Challenges of Research and Teaching It

July means 2 things for me: conference presentations and starting to think about fall syllabus prep.

Prepping a conference paper is its own unique academic exercise. It’s a research paper but at the same time, it’s not. Often, one leads to other, sometimes both. There are challenges every step of the way, which isn’t surprising, but what is interesting to me is that many of the issues are very similar to what students run into, just at different levels. My thinking is that by considering the same difficulties and challenges that professional academic scholars face and how we solve or address them, maybe that’s where more useful or promising possibilities for helping students can come from.

The first step is generally the same, whether you’re drafting a researched paper or article, and a conference paper. The research reading and drafting comes first. Two common issues here are getting hands on sources, be they digital or paper. It’s not just getting sources you know you need though; this is also when finding all the sources that you should look at. This is as much a process as the developing of ideas and writing. You have to maintain and build a list of titles and authors to find, so that you cover previous scholarship as thoroughly as possible.

Bibliographies and annotations are a step in this direction, but I’m still working on finding a method that gets students to actively research what fits their topic or thesis best, not just what they find first and seems to work.

Near the end of this part, comes the usual struggle with introductions and-or conclusions. It’s not only coming up with the concise and precise statements of argument and intention that can be difficult here; it’s also about making sure that the ideas match without repeating. These issues are a struggle for introductory composition students on up, and they don’t seem to go away.

The standard advice seems to be to work out a good strong thesis, and build the introduction around that. Generally, this seems to work. The conclusion though is another story, and the question becomes how to review your key ideas without copying and pasting your introduction with a few minor vocabulary changes, as seems to be a favorite technique. I’m planning to try the following prompt: what did you learn in the process of creating your argument and why might it be useful or valuable to know? We’ll see how this goes.

With conference presentations, or presentations in general, there’s the usual time and visual restrictions to consider, but also the audience. When teaching composition using rhetoric as a major factor, audience analysis is something students need to do, but the question is how to get them to really consider their target audience. This is more a problem in a composition class than a conference though, because you already know what kind of person will likely be at the conference. I was recently at the combined meeting of the John Gower Society and the Early Books Society, and someone joked how nice it was to be at a conference where you didn’t need to summarize the Confessio Amantis as a part of your presentation. Another benefit of this level of presentation is that arguments need not be fully developed or even complete, as many scholars use these gatherings as places to get feedback and advice on how to proceed or improve.

Since a presentation based paper from a student needs to be fully developed and polished at the time of presentation, and doing dress rehearsals or peer review of presentations can get boring for students who then get stuck seeing the same or very similar talks given twice, I’m thinking I might do small group presentations with mandatory Q & A as peer review, and then have the final version be turned in as a standard essay. This idea needs more work, so we’ll see what ends up happening.

Even at the professional level, feedback can get tricky. It seems like, on a standard panel of 3-4 papers, 1 or 2 almost always get more questions and attention than the rest. It’s also often the case that certain people ask the questions almost every time. These are factors I’m going to try and circumvent with presentation peer review, but again, to be continued…

With professional conferences and even with advanced student project/presentations, the final challenge comes when you’re faced with adapting a 5-8 page essay into a full scale research project, or vice versa. The challenge of re-finding sources and citations, or choosing what to keep and take out as the case may be, is more one of time than anything else, and time management is a tricky thing to teach well. Even I sometimes forget to cite as I go, and I almost always regret it later; but no matter how much I remind students and tell them my own horror stories, it doesn’t seem to get through. Finding new sources to include is also a reality, though one more for the advanced student or scholar than an introductory type composition course.

Extending the time frame for a major research assignment, and breaking it down into a series of smaller steps seems to be the best option, but keeping students interested and challenged as they go becomes harder.

Coming at the challenges facing introductory composition from the perspective of a writer and researcher seems promising, but for now as there are more questions than answers, I’ll leave things with one final to becontinued….

Reminders Related to Teaching Middle English

I’m in the middle of teaching an upper-level English course on Middle English Language, Literature, and Culture. It’s a 5-week session, which means 12 3-hour class periods (we lose one day off for Memorial Day), some in-person, some online, and 1 needed for a mid-term, and a second needed for a final exam. More on how things went later.

What I mean to consider today is what preparing for this class has reminded me about studying language. It has been nearly a decade since I taught anything that could be labeled ‘foreign language’, and in some senses Middle English qualifies; a native speaker of modern, current English needs considerable help on grammar, syntax, and vocabulary to work with texts in most any form of Middle English.

Reminder 1: Just because a word looks familiar does not mean it is, aka beware the false cognate. I remembered this myself, but when I started to review some of the texts I was planning to use for class, I was surprised at how often,  when I looked something up, it didn’t mean what I was expecting. This of course makes me paranoid, and I spend possibly longer than I need to double checking vocabulary. I don’t regret that though, because I do find difficult forms or unusual vocabulary with enough advance warning to know it’s coming in class and therefore be able to explain the origin of the form or word.

Reminder 2: Inflections can be important. Middle English is not as inflected as something like Old English, and it is less inflected than modern English. But still, sometimes those spelling variations can matter. This is proving confusing for students sometimes, since they also have to try and deal with the lack of standardized spelling.

Reminder 3: I remember hearing once that a basic rule of thumb for designing a test was to take it yourself (a good idea for proofreading purposes anyways) and then double that time for your students. This rule doesn’t quite work so well with translations, at least not in the first half of the course, when students are still getting used to the textbook, resources, and the language itself. The first full day of class, we barely finished the text with me taking some of the translating to speed things up, and ended up with less than 5 minutes to discuss interpretive possibilities. I don’t regret the length or the text, as I do believe that the more exposure you get to something, the easier it gets to understand and work with.

Reminder 4: The problem with using lots of exposure to learn something, as I did with Middle English, is that you don’t always get a strong grasp of the intricacies of grammar, syntax, morphology, etc. This means that I had to learn the basics rules of Middle English inflection in order to teach it. Similarly, I never really formally studied the syntactic or metrical rules for poetry, and therefore had to learn some of that as well. This is not a bad thing, but it does illustrate the difference between learning a language by the grammar and learning it by exposure.

Reminder 5: Pronunciation and reading aloud are at the same time important and troublesome. Troublesome because if you want to correct most (not even all) mistakes, it takes a very long time to get through a short segment of text. Important because it provides another means of exposure to the language. Plus, when dealing a language that survives in a lot of poetry, you need pronunciation to understand rhyme, and stress to help understand meter. Speaking is one of the best practices for learning these elements.

Reminder 6: Just because a rule makes sense to you, doesn’t mean students will always agree. I’ve long thought that Middle English sounded more familiar in many cases than it looks on paper. However, some students have directly said that for them, the opposite has been true so far.  Part of me wonders whether this was a ploy to lessen the amount of reading aloud, but still it remains true that different people have different learning styles, and every teacher needs a reminder of that once and a while.

Reminder 7: No matter how much you plan, things will go their own ways. I’m a fan of over-planning, because it’s better to have too much than not enough to do, but it can be a little frustrating to not get to something you know/hope would be interesting or fun. This is especially sad when you had a really cool way to tie the literature into something related to the history or culture of the time.

Reminder 8: Technology has a mind of its own. I was assigned a new classroom for this class. This is a good thing in that the room the class is in is considerably nicer than the one I had first though. But the tech is touchy. The computer restarted on its own in the middle of class, the smart-board doesn’t always like all the markers, a key website proved uncooperative during a demo, etc.

Reminder 9: There’s always a student or few who is hard to integrate into the rest of the class. It’s not that a student may not want to participate, but maybe they are shy, or learn better on their own, or have lower confidence. When the class is small though, as many summer and major-level courses can be, it’s hard to let someone hide.

Reminder 10: Teaching a class for the first time is hard work. There’s a lot more advance planning with lectures and lesson plans, and there’s more trial and error with assignments. On the other hand, it’s also pretty rewarding when students actually seem to enjoy the material, and it’s easier to remember to ask for feedback about reading assignments, in class work, or pretty much anything else.

Researching medieval books in early summer

I’m a little behind with this for the month of April, but I’m going to blame prepping for exam season.

Because I am in the process or re-starting a project due in conference paper form by early July, I am going to review the general research process, and consider where to proceed from here. The project involves early printed editions of Chaucer’s collected works, tracing the inclusion of or references to a poem now viewed as not by Chaucer.

One of the things that comes with the end of the semester, especially in the spring, is the approach of about 2 weeks without teaching or other university duties; in other words, time for scholarship and preparing for summer conferences. But in my case there are 2 related complications: 1) my institution is shutting down their more efficient ILL system for a software change-over, 2) right when I need to be regathering my materials. There’s this rule that for material borrowed from another institution can only be renewed twice, and I’d reached that limit right at a point when I knew I was going to be too busy with essay grading and exams to do much of my own work (and so did not immediately re-request my key secondary sources). I take no issue with the library rules or the software update, but the timing is terrible. I understand it’s for the convenience of students, who will not be in classes during that interval, but it’s terrible for the instructors because that gap between terms is prime research and writing time.

Nevertheless, I persist. I have learned from past experiences to keep records of the titles and authors I know I will need to get back. But, I have also found that by looking up these titles again in the catalogues, I can also get a sense of what other similar titles might be out there. The digital equivalent of shelf-browsing is useful because I think it might be useful to work it into teaching research, but also because I have limited direct physical access to the kinds of texts I might find useful in my own research. This is in addition of course to the usual scouting of works cited and footnote citations of texts I already need or have on hand.

All of the above is useful for general research in any area, but given my particular specialty of medieval literature and manuscript studies, I also need to consider how to get to primary original sources. Thankfully, increasing digitization of medieval books in print and manuscript helps, but especially with more obscure texts or manuscripts, this is not always an option. Secondary sources have been highly useful in providing editors and edition titles, but tracking the locations of everything necessary does require some work. Thankfully, nearly everything I want to check is available at the research university libraries in Atlanta, which is only about an hour and a half drive away.

The only catch is I haven’t used Emory or Georgia Tech’s special collections before, so I also need to look up the rules and regulation for viewing. This is standard practice for visiting any library special collections, but each institution is a little different. The British Library (big public research library) is different than the Newberry (small public research library in Chicago) is different than a university library in terms of gaining general access and access to specific items in the collection. Rules might cover making an appointment, as well as what is or is not allowed in the reading rooms. Particularly with manuscripts, some places have rules concerning photography, and all have rules concerning the use of ink or handling or personal possessions while using the materials.

Once I get to the original early print editions I need to find the following: do they include the text I’m looking for, is it attributed, and/or is it mentioned. This information will help me construct a stemma for the text, which is already done for the manuscript tradition (all of 3 codices). Looking into the provenance of the particular editions will likely become necessary as well, particularly if a specific book has any marginalia or other details specific to that copy of the book.

Once all this is done, it will be back to the secondary literature to locate the rationale behind the editorial decisions, including why the new edition was felt necessary, and what reviewers had to say about the new version.

Putting everything together will, I hope, result in fairly comprehensive textual history for a now rather neglected poem. From there, who knows…….

Further thoughts concerning the medieval and modern fantasy

NB: I have yet to do any serious scholarly investigation on this subject; right now, I’m concentrating on working out my own ideas and reasoning.

It seems to me that a lot of scholars who specialize in medieval literature also end up working with fantasy, both as creative writers and as scholars. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of medieval literature at Oxford, and he wrote (among other scholarly things) a book on Beowulf. Although I haven’t looked for it, I know from other scholars that Tolkien ‘borrowed’ extensively from Beowulf and other medieval literature in his creation of the Lord of the Rings series and its companion works. Perhaps lesser known, but no less important in some ways, Kathryn Hume first wrote a scholarly book on The Owl and the Nightingale. She later went on to write another scholarly work on fantasy literature, Fantasy and Mimesis. One of the founders of the Monty Python comedy troop, Terry Jones, has written several books on Chaucer.

Clearly, you don’t need to be a medievalist as an academic specialty to create good fantasy literature. The late great Terry Pratchett includes medieval elements in his Discworld series, but he himself once said, his learning was broad, not deep. Patrick Rothfuss was an English major who went to graduate school, but I have no idea what he may have specialized in or if he took an advanced degree (his website says “I don’t’ want to talk about it.”). If I had to speculate, if not a specialty, Rothfuss has at least done some in depth study of medieval literature and/or history. There’s too many accurate parallels between medieval realities and the world of The Kingkiller Chronicles to be coincidence. Then again, maybe I’m overanalyzing.

Similarly, successful fantasy does not need to be terribly medieval or academically based. Take The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks. This book has a lot of classic high fantasy elements like the unwilling hero, the journey, the band of friends, the elves and humans, the magic, demonic bad guys, etc. The world is generically medieval but there’s not much detail about the world itself; that’s not really the point of this series. It’s more about the characters and the plot. I have to admit, I only read the one and half of the novels, but I could already tell that there was a pattern, and I got bored.

Fantasy also doesn’t need to be medievally-based at all. V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and its sequels hints at some research into the history and culture of Renaissance and Victorian England, but that’s not medieval. Likewise, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire dragon series is built on historically accurate life during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.

Then there’s fantasy that’s built on mythologies, which often places them in somewhat medieval times or settings. Again turning to Naomi Novik, Uprooted is clearly based on Eastern European folklore; the Baba Yaga references give that away, as do some of the character names (I’d never heard of the names Agnieszka and Kasia until I met my Polish now aunt). The general time and place have a medieval feel, although not nearly as detailed as the likes of Tolkien and Rothfuss. I love Uprooted for many reasons, but it’s not as detailed in the same way.

Then there’s the fantasy that is based on myth but set at least partially in the modern world. For example, there’s Neil Gaiman’s adult novels, including Anansi Boys and American Gods, which are heavily based in African and Norse mythology respectively, though not exclusively. Then there’s the YA versions, most notably Rick Riordan’s series Percy Jackson for the Greek myths, and Magnus Chase for the Norse.

Eventually I’m going to need to get into the actual scholarship done on these questions, but for now I think it’s safe to at least say that modern fantasy literature has a serious debt to medieval literature and culture and probably history too.

Fantastic Origins

I saw a CFP (‘call for papers’) not long ago that was considering the notion of fantasy in medieval literature. I had a better proposal for a different call, but this one got me wondering about the history of the fantasy genre. Not long after, I got into a discussion during an online book club meeting concerning whether or not The Devourers by Indra Das actually qualifies as fantasy, as it is often labeled. On the basis of a lack of plot and too much emphasis on character psychology, I was among those arguing for ‘no’. I didn’t like the book, but that’s another story.

According to a general Google search, the fantasy genre as it is now recognized started during the Victorian era in England. Depending on who you ask, the first ‘modern fantasy’ was written in either 1872 or 1894 by George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin”) or William Morris (“The Wood Beyond the World”). Before these, epic poetry and fairy tales seem to be the most directly and frequently noted as ancestors. I haven’t read either MacDonald or Morris, so I can’t speak to that (yet); I have however read a substantial amount of epic poetry as well as mythology and fairy tales.

From epic poetry and mythology, I would guess the notable attributes of fantasy would be the supernatural elements and the focus on heroic warriors. The thing is though, these components are not restricted to western European epic, such as those by Homer or Vergil, or the Norse sagas. While the hero warriors like Beowulf, Achilles, Odysseus, deities like Thor and Odin, monsters, and sorcer-ers/-esses are certainly ancestors of many modern fantasy characters, these elements also appear in other times and places. Gilgamesh for example is Sumerian, Ramayana is from India, and Sunjata is from Africa. Theses epics also contain the same sorts of elements, yet are rarely connected to modern fantasy literature. In some ways this is too bad; I would rather like to see a story somehow featuring Enkidu (Wildman companion of Gilgamesh), Sumaworo (sorcerer king/antagonist of Sunjata) and Hanuman (helpful flying monkey/wind deity in Ramayana).

The fairy tale genre is also pretty obvious. The supernatural elements, the struggles of the heroes to interact and-or overcome them makes a lot of sense in connection to fantasy. The cautionary element of many of the original stories seems to have been removed from most modern fantasy, but then again Disney does the same thing. Every year in an intro to lit class, I shock at least a few students by pointing out that Ann Sexton’s “Cinderella” is actually pretty accurate to the original story in terms of narrative. This is also similar to the argument for story collections such as the 1001 Nights as possible ancestors. I can see that as a possibility; however, many of those stories might fall under the category of fairy tale or myth. I also wonder why something like Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market isn’t often cited. Maybe it’s too directly rooted in fairy tale tradition, but I would argue it too could be classified as fantasy.

There are some likely contributors that I was surprised to not see, such as chivalric tales. Something like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has nearly all of the elements already discussed, including the supernatural, deities (the Christian God and relevant associates are mentioned frequently), a hero, and has the addition of what may now be recognized as basic elements of high fantasy, knights, wizards and sorceresses, lords, and damsels. Given the obvious debt to Arthurian legend and tales of chivalry, I have to wonder why these kinds of stories aren’t connected to the modern genre. It’s possible, that I didn’t go looking enough, yet I would have though these things would be at the top of the list of likely ancestors, and they are not.

I understand why the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien would be cited as crucial to the history of the fantasy genre, as the mention of the likes of Patrick Rothfuss as inheritors and continuers of the genre. Both authors write in the tradition of high fantasy, using vaguely medieval settings, magic and its practitioners, heroes and ladies, dragons, demons, etc. I wonder why we don’t see more mention of the likes of C.S. Lewis or Lewis Carroll, authors of The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland series’ respectively. You could even add Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz series too. While they do not write high fantasy, and their stories tend to be rooted pretty closely to the real world in some way, both Carroll and Lewis do in fact use many of the tropes, including magic, adventure, heroes, unusual creatures, battles, an all-powerful (or at least knowing) force, etc. Baum does so as well, although he lacks the deity element.

All of these possibilities also help consider hybrid genres like steampunk. I mention steampunk specifically because of the frequent Victorian element in the stories, characters, and-or settings. This genre shares many of the previously mentioned fantasy attributes with the addition of historical fiction options, and connections to science fiction (technology is often important).

Steampunk also happens to be a current favorite of mine, so maybe all of this is by way of saying, possible new research project, here I come!  To be continued…………..

A Medieval Style Writing Class

A few months ago I got a little cranky and frustrated with technical composition proficiencies in some composition-based classes, and I felt the need to get students back to basics of citation, grammar, and style. Being from a medievalist background, I wondered if a good way to accomplish this might not be through the medieval foundation of education in both the arts and sciences, the trivium.  Here now is a course outline that I plan to use next time I teach composition 101, along with the goals and reasons for each assignment.

The medieval trivium is a foundational element in the history of the liberal arts. It features in everything from allegories (ex. De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii by Martianus Capella) to handbooks (artes poetriae) to textbooks (especially on rhetoric) to pedagogy/philosophy (ex. Metalogicon by John of Salisbury). The three branches are Grammar, Rhetoric, and Dialectic or Logic.  These three subjects have been the foundations of education in much of the modern world.

In spite of this extensive and critical place in history, all 3 subjects have suffered a general decline in how much and often they are directly taught. In a basic intro to composition course at the college level, most students won’t know the distinction between grammatical subject and object (grammar), be able to name the 3 appeals (rhetoric), or the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning (dialectic). Largely, this lack of knowledge is not their fault. This stuff just isn’t taught much anymore; maybe it’s time to bring the trivium back and see if it can help remedy some of the general complaints teachers and employers almost always seem to have nowadays about people’s ability to write and otherwise communicate clearly and effectively.

My current institution works largely on 75 minute class periods, twice a week, for a 16-week semester. Within that timeframe, I envision something like this:

Assignment 1: A review of a movie or book or tv show

Time to completion: 2 and a half weeks

Reason and Purpose: Less intimidating, and allows students to develop skills in summarizing, describing content and stylistic features, and stating opinions.

Branch of the trivium: grammatica. Grammar makes a good starting point both in the modern functional and medieval senses. In the past, classes have liked opening class periods with a series of brief grammatical exercises. I suspect that since formal grammar is not taught as much anymore yet remains an important aspect of good style, students appreciate learning some of the basics, such as parts of speech and correct uses for commas. In the medieval sense, grammatica included things like the parts of speech and usage, but also included figures of speech and arrangement. Eventually, some of these elements would fall under the purview of rhetoric. Early medieval grammar textbooks, such as Donatus’ Ars Maior and Ars Minor, and Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae, include sections that consider syntax, tropes, and figures of speech, and as such I would include some of these components to help students develop their descriptive and stylistic capabilities.

Assignment 2: A rhetorical analysis of a political speech, based on the 3 appeals and 5 canons

Reason and purpose: Approaching rhetoric through the medium for which the tradition was originally designed makes it easier to understand and work with. I first designed this assignment for fall 2016 which happened to coincide with the presidential election season, which made the subject particularly relevant. For non-political seasons, the assignment could be modified to focus on speeches by politicians currently in office, or historical speeches.

Time to completion: 3 ½ weeks

Branches of the trivium: rhetorica et grammatica.  This assignment could be moved later and include dialectic as well, but knowledge of the rhetorical triangle is useful in upcoming assignments, starting with the appeals in their natural habitat seems to be a good introduction, and adding elements of formal logic, particularly fallacies, alongside the triangle might be too much new information for a lot of early career college students to take in well. From the medieval perspective, the Aristotelian focus here is a little anachronistic, since most handbooks of rhetoric were based more directly on Ciceronian rhetoric. Aristotle was re-discovered late in the medieval era, and this was more in terms of dialectic than rhetoric. That said, Cicero and Quintilian’s focus on the 5 canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) I think would prove a useful addition to the triangle. Figures of speech (figura), which are of particular interest to medieval rhetoricians and grammarians, could provide the further possibility for analysis, since they are also connected to style.

Assignment 3: Personal Narrative with Purpose in which students are asked to present the narrative of a personal experience that illustrates a unique aspect (good or bad) of their community (as they define it) according to the parameters of a magazine article or essay.

Reason and purpose: This assignment serves several functions, including giving students a change of pace from the traditional academic analysis, focusing on concrete language, keeping in mind length restrictions and audience analysis, and developing vocabulary. It also provides the foundation for the companion assignment that follows.

Time to completion: 2 weeks

Branches of the trivium: grammatica et rhetorica. This assignment provides students the chance to actually implement strategies of the trivium so far for themselves, as opposed to identifying and interpreting them in other texts. Quite a few of the early handbooks and textbooks that considered grammatica focused strongly on syntax and style, both of which are necessary here. Students don’t often realize how hard it is to comply with a length restriction rather than a minimum, and in order to deal with the 1,000 word limit they have to employ as strategic language as they can manage in terms of narrative and description. Students also need to consider strategies from rhetorica as well because students have to determine how to tell the story in a way that emphasizes the uniqueness of the community and-or the experience. Rhetoric also comes into play when considering the style and conventions necessary for persuading the audience of a particular publication to stop and read a particular article.

Assignment 3.5: Proposal Letter

Reason and purpose: This assignment serves as a companion to the personal narrative with the added feature of asking students to write using the conventions of the formal proposal letter. Students are to identify a real magazine that might publish their narrative, and find the contact person and their information to send their story to. Students must consider and investigate the magazine audience, and explain what about their text would appeal to that audience.

Time to completion: 1 ½-2 weeks

Branches of the trivium: rhetorica et dialectica

The rhetoric comes from understanding the rhetorical situation and making appeals to the audience, in addition to the first 3 of the canons (invention, arrangement, and style). The dialectic elements is present in the requirement to provide strong reasoning and avoiding fallacies when arguing the benefits of the position (namely, why you should publish my work).

Assignment 4: Researched Proposal in which students define a community issue, explore what has previously been proposed and attempted, and make the case for what they believe is the most promising option.

Reason and purpose: The most basic goal of this assignment is to familiarize students with the conventions and practices of academic research at the university level.  The focus on current, local issues is intended to encourage more creative research, particularly in terms of primary material, including creating surveys, conducting interviews, and exploring local organizations.

Time to completion: 5 weeks

Branches of the trivium: omnes

Dialectic will be a prevalent influence here as students will be expected to work with Plato’s and Aristotle’s ideas of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis with both primary and secondary information. They will also have to analyze the reasoning of sources as they encounter different propositions using some of the techniques described in the Organon. This would also be a possible place to introduce syllogism and enthymeme. Rhetoric comes in with the possibility of enthymeme, but also in considering rhetorical situations of the positions they find, as well as their own arguments. Grammatica would be relevant particularly with identifying the auctoritas of sources and working with citations. Organization of the entire project would include both grammatica and rhetorica.

Assignment 5: Revision of Essay 1, 2, or 3 (including 3.5). Students are also be required to explain changes they made in footnotes or marginal comments.

Reason and purpose: Students are asked to reassess a previous piece of writing to encourage them to always look for ways to improve their work, and to emphasize that good writing is a process. In addition to making changes, students have to consider and explain their motives and reason for making each specific change through the notes.

Time to completion: 1 week or whatever is left of the term

Branches of the trivium: omnes

The particulars of working with each branch of the trivium will vary depending on which essay students decide to focus on, but there are some overall elements that all revisions will share.

The common elements of grammatica are the necessity to evaluate and adjust style and structure in the essay, as well as making choices about the structure and level of detail in the explanatory annotations.

The common rhetorical focus in in the contents of the explanations themselves, as students would need to be convincing (ie- detailed and specific) about why a particular improvement was made beyond “it was in the feedback or grade-sheet”.

Finally, with dialectic, no matter which essay is chosen, students would need to be able to identify and explain which changes would be most effective, and provide the reasoning how the changes made represent improvement.

New Year’s Goals 2017

I find goal setting useful, and doing so in a somewhat public way even better for self-accountability. I have found that setting goals for different things regularly actually helps me get more realistic about it, especially in how to build in flexibility. So on that note, here’s my Goals for 2017:

Teaching

I’m going to be able to teach a course in my specialty area over the summer, assuming it meets registration minimums that is. I want to be careful to write this one well, and plan ahead to make sure I don’t over-do it. It’s totally true of first time teachers, both in the sense of being new to the classroom (which I am not) and in terms of building a new course from scratch (which I am), that the temptation is to be too ambitious. I’m going to follow the general technique I used last summer of building the course thematically, because that worked out very well (see my earlier post “English Renaissance Lit: The 5 Week Edition” for details).  The difference though is that this upcoming class isn’t quite as period centered like last year (Literature of the English Renaissance); it’s Middle English Language and Culture. I haven’t taught a full-scale language course in a few years, so this will be a welcome but challenging return and review. It’s also going to be a challenge to combine grammar and vocabulary building with literature and material culture, all in a 6 week hybrid course. I’m looking forward to this.

I also want to plan to re-focus the writing 101 course that I’ll likely teach in the fall to center more on the actual craft of writing. I’m considering using the trivium to help do that, and I also want to find a reader that students might actually read. I’ve finally found a handbook I like and a way to get students to actually use it, but I still need that reader and possibly something on the trivium itself.

I also want to work on the research components of all writing and literature classes to develop a basic guide/review to use in all levels of both composition and literature courses. I have such a set of notes for basic composition, but I am realizing the need for one concerning research and citation as well. I was grading the first set of homework in a sophomore level literature course yesterday afternoon and I found myself thinking “We’re going to have to go over in-text citation”. I then had almost the exact same thought going through the homework for a section of composition 102 (intro to lit).

Scholarship

Once I again, I resolve to post once a month, or 12 posts this year. I may not be exactly on time each month, but I found last year that making myself come up with something each month, even though sometimes thinking of a topic was hard, was good way to keep myself reminded of the need to make time for non-teaching related work.

On that note, I am setting myself a schedule for scholarly time. This practice is recommended in “how to survive academia” articles all the time, and it’s a good point.  I’m undecided whether it’s better to do 1 hour a day or 1 day a week. I’m leaning towards the former as more productive, especially since I think the best writing advice I’ve heard from an author (Joann Fluke writes fiction but her advice is still applicable) was to always stop before you’re fully done with a thought, so you have a place to go when you pick up again.  I’ve tried the one day a week, and I’m not sure that way was as productive as it could have been for me. I’m going to try the one hour a day most days, and see how that goes for a while.

As of now, I have 2 things to work on. First, I am starting to get into new project. I presented the first part at a conference last summer (NCS 2016), and I’m going to present the second part at a conference this coming summer (Gower Society 2017).  As I do the research for this second part, I need to keep developing and writing the first part while also keeping an eye on an outline for the article version.

My second project is to go back to my dissertation to see what I might do about converting it into a book. This year I think it’ll be a do-able goal to set up a plan for what to fix, remove, and add to turn it into a book manuscript. I haven’t really looked at it in almost 2 years, and I think the time away will be good for a change in perspective.

Personal

If someone told me a few years ago that I would have to make an active effort to do fun, non-work reading, I’d have thought they were crazy. Then, candidacy and dissertating happened. I built up quite a pile of future personal reading over the two years it took to complete my dissertation, and I’m still working on it, although admittedly I also keep adding to it. Something I’ve found motivating, helpful, and just fun is that I’ve joined a book review blog group; this will be my 3rd year there. The basic premise of Cannonball Reads is to read and review 52 books per year; that’s called a Cannonball. The first and second year I thought it would be more realistic to do a half-Cannonball (i.e. 26 read and reviews). This was manageable the first time, but last year (2016) I actually managed a full 52. This year, I plan to repeat that effort. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s less the reading time than the reviewing time that causes more time management problems. I’ve noticed that the reviewing really forces me to evaluate why I react to a book the way I did, and that’s useful, since part of my job is to help my students figure out how express such things. I also like the social, community aspect of the whole thing, and it raises money for cancer research.

In addition, I intend to be more active on Goodreads. I’ve been pretty good about updating what I read, but not much in the way of reviews. I don’t think I’ll be able to present full reviews of everything I read, but I plan to at least comment briefly on most things I read and rate this upcoming year.