Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

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Multimodal Mondays: Re/Mixing Multimodal Assignments Across Courses and Disciplines

posted: 2.9.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon.

When I begin a new semester, I try to make time to reflect on my pedagogy and its implications/opportunities for student-scholars across my courses and across disciplines.  This semester, I have actually done it! You may recall that last fall I blogged on a Multimodal Monday about Gaming Vlogcasting. I wanted to take that assignment and re/mix it for a different audience and purpose.  [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Digital Writing, Guest Bloggers, Literature, Multimodal Mondays, Teaching with Technology, Visual Rhetoric
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Literature in the Writing Classroom

posted: 8.4.11 by Andrea Lunsford

This week, Inside Higher Education featured an interview with Martha Pennington and Pauline Burton about their new anthology, The College Writing Toolkit: Tried and Tested Ideas for Teaching College Writing. I was alerted to the interview by Sue McLeod, writing on the WPA list asking if others had read the interview or the book, and saying, “I think that the premise stated at the beginning, that college writing is usually taught through reading and writing about ‘classic literature,’ is unfounded—at least that’s what the research of Kathi Yancey and her colleagues showed.”

The research that I have conducted with Karen Lunsford also challenges that premise. Indeed, when Karen and I surveyed first-year writing classes across the country, we found that they were primarily focused on argument, often based on research; very few of the essays we collected dealt with literary texts or seemed to come from classes where “classic literature” was the focus.  My sense is that we have moved well beyond the “writing about literature” courses that were so pervasive thirty-five years ago:  today, students in first-year writing classes are engaged in inquiry about a huge range of subjects, many of them of their own choosing.  To my mind, this is a good change:  college writing courses that asked all students—no matter their own interests or prospective majors—to write about “classic literature” for an entire term or two were almost guaranteed not to connect with the majority of the students in them.

The always thoughtful and astute Jerry Nelms commented further on the list, challenging the assumption “that analysis is best taught through literary analysis, which personal essays are seen as having some (albeit indirect really) relationship to. Teaching literary analysis does one thing really well; it teaches close reading for textual support. Unfortunately, that one thing doesn’t transfer particularly well across disciplinary boundaries. Rhetorical analysis (identifying the purpose and the primary claim, even if assumed and hidden; identifying secondary claims used to support the primary claim; and so on) works better.” I agree that teaching literary analysis builds close reading ability, but rhetorical analysis—with its insistent focus on purpose and on full context—is an even more powerful way to analyze texts of all kinds. [read more]

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Categories: Literature
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Literature and Entertainment

posted: 5.5.11 by Jack Solomon

The classic dichotomy by which we distinguish “high” (or artistic) culture from “low” (or popular) culture holds that the former is educational or uplifting, somehow, while the latter is merely entertaining. This dichotomy is reinforced by the way literature has been traditionally taught; that is to say, literature has tended to mean “texts from the past,” often written according to cultural and stylistic conventions that are alien to us, not to mention difficult and (that most damning of contemporary predicates) boring.

Of course, popular cultural studies has long since deconstructed this dichotomy to point out (among other things) that what counts as high culture today was once viewed as entertainment (the novels of Charles Dickens and even the plays of William Shakespeare are excellent examples of this shift). And from Horace to Sir Philip Sidney, poetry (as high art) has been declared to exist for the purpose of delighting as well as instructing (or, to be more precise, instructing by way of delight).

After a professional lifetime of teaching both high art literature and popular culture, I find myself contemplating just how important the entertainment component of Literature (with a capital L) has always been (more, I think, than it has been given credit for). After all, the fact that literary criticism—which, one way or another, spells out whatever may be instructive in a literary text—is not only unpopular but is often condemned by nonliterary critics is explained by its lack of entertainment value. The literary artist who can entertain an audience has always had far more readers than the critic or philosopher who can say the same thing and say it more clearly and directly. [read more]

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Categories: Literature, Popular Culture
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Masterpiece Video Games?

posted: 3.7.11 by archived

In my last post, I wrote about the Masterpiece Comics of R. Sikoryak, suggesting that they might inspire some multimodal assignment ideas or just some discussion of the interpretive and imaginative work the author does to translate these canonical novels into new terms. My suggestion was that students wouldn’t necessarily have to draw a comic, but they could be asked to discuss or write about ways to make a novel, poem, or other literary work fit into a new genre; they could even use the comics medium and its themes, characters, and narrative techniques to distill current events. What would the gulf oil spill or the recent Egyptian protests look like when framed as a comic? Who would play the roles of heroes and villains, and what would their super-powers be?

Well, this post will stick to that theme, and perhaps give you some ways to expand on the comics assignments or discussions, asking students to translate across genres and mediums.

As you might have guessed from my title, great works of literature are also available in video game form: the Great Gatsby, Dante’s Inferno, Alice in Wonderland, and even Waiting For Godot have their own video game versions. As you’ll see from the links, many of these are available for free online.

[read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage, Literature
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Gen Ed Poetry: Finding a Real Toad or Two

posted: 3.4.11 by archived

It’s poetry time in my Writing about Literature class, so I’ve been considering yet again how to approach talking about something  a majority of my students dread. I think back to my own experiences with poetry in college. Beyond the introductory Lit Crit course I took as an English major (I remember explicating William Carlos Williams’s “Spring and All”), I took two Form and Theory of Poetry classes, one as an undergraduate and the other in graduate school. In the first, the reading list was eight or ten books of poetry, many several hundred pages long: Rimbaud, Pound, Eliot, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens. Despite my love of reading and my overall diligence as a student, I found my eyes bouncing over the words without much comprehension and I gave up partway through each book; instead I annotated a few poems while dutifully following the teacher’s comments.

In the second course, with a far different approach, we studied prosody and wrote our own samples of heroic couplets and blank verse, ballads, terza rima, villanelles. It took me forty exhilarating hours to finish my first sonnet. Neither of these courses, however, seem useful models for my method and goals in asking composition students to read, think about, and write about poetry. [read more]

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Holly Pappas, Literature
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Masterpiece Comics

posted: 2.22.11 by archived

UntitledCartoonist R. Sikoryak has published a series of books entitled Mastepiece Comics. In these graphic works, he has taken famous novels and reinterpreted them by making the protagonist of each book a superhero. For instance, in his reinterpretation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is played by Batman.

Many have dismissed these comics as simplifications, but the work he does to translate these canonical novels into new terms also reveals important interpretive moves. As one reviewer argued, “Sikoryak [has] found the comic in the classic, the classic in the comic. In what is both parody and homage, he retells the classics in ways that are both funny and, oddly, deep.”

Students might not learn as much from reading his comics as they would from reading the original works, but being asked to write like Sikoryak could help them summarize the key themes in a work, and synthesize and translate information. Students don’t necessarily have to draw a comic, but they can be asked to discuss or write about ways to make a novel, poem, or other literary work fit into a new genre. This needn’t be a “dumbing down” of the text, nor would this discussion have to replace other, more traditional means of reading and analyzing literary works. Instead, it could serve as one avenue into literary analysis and one imaginative activity among others.

This multimodal activity could also be applied beyond literary analysis. Students could use the comics medium and its themes, characters, and narrative techniques to distill current events. What would the gulf oil spill or the recent Egyptian protests look like when framed as a comic? Who would play the roles of heroes and villains, and what would their super-powers be?

You can view (and then share) an excerpt from Sikoryak’s work here

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Jay Dolmage, Literature
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Teaching Alvarez: “Quiero Mis Quinces”!

posted: 9.22.10 by Barclay Barrios

MTV’s network Tr3s, celebrating Latino culture, has a show about quinces entitled “Quiero Mis Quinces.”

If you’re teaching Julia Alvarez, this might be an interesting site to have students explore, especially placed against MTV’s similar popular show “My Super Sweet 16.”

Students can examine the similarities and differences in the sites’ design and content while considering the role of Hispanic culture in the larger American pop culture.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Literature, Popular Culture
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Teaching Roach: Cadaver and Cars

posted: 9.15.10 by Barclay Barrios

If you’re teaching Mary Roach’s “The Cadaver Who Joined the Army,” you might want to check out this short piece from Jalopnik, a blog about cars and the automotive industry.

Share the post with students—considering how cadavers could save lives in nonmilitary contexts may deepen their thinking about the ethics of using cadavers in research.

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Categories: Literature
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Celebrate National Poetry Month!

posted: 4.7.10 by archived

It’s April.

This means that not only is it the cruellest month, but that it’s time to celebrate National Poetry Month in America.

As in many things poetry related, the American Academy of Poets sets the gold standard: here, on their Web site, you can find information about everything National Poetry Month.

They host a detailed FAQ about poetry month and its origins, a national map showing events that are occurring across the U.S., a poetry app for the iPhone, an overview of new poetry books, and resources for teachers, booksellers, and librarians. Sign up to receive a poem every day for the month of April.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, famed publisher of numerous esteemed poets, has a yearly blog for poetry month, Best Words in Their Best Order, which should feature some neat pieces, especially on younger and international poets. FSG publisher Jonathan Galassi, who is also a poet and translator, kicks off the month with a discussion of poetry in translation. They are also running a poem-a-day e-mail, which you can sign up for here.

Probably the best way to get involved with National Poetry Month, though, is to check out what your local library has planned for April–many libraries across the country have poetry events over the next four weeks.

In New York City, for instance, the New York Public Library is running a poetry film series and sponsoring a reading. (If you are in Chicago, the Poetry Foundation has a list of events for the coming month.)  Check your local library’s Web site for what’s going on near you.

In the Classroom:

Poetry month can be a good reason to dig deeper into the standard curriculum. Here are three ideas for taking advantage of April’s offerings:

1. Have students research a particular poet (one you assign, or one they pick) and present their findings.

2. Give credit for attending a local reading and sharing their impressions with the class.

3. Host your own reading and invite family and/or the community: you could use student work or have the class memorize favorite poems.


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before working at Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Categories: Creative Writing, Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Teaching Advice
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Free Poetry Culture: LibriVox Edition

posted: 3.29.10 by archived

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Yale Open Courses, and this week I’d like to highlight another great free audio resource online—LibriVox.

A sort of audio version of Project Gutenberg, LibriVox aims to put online audio recordings of all public domain books. This includes the novels of Dickens, Austen, Eliot, most of Conrad, and the bulk of Joyce.  (Membership in the canon is not a prerequisite, however; the database also includes selections such as “Selections From General Instructions For The Guidance Of Post Office Inspectors In The Dominion Of Canada”.)

There’s a lot of great  poetry in the public domain (by Yeats, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, and many others), making Librivox a good resource for recordings of teachable poems. Additionally, LibriVox provides 84 mixed collections of short poetry,  perfect for loading on your iPod if you like to prep for class while jogging or commuting.

Volunteers, rather than actors, read the selections included in the LibriVox database, but the quality is generally high. (Even the best recordings of John Donne’s poetry couldn’t match the Richard Burton versions, though.)

If you find yourself intrigued by the project, you may want to volunteer yourself–or your students. (Instructions are found here.) It’s easy to get involved. Readers of this blog may be especially interested in recording a poem for the collections of short poetry.

In the Classroom

  • Start class by playing a recording of a poem before students read the poem.
  • Craft a short unit on the principles of reading poetry aloud.  Discuss poetry’s beginning in oral traditions. (LibriVox, of course, has recordings of the great, originally oral epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey.) Split students into groups, and have them listen to several recordings and then make a list of what helps and/or hinders their ability to understand and enjoy the poem when they listen rather than read it.
  • Once students understand what makes for a good reading, have them choose a poem they’re drawn to and add it to the LibriVox canon.  They could even memorize it, participating in the oral tradition.  (See our post on the virtues of memorization.)

Related Posts

Poetry Speaks!

Memorization and Its Discontents

In Defense of Recitation


Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before working at Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Uncategorized
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