Sunday, December 4, 2011

musings on the new comp textbook

We're getting a new textbook in Comp next semester. This means overhauling the Basic Comp course, which might not be a bad thing because I don't think what I'm doing now is working very well. (I think I will have them write actual essays and business letters and stuff from the beginning of the class, instead of starting with paragraphs. Because really, who writes a paragraph in isolation? I also think I might scrap most of the rhetorical-analysis stuff, since I'm starting to feel like I don't even know why I emphasize it so much, except that it was what we did in Basic Comp at the University of Basketball. And the students have trouble analyzing how a newspaper op-ed piece works; half of them are at the point where they're still trying to make sense of what it says, and none of them are used to going that meta.)

But anyway: the new book. It's ... different. I'm used to teaching with a no-nonsense handbook, the sort of text that explains what thesis statements are, gives examples of every conceivable citation style, and has a handful of sample essays by strong student writers, but pretty much leaves professors and students on their own as to content. But this new book is kind of a semi-handbook and semi-reader; it has all of these essays on assorted topics by professional writers, everyone from Dave Barry to Amy Tan, and I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do with the essays. Presumably they are not meant to be used as models, since the writing is too polished to be a reachable model for most students, and neither the style nor the subject matter resembles a typical college paper. Are the students supposed to be writing about them, then? What are they supposed to be saying about them?

Also, I find myself vaguely distrusting the new book because it has too many colored pictures, the typeface is too big, and there are footnotes defining words like "literal," "ambiguous," "Rubik's Cube," and "horrific." It feels, in short, like a K-12 text and not a college-level one. (This isn't actually a problem in Basic Comp, which pretty much is a K-12-level course, but I feel like it would be vaguely insulting to spring this text on regular freshman comp students. But then, I was the sort of kid who habitually took offense at notes explaining the meaning or pronunciation of words, even when I was in elementary school, and I don't know that this is necessarily a normal reaction.)

Growf. I think I have a hard time coping with change.