Wednesday, August 29, 2007

thus far ...

-- I like teaching Agamemnon, but then I've already done it twice, and this year someone has uploaded an entire production to YouTube. Woo hoo instant lesson plan!

-- I'm not sure how I feel about teaching Beowulf. This is my first time, and I haven't studied it since my first year in grad school. My sense is that today's class felt a little flat and disjointed, despite all the pretty pictures of items from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, and I'm still struggling to frame provocative discussion questions. (Then, too, it's damned hard to talk about the poem when the students have only read a third of it.) Those of you who have taught it before, what's worked for you?

-- There are only three men in the Brit Lit class and only three women in freshman comp. Well, there might be a fourth, but she hasn't shown up yet. I'm not sure I like either of these ratios (though two of the best comp classes I've taught in the past have had only three or four guys); that sort of thing makes a class feel unbalanced, somehow.

-- I am SO not used to the two-hour marathon comp class. Yikes, what do you do with that? Out of desperation, I ended up passing out a bunch of index cards midway through the first hour and asked the students to write down any questions they had about the class -- anonymously. Somewhat to my surprise, this worked like a charm -- all but two of them asked something, and they were mostly good questions, stuff that I'd forgotten to clarify on the syllabus. I should do this again. I hope I remember. Unfortunately, most of them said they didn't like to write (this was one of the questions I asked them to address in the diagnostic essay). This could be a very long semester indeed. Or I could convert them. I hope I convert them.

So yeah, over the hump, less than half of the first week to go.


heu mihi said...

Two hours of comp? Straight?? Good lord. I'm having a hard time with 50 minutes in a row. Fortunately the veterans teachers of comp here at Field College totally endorse in-class writing and group work. I'll be using a lot of that--is that something you can do?

I'm 2/3 of the way through Beowulf in my Brit Lit, and I found that today's session was a lot livelier than when we discussed the first 1/3. I asked them to prepare a question for today--something that confused them, or that they wanted to discuss--and, while only two students volunteered to share their questions, each one generated a good 10 minutes of discussion. That definitely helped. It is tricky, though--so many of the interesting motifs become so much *more* interesting once you've read the whole poem!

Oh, and while I'm not teaching Agamemnon (which I have not read, in fact), I am currently teaching a book that *features* Agamemnon, and--hm. It's hard to tell how that one's going, yet.

Courage! Fight the good fight! Back into the bloody grind of war! (Been reading too much of that Agamemnon-featuring book, I fear--)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh, yes, there will be in-class writing, and group work, and group in-class writing. No question about that. Back in grad school, I worked as a writing tutor for a summer program that had hour-and-a-half-long comp classes, and I think I'll take my cue from the instructors there, who tended to let the students do a lot of paper-drafting in class.

Ooh, I like the prepare-a-question idea -- maybe I'll use that for the in-class writing topic on Friday.

Bardiac said...

I'll let the real medievalists talk about Beowulf, except to say that I've had fun talking about gender issues, the trade in women, and the deaths.

We fairly often have two hour comp classes since our comp classes meet 5 hours/week. I tend to try to break up the class into three different activities. I try to get them moved around at least once (into groups, into different groups, something!). And I make sure to give them a break.

It gets easier as you and your students get used to two hour sessions. I build stamina, but so do they, if that makes sense.

Sisyphus said...

Forget the text! There's going to be this mooooovie, and it;s got a hott chick, and it's the Beowulf! Seriously, I can't believe this boring ol' poemy thing didn't even mention the best part of the Beowulf, which was the massive battle with the sky going dark with arrows falling on our heroes in a way shockingly reminiscent of 300, but anyway: Angelina Jolie! She's so hott! And which chapter of the poemy thing has the dance club with the techno music?

(For all your sakes, I hope you finish teaching it before the movie goes from previews to the theaters. My classics friends are ruined for teaching _Troy_ ... oh wait, you mean the book had a different title back then??)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Bardiac -- I asked them to keep an eye on the women as they're reading for tomorrow, so I hope they'll like that topic and run with it. And the comp class is definitely getting a break -- I can't teach for two hours without a drink of water and a few minutes to decompress, and I'm sure they need it too!

Sisyphus -- Ha! Troy came out just before the last time I taught Agamemnon. I think my timing sucks.

Bardiac said...

So how's Beowulf going?

Fretful Porpentine said...

Still not brilliantly, unfortunately. There are four or five students in the class who talk, the rest just sit there. I think I'm going to have to try a different tack on Wednesday -- either heu mihi's method, or maybe something involving small-group discussion.