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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Student Essays/Topics
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1897  Monday, 9 October 2000.

[1]     From:   Michael Harrawood <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Oct 2000 10:57:53 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Oct 2000 12:57:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics

[3]     From:   Tiffany Rasovic <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Oct 2000 18:08:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Harrawood <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Oct 2000 10:57:53 -0400
Subject: 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics

David, Phillip, et al.,

I'm also interested in the way students focus or fail to focus on
reading and writing assignments in college.  My sense is that the move
into generalization works two ways.  First, there is the sort of paper
David mentions, "Colonialism and the Tempest," the expansion outward
into over-generalization.  (I call this a "Since the dawn of time. . ."
paper, and think it is descended from the old "inverted pyramid" model
of high-school essay writing.)  More common these days seems to be the
generalization away from the text into moralization.  I have gotten
papers on "The Rape of Lucrece" with the thesis "In this paper I will
argue that rape is wrong and nobody should ever do it."  It is like
skipping stones over the surface of a pond: the reading assignment
furnishes the prompt for a moral or ethical discussion.

I think students write the same way we do: they try to route the
assignment through whatever they think they know or know anything
about.  My suspicion is that both these sorts of generalization come
from the moves that work for them in secondary school programs.  So that
an assignment on The Tempest and Colonialism invites personal
reflections or personal wisdom about Colonialism and an assignment on
Lucrece might spin a student into recycling issues, probably from a lit
class, that might have been covered in a civics or citizenship class
some years ago.

The most difficult move for students in my more recent classes has been
to engage with the black lines of print on the page.  Recently, after
identifying herself to my class as a Christian and a Republican, a
Freshman in an honors seminar said she thought Petrarch was "stuck up"
for going on and on about climbing a mountain.  When I asked her to read
me a line from the assignment that might have given her that idea she
looked at me with real horror.  It was a new day.  But clearly, the move
into persona and into personal evaluation is something she expected a
lit class to reward.

Michael Harrawood
Jupiter, Florida

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Oct 2000 12:57:57 -0400
Subject: 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics

David Lindley notes:

>>I have found, over the years, that students on various JYA
>>programmes from the US and Canada almost never answer the question as
>>formulated, but rewrite it into something more generalised. So, for
>>example, a question on colonialism in the Tempest might quote Paul
>>Brown, or Meredith Skura or another influential critic - but the answer
>>I get just puts 'Colonialism in the Tempest' at its head, and refuses
>>the specific 'take' of the critical quotation.

Some, perhaps many, of my students need to be encouraged to read the
plays rather than the synopses in Cliff Notes.  Giving these students a
general essay is giving them an invitation to do what they do best:
bullshit.  Since they have not read the play but only a synopsis, and
since they have only vague ideas about colonialism, what else can they
do?

I encourage my students to read the plays by requiring them to identify
and discuss specific passages from the assigned reading.  This method
may be old-fashioned, but it does tend to get the students to read the
plays.  Only the best students, of course, actually consider what they
have read.

Possibly I'm too cynical.

Yours,
Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tiffany Rasovic <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 06 Oct 2000 18:08:55 -0400
Subject: 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1894 RE: Student Essays/Topics

My two cents...

I have been teaching American students for a while in both composition
and literature.  For some reason these students make it into college
without any good training in dealing with quotes from texts.  It seems
they are used to talking and writing about literature (and essays, etc.)
in a very general way.  They tend to look for themes etc. If they were
required to use quotes, which some of them were not, they evidently got
away with the insertion method and were not required to really engage
with the quotes they were using, rather, tangentially applicable
passages were just stuck in to fulfill a "you must use quotes"
directive.

This is something we are trying to address at the place I teach and
study right now, Northeastern University.  It is a skill that can be
taught, although not as easily as one might think, probably given the
fact that almost none of the students really understand the concept, nor
have they recognized that they have a deficiency in performing this
task.

Furthermore, I believe that with testing at the secondary level on the
rise--I also tutor for the Princeton Review--we will only see more of
this inability to confront texts. (I suppose faculty on the USA will
know what I mean, but perhaps the UK, Canada folks will not.)  Firstly,
testing is not really text or writing friendly because grading millions
of essays is just plain impossible. Also, in order to efficiently
prepare students to score well, skills such as questioning underlying
assumptions, making creative associations and just generally having the
time or inclination to pick apart texts for any purpose other than
mining for information that might show up on a test, will continue to be
given less and less time in the classroom. Thus, our college students
will continue to have these difficulties.

So, I'll do my part to change this pattern because I like to see
students do "close readings" and I really want to see them be more
willing to challenge the assumptions and silences of texts, but, this is
a bit of a circular process since I cannot do that until they can really
interpret the texts to begin with!

I'm not really sure how this connects with plagiarism.  Plagiarism is,
to me, a capitalist response to an increasingly capitalist operating
school system--in as much as the emphasis on testing seems to me to be
very like checking the earnings of a company.  If that's how students
are taught to view academic success, then why shouldn't they buy papers?

I hope that makes sense.

Yours,
TR
 

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