire anonymity, email me from a fake gmail account. I cannot respond to needs that I do not know about.

Thus ends my diatribe.

My regularly scheduled office hours this Wednesday are canceled. You are still welcome to make an appointment with me. Send me an email suggesting a time.



Maria said...

hahaha my housemate Abi just told me about a grad student in her department that emailed his students with general comments on their weekly tutorial essay, and attached an advertisement for jobs at McDonald's. Abi's currently in the kitchen reading the work of A-Level students applying to Oxford, and is, in little bursts of frustration, reading out some of the mindless sentence fragments they've submitted. Woo.

Natalia said...