November 8, 2019

Why the master should become the student

This term has been so busy for me – I’ve started a new job, which I love, but which involves a lot of work, in a lot of different directions. All of this work is the kind of challenge I really thrive with, and in many ways, I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made so far. I still feel like there are things to learn, and I have felt, as one of my sister newbies said of her own teaching, that I’m making a lot of the rookie mistakes we tend to make when teaching a new course. I mismanaged my TA hours, so I now find myself at the end of the term, when marking really builds up, with no help. I’m facing that weird paradoxical feeling of there being only a few classes left, so not enough time to cover everything, while still feeling like I haven’t planned those classes in enough detail. I missed an important deadline for a curriculum change that I really want to have in place for next year, so it’s entirely possible that this change just won’t happen when I want.

On the other hand, I feel like I have established a good rapport with most of my colleagues, and that the changes I’m planning are welcome and supported. My students are comfortable with me, and they’re doing well. I have even figured out (mostly) the intricate online advising platform. I feel very much at home, and full of optimism for myself and my program.

Part of the reason things are a little overwhelming is that I agreed to teach an extra course this term, in exchange for (a) having TAs and (b) teaching one fewer next term. I am taking an online program in editing, and I have enrolled in two courses this winter, and another in the spring. My dissertation is currently in the hands of my committee, so the timing looks like it will work out really well – I’ll have less teaching in the winter, so time to work on revisions and my own coursework, as well as, of course, planning for next year’s courses and more program development. This term, I am taking only one course in the editing program, but that one course is getting away from me. Like, to the point that when our prof sent a message early this week to say she would be late getting to our latest assignments because she had an emergency appendectomy, my immediate reaction was “thank god.” Which makes me a terrible person, obviously, but I’m still grateful for a little extra time to get caught up.

Continue reading

October 20, 2018

Haunted

Since it’s October, it seems fitting to write about my ghost student.

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g186346-d1163552-Reviews-The_Original_Ghost_Walk_of_York-York_North_Yorkshire_England.html
Last autumn, Jennet was one of only nine students registered in my third-semester English for Liberal Arts course. For the first few classes, only eight students attended; Jennet was nowhere to be seen. I assumed she would eventually drop the course – it’s not uncommon in this program for students to transfer to another program or college after their second semester.

But then she appeared.

About three weeks into the semester, we were getting into our feminist readings of Frankenstein, and settling into a nice, intimate group dynamic.

I was really enjoying the course – with only eight students (or so I thought), and a teaching intern, I could experiment with pedagogical activities. We had a great time doing debates, four against four, for instance. The tiny class size did mean other activities, such as the group presentations, required some finessing, but generally, this was a fun class to teach. We had a great group vibe, too, not least because the eight students had already been through two semesters together, so I didn’t have to do any community building.

Then she appeared.

Jennet showed up one day, loud and energetic, chatting with her classmates. She did not bother to introduce herself (perhaps she assumed, justifiably, that I would know the one person in a group of nine who hadn’t been there yet) or explain her absences. She contributed to class discussion, albeit not always from a place of understanding, since she had not been there for previous discussions, nor was she up to date with reading. But I felt odd about her presence—like she was more disruptive than she actually was, just by being there.

Then she disappeared.

Jennet did not return to class the next day. In fact, the next time I saw her was in my office, for the mandatory essay conference. These conferences are based on in-class writing: stage one is the thesis planning, with feedback, then the outline, with feedback, then the in-class draft, with feedback. Before writing the final version of their paper, students must meet with me to discuss the three stages and the feedback I’ve provided, and talk about what they plan to do with the final version.

She appeared.

She had not been in class for her thesis planning, nor for the outline, nor for the draft. I was, frankly, taken aback when she appeared in my door (at least in part because I genuinely wasn’t sure who she was, having only met her once before). She sat down and handed me a typed draft of an essay that did not address the topic assigned. I told her this, and said that if she handed this essay in, she would fail. I offered her a deal: take an extra week, but send me an outline within two days, with a plan for an essay that answers the questions asked in the assignment. She agreed.

Then she disappeared.

She did not hand in an outline, nor did she hand in an essay. We were already past the deadline to drop courses, but what more could I do? I did not follow up with her – although I did ask one of her classmates about her chronic absences. He assured me that the problem wasn’t me (I didn’t really think it was, given how little we’d actually interacted), but rather some kind of self-defeating habit of not showing up. So I left it alone, and the semester continued, back to our now-established good groove.

Then she appeared.

She showed up once more that semester—her second ever classroom appearance—during oneof our debate classes, which was unsettling, given that we had been working with two teams of four. One of the teams invited her to join them, and she seemed to work well with the group. Again, though, I felt perturbed by her reappearance, not to mention puzzled: she had already missed two of the three essays, several reading quizzes, the group presentation, and there was, mathematically, no way she could pass the course. I expected her to come to my office or send me an email, asking how she might “make up” all the missed work. I rehearsed my response—but no such request came.

She disappeared.

Jennet never dropped my class, but she never submitted any work, either. Thanks to one reading quiz and her participation in one debate, her final grade for the course was 1.2% (note the decimal. One POINT two percent).

Then she reappeared.

Imagine my surprise when Jennet appeared on my class list for this semester, for the same course. This is a program course, required for Liberal Arts students—and apparently, Jennet is still among them. Three weeks into the semester, however, Jennet still had not attended a class. I contacted the program chair, who agreed that she was likely to fail and added that she is currently on academic probation, meaning that failing my class (or any other) would result in her expulsion from the program.

Then she reappeared.

The following week, Jennet was in class. This time, she was subdued, presumably because this year, she doesn’t know her classmates, since their cohort (a group of 23) started the year after hers did. She made a few contributions to the discussion—good ones, even—and approached me at the end of the class to ask if she could meet with me to discuss what she had missed. I agreed. I introduced her to a group who are scheduled to present later in the term, and asked if they would consider including her in their group. They agreed.

Then she disappeared.

Jennet did not attend the next class, or the next week. The drop deadline was approaching, so I sent her a message and reminded her that failing my class would affect her standing in the program, so she should consider dropping my class and discussing her options with the program chair.

She did not drop my course. The drop deadline came and went, but her name remained on my list, even though her body never came back to class. I advised her presentation group to assume that she would not be working with them after all. In the meantime, we had done the thesis planning, the essay outline, and the in-class draft. I set up an online appointment calendar for the essay conference—and she made an appointment.

 

She did not appear.

 

And then she did appear.

The week after the essay conferences, she came to class. Once again, she approached me, and asked if we could meet. We met on Tuesday this week; she did not have any work to show me, but she wanted to explain the many, many reasons she is almost always unable to attend class. I pointed out that so far, she has been to two classes. She told me that’s more than she’s attended any of her other courses. I’m flattered, obviously, but concerned. I asked why she’s in Liberal Arts? What does she want to do?

Corporate Law.

Oh dear. Time for some straight talk. Corporate Law is a very, very long shot for someone with her transcript. I don’t even bother pointing out how unlikely it is that she’ll get academic referees. I ask her if there’s a Plan B, and she tells me that she’s wanted to be a lawyer since she was four. I tell her she needs to start entertaining other options. I tell her she needs to get her sh*t together (and I’m not paraphrasing). Honestly, I expected her to nod and look abashed and swear to do better and then disappear.

But she came back.

She’s in class on Thursday, with her thesis and outline. The essay is due this coming Tuesday, so I tell her that I will accept her outline, and give her feedback, but she needs to come to my office Friday afternoon and collect it.

She appears.

Yesterday afternoon, she collected her outline, discussed her feedback, and promised to submit an essay.

I wonder if she has any idea how much thought I have put into her case. Does she think that I think about her at all? Or does she assume that in higher ed, we profs just don’t care about our students the way our K12 counterparts do? There are no calls or notes going home to parents, so perhaps the impression is that it’s sink-or-swim, and we’re not lifeguards. Certainly, there is only so much I can do—last year, I didn’t do much at all, frankly, but then, neither did she. This year, she is reaching out, however sporadically, and I’m trying to keep the life buoy within reach.

When I saw her name on my class list in August, and when I wrote to the program chair, I had firm resolve that if and when she appeared, I would exorcise her. No second chances. I don’t have time or space in my class to indulge this inexplicable behavior. I have a new group, with their own dynamic, and I don’t want to disrupt them for the sake of one prodigal classmate.

But I caved. She appeared, and I invited her in. She disappeared, and I rolled my eyes. She reappeared, and I met her halfway. She vanished, and then came back.

I think I need a proton pack.

 

 

April 29, 2016

Reflections with a twist

One of the things that yoga has taught me about the academic classroom is not to take for granted that my instructions are clear. Just because I know what I mean – or even if half the class does – doesn’t mean I’ve reached everyone.

In my yoga classes, I do a variation on sun salutations that includes a twisting low lunge. It always astonishes me how many people instinctively twist away from their front knee, into an awkward and unstable twist. 1 It took me months before I realized that I needed to change my cues to reach those people. About half the class got the ‘let’s raise our arms and twist right,’ but in every class, I’d look up to see more than a few in the shaky went-the-wrong-way version, looking at me with distrust in their eyes. They clearly felt something was wrong, but having misinterpreted my cue, they weren’t at all sure how to correct.

Then I started saying ‘let’s twist toward that front knee,’ and they all got it. My revised cue also works for the few who inevitably lead with the left leg when I cue the right, since my cue is no longer based on direction, but on relative position. I think it also helps that the cue references a specific point on the body, so there is no confusion of right/left, with no fixed point.

So, I realized, I need to be willing to reflect on my cues, and be open to changing them, even I think they’re pretty straightforward. We don’t all visualize our bodies the same way, so while I might be generally comfortable with direction-based cues, 2 I have a responsibility to find other ways to lead people through the poses.

I’ve also realized that I need to be open to variations, and not just when I’m offering them. 3 At the end of every class, our final pose is Savasana (the Final Relaxation, or Corpse Pose – and hence one of the few that I only name in Sanskrit). Getting into Savasana is pretty straightforward, and I give a series of cues for coming out of the relaxation after two or three minutes: I ring a tingsha bell, then I say “to come back, let’s start with small movements of the wrists and ankles, then a nice big stretch, and a moment on our sides, in a fetal position, eyes closed… and when we’re ready, let’s use our arms to push up to seated.” It drove me bananas that so many people shifted and fidgeted during the Savasana, and even more bananas when they completely ignored my sequence to come back to Easy Seated Pose for our Namaste. One of my regulars hugs her knees to her chest and rocks herself manically to come straight upright!

But it struck me that my stressing about Savasana was counterproductive. So, rather than insisting on the sequence, I’ve started saying “find any position, laying on the mat, where you can be comfortable and just relax for a few minutes,” instead of insisting on the ‘real’ Corpse Pose. When I ring the tingsha, now I say “let’s take whatever movements we need to come back” and then offer some of the sequence as options. Some people do the whole sequence, some choose one or two of the steps, and my rocking horse still rocks herself back up. I let go of my rigid definition of Savasana, and now we’re all more relaxed.

If I consider both examples – the low twist and the Savasana – it’s clear to me that for the twist, I needed to find a new way to explain, in order to ensure that the pose is safe and stable. For the Savasana, on the other hand, I needed to let go of my vision, and allow people to find their own best expression.

How does this realization – that it’s not them, it’s me – manifest itself in the academic classroom?

Also a nice metaphor for being open to different paths.

Also a nice metaphor for being open to different paths.

Last week, I had my Master’s students work on an exercise in assessment. I gave each group a different colourful image, and instructed them to determine the learning objective, the appropriate and acceptable evidence that the objective has been met, and, using backward design, to decide on the instructional strategies that would get the student to the objective. I thought my instructions were clear enough, yet broad enough to allow for some creativity. The idea was to take the concepts – learning objectives, evidence, criteria for assessment, and backward design – out of the classroom, to make them clearer.

I was initially dismayed, then, when the first two groups that I checked in with showed me their progress and both were using their image as if they were teaching a primary class with the image, rather than teaching someone toward the image. In other words, the lovely photo of the garden, I thought, would inspire a lesson on how to plan and plant a garden; the group with that photo, however, used it to teach children how to identify colours.

My first reaction was to “correct” the groups, and get them to consider the garden as the objective, rather than the tool. But then I stopped myself, and wondered why I needed them to use the photo the way I thought it should be used. Would they not get the concepts if they changed the function of the photo? Would my exercise somehow not work? Would they be unable to present an objective, an assessment, and a learning plan? The answer to all of these questions was ‘no,’ of course. So rather than correct the groups, I discussed their ideas with them, and let them get on with their work.

In the end, about half the groups worked with their photos as tools, rather than as objectives. Each group presented to the class, and gave feedback to each other, and there were no problems at all – most groups began with “we chose to think of the photo as…” and we all accepted each group’s approach.

In future iterations of the course, I plan to use this exercise again, but I’ll model my idea of how to use the photo. I still think it’s valuable to think about assessment outside of the classroom context (as my yoga crossovers demonstrate!), so I’ll adjust my instructions to guide students in that direction – but I won’t get bogged down in “why don’t they get it?” frustration. I need to learn to recognize the “why don’t they get it?” reaction as a cue for me, to reflect on what I’m saying, and how, and whether, ultimately, different interpretations are problematic.

Is this a twist, or a Savasana?

  1. yes, it’s certainly doable, but for the level I teach, it’s not a comfortable pose
  2. and honestly, I’m just as likely to go left when someone says right, especially if I’m teaching and being the mirror. I have to cue Eagle very, very slowly.
  3. Because I teach “all-level” classes, I tend to offer several options for poses as we go along. So, for instance, I might cue Downward Dog, but give the option of Child’s Pose as an alternative.
February 19, 2016

The Notebooks, three weeks in

For the past three weeks, I’ve been continuing the journal experiment, and yesterday, I took some time to get feedback from the class on their experience. I gave them ten questions to discuss inFeedbackWDCLD small groups, then asked the groups to share their responses. I figured that small groups would mean more responses, rather than relying on the more extroverted students, and would open the door to more critical feedback, as no one student had to claim responsibility for a perceived negative comment. I made no notes in class, as I’m trying to avoid using their words directly in my account of the project, but these are my reflections on the general discussion:

  1. How do you feel about the journaling so far? How did you feel about it at the beginning?

Not a lot of response; people seemed positive, and no one reported that their group complained or discussed doing away with the activity. Lest the lack of response be taken as indicating a lack of participation, let me say that it seemed to me that most groups did genuinely engage in the discussion. I only had ten minutes to give them for the discussion, so it’s certainly possible that they didn’t have enough time to articulate more affective responses, and focussed on more concrete questions.

  1. What have been your favourite writing prompts so far? Are they better if they’re directly related to our course, or more general?

One group said that the general prompts are good because they can write about anything and even vent a little. They seem to be using the journals as an outlet. On the other hand, another group said they really liked the prompt to think about a passage in the book or to relate themselves to a specific character. My take-away from this is that providing a few prompts is a good idea, since they then can choose specific or general, so I’ll continue to provide three or four writing ideas each session. I will, however, be more conscious of choosing prompts that provide both opportunities. Continue reading

February 15, 2016

Sometimes, they just blow you away

So, at the end of a class last week, pretty much spontaneously, I told students that their only assignment for the weekend (aside from reading) was to find an image that represents one character from The Tin Flute. The result – overwhelming, timely response, no two images the same – has me floored. I’ve posted the images to a Facebook album, and I’ll use them in class as we continue our discussion. I’m hoping that the exercise helped them think about character, and it’s pretty evident from their images that they enjoyed the idea and took some real consideration.

In short, sometimes, they just blow you away.

January 29, 2016

The Notebook

I had a sudden flash of inspiration this week, and that flash has turned into a whole laser show.

I’ve been trying out various immediate feedback techniques in class, as described elsewhere on this blog. This semester, I am teaching my Montreal Writers course (you can check out our Facebook page), and our first novel is Gabrielle Roy’s classic The Tin Flute. If you’re not familiar, the novel is set in Montreal, during WWII, and explores the desperate poverty of St-Henri through the story of the increasingly large, increasingly desperate Lacasse family.

In order to provide some way of understanding just what it means to live in real poverty in a place like Montreal, I show the class an NFB documentary called The Things I Cannot Change. The filmmaker followed the Bailey family for three weeks in 1967. Although it’s more than 20 years after The Tin Flute, the circumstances are remarkably similar – the Baileys are a family of nine children, with another on the way; the father is unemployed and, although he waxes eloquent about his opportunities and previous adventures, he fails to find work, and even ends up in an altercation with police.

Prior to the film, I asked students to reflect on what they imagined living in poverty meant in terms of personal identity. Once the film was over, I asked them to write in response to at least two of the following questions:

  1. What do you want to know or clarify about the production or events of the film?
  2. What are the “things” that cannot be changed? Is it true that they cannot be changed?
  3. What aspect of the family’s life stood out for you, whether positively or negatively?
  4. Are the Bailey’s destined to stay in poverty?
  5. Bailey says “the capitalists capitalize on the poor, but the poor never capitalize on the rich.” What do you think about this statement?
  6. What other comments or reflections do you have?

01d0848eb7e23b2e267ac72bd5de0f87778eceab8b (2)I collected their responses – a pile of papers, most ripped from spiral-bound notebooks, some larger or smaller than standard, some with viewing notes, and so on. Of course, when I return the pages, there’s a good chance that they will go astray, whether deliberately or accidentally. So my flash of inspiration was this: I went to the stationery store and bought enough Hilroy exercise books for everyone. The pages will be tucked into the notebooks, and when I deliver them, I will suggest that the students affix these pages somewhere in their notebook. Then, for the rest of the semester, I will distribute notebooks at the beginning of each class, and collect them at the end of each class. Students will have time to write at the beginning of class, and again at the end, and between classes, I will read and write in response. Sometimes, my responses will be to the whole class – so, for instance, several students wanted to know whether the Baileys were compensated for their participation (they were, $500). Rather than repeating my response to each student, I’ll bring the answer to class, and/or post it on the Facebook page.

My feeling is that there are several benefits to this approach, which is called “double-entry journaling” because both teacher and student are writing in the journal. First, prompts will be used to allow students to explore concepts and texts in class, and their own relationship to those ideas. Their responses will reveal to me any patterns of misconception or misinterpretation, and my feedback will get them used to the idea of receiving regular, non-corrective feedback – I’m even planning to write in red ink, just to show them that red is not to be feared! As an added bonus, I think I’ll get to know their names faster, without having to rely on the attendance list.

I’m compiling a list of writing prompts. So far, I think the first and last question of my original assessment, with rewording to fit specific contexts, are reliable cornerstones of the strategy. I’m also thinking that for opening questions, I can ask them to summarize the main plot points in a reading assignment, or the previous lesson; summarize one passage in the reading that they feel is significant, and explain why; or simply respond to my feedback on their previous response. For the closing reflections, I can ask them to tell me which one thing in the day’s lesson was most unclear to them; to share a personal anecdote related to today’s lesson; to discuss a text or film that they were reminded of by the assigned reading, and so on.

If there are any suggestions you have for prompts, please, PLEASE comment below.

Further reading

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Hampton, S. E., & Morrow, C. (2003). Reflective Journaling and Assessment. J. Prof. Issues Eng. Educ. Pract. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 129(4), 186-189. Retrieved January 29, 2016.

Roy, G. (1947). The Tin Flute (H. Josephson, Trans.). New York: Reynal & Hitchcock.

January 21, 2016

Location, Location, Location

I’m teaching a course on Montreal Writers this semester, and while I love teaching this course, I hate my classrooms.

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/basement_1558.jpgFirst, there’s the plural – not one bad classroom, but two different rooms, each with its own challenges, beginning with the fact that until we establish our rhythm, students will be showing up late every class because they went to the other room first.

On Tuesdays, we meet in the basement. The basement! There are windows, presumably required by law, but they look out onto nothing. If you stand against the wall and crane your neck, you can see a glimmer of light from the top of the shaft upon which the window “opens” (and, of course, it doesn’t actually open). The classroom is the only one down there, so it feels even more isolated and creepy – no after class discussions, please, lest I get all weirded out and assume you’re secretly plotting to kill me with my own whiteboard markers.

On Thursdays, the same class meets in the amphitheatre. An amphitheatre which seats 125 people, for a class of 35. An amphitheatre which seats those 125 people at long, curved, immovable desks, in permanently attached bucket seats. Group work is going to be interesting. There’s a half-size white board, half of which is obscured by a huge blue permanent marker doodle. The AV set-up is archaic and anything but intuitive. And the floor is slippery linoleum on a rake, which for typical amphitheatre use is probably fine, but for teacher circulation is challenging.

The kicker is that I feel that I cannot complain (at least officially) or request a room change, because I have already made a big last-minute fuss to have the class time changed to accommodate my PhD classes. So, given that the College gave me a significantly more workable schedule, I feel obliged to just grin and bear it. So this weekend will be devoted to revamping course presentations and lesson plans to better suit the environment. Then maybe I can think about the actual pedagogy.

December 22, 2015

In closing…

Earlier, I posted about using a new lesson for teaching students about thesis statements. The plan was heavy on interactive feedback, which in turn was something I used more frequently this semester. As we got into planning and drafting the final essay, I came back to the thesis lesson a few times, and made sure to include feedback on their thesis statements when I reviewed their outlines for the essay. I was happy to see that overall, the theses were stronger and clearer, and the final outcome was a batch of pretty well written essays.

At the beginning of each course, as part of my overview and introduction, I ask students to think about what they expect from the course, and what they hope to achieve. I give some space in my course pack for them to record these thoughts, and at the end of the semester, their final assignment is a personal reflection on whether their expectations and goals were met. I also ask them, among other things, to discuss which aspect(s) of the course they found most useful.

Last night, I read the reflections of this semester’s class, and I was thrilled to see that several students discussed the thesis lessons in particular as helpful, not just for our class, but for their writing in other courses. Many discussed the emphasis on writing stages as very useful and, in some cases, a sort of epiphany about writing; but I’ve been using that approach for a while, and I’m used to getting that feedback in their reflections. The thesis lessons were new, however, so I was gratified to get validation of the new tactic.

Of course, the end of my teaching semester is also, more or less, the end of my student semester – I’ve officially finished my first semester of my doctorate. It was a great three months, and I’m excited, still, about moving forward with my research and my writing. So, not a finish, but a pause.

But first, a few days of baking and present wrapping. Happy holidays!

September 30, 2015

They stumble that run fast

For the past ten weeks, I have been running. More specifically, I have been using apps from Zen Labs Fitness to get better at running. I began with their C25K app, an eight-week program that takes the user from not much of a runner to running approximately 5 km, or about 3 miles; then I progressed to week 9 of their 10K app. Last night, in a downpour, I ran just over 7 km in about 50 minutes. Considering that Week 1, Day 1 consists of 20 minutes of running one minute, walking one minute, I’m pretty proud of my progress.

Running for almost an hour, even in the pouring rain (or perhaps especially), gives one the chance to reflect on many things. When the digital Zen lady whispered into my ear “you are halfway there,” it occurred to me that many fitness apps are a great example of progressive learning, feedback, and scaffolding.  There’s a good reason for it, too – as a fitness instructor, when a client says their goal is to run a 5 km race, but they’re new to running, I’m not going to say “There’s the treadmill. Start running and I’ll be back in half an hour to check your progress.” Whether your coach is an app or a person, parhttp://idealphysicaltherapy.com/inspirational-running-videos/t of the coaching job is to help the client assess where s/he is now, where s/he needs to be, and the best progression to get there. Too fast, and the client gives up because it’s too hard. Too slow, and the client gives up because there’s no challenge or results. A good program moves ahead at a pace that allows the client to feel challenged, but at the same time, to feel they’re accomplishing something.

In the classroom, we can do the same thing. We can’t expect our students to be ready for the 5k when they’ve just started. We need to help them see the goal, then provide them with the plan to get there.

Continue reading

September 15, 2015

Every minute counts

Today, I tried something new with my second-year students. It’s a variation on the minute paper that many teachers use to get some quick, informal feedback from students. This is what I wrote on the board:

File 2015-09-15, 3 08 43 PM

Today’s class was mostly discussion of the first ten chapters of Frankenstein, which we are looking at from a feminist perspective (the course is about critical theory and ‘alternative’ perspectives on canonical texts). In the class today, I had a few objectives. First, I wanted the students to start discussing the novel as a whole, with the three essay topics informing their discussion. Secondly, I wanted them to begin keeping track of their observations while they read and discuss. Thirdly, I wanted them to start compiling quotations and other support for use when it comes time to write.

Here’s how the class went:

1. I reviewed the essay questions. When it comes time to write, each student will choose one of the three proposed topics, but for the in-class discussions, they have to address all three themes (alienation, gendered responsibilities, and social virtues). We talked a bit about what each of those themes means, and I drew their attention to some thoughts in Mary Shelley’s introduction to her 1831 version of the novel.

2. I introduced the observation table:

Aspect Introduction Letters Chapter 1 Chapter 2…
Characters
Plot points
Alienation & loneliness
Duty & responsibility
Virtue & Society
Techniques/devices
What to quote

…and told them to reformat it as they see fit.

3. Their first group task was to discuss the two main events of the first ten chapters, and relate each one to the three themes. Then, still in groups, they had to start filling in their tables. I suggested a few ways to split up the task, but let them decide what worked best for their group.

4. I finished the class with the four writing prompts. I told them to choose any two, and write two or three sentences. I told them they could include their name, especially if there was something they wanted me to respond to, or omit their name if they preferred to remain anonymous.

The results

Honestly, I need to reread their responses if I want to discuss the specifics, but I will say a few things. First, I was quite happy with the level of engagement. All students wrote about two things, and wrote at least three sentences. They all explained their points, elaborated on their thoughts, and connected their response to specific ideas from the discussion. Secondly, I was happy to see that students chose widely from the four prompts, and that their responses demonstrated different ways of interpreting the prompt. So, for instance, in response to “I want to know more about…” one student expressed some confusion with one the essay topics, while another expressed interest in ‘real life’ Frankenstein experiments. For the latter, I posted a link to our class Facebook page, and thanks to the former, I will start next class with a rewording of the essay topic in question, and see if that clears things up a little.

Suffice it to say, I believe the experiment was a success, and I will certainly use it again.