An Innovation

We’ve talked a lot in Metagogy about the “porous classroom” (leaky, Ken Cooper quipped) and getting students to work on critical sources, following last year’s assessment. So my innovation for this year offers a way to combine this with group work that hopefully gets all groups paying attention to one another.

One challenge of my ENGL458 Major Authors class has been that M. NourbeSe Philip is a writer not well known to the students and, more crucially, exists within several literary and cultural contexts with which students have varying degrees of familiarity: Canadian writing, experimental writing, Caribbean studies, Black studies, feminist writing, Afrosporic writing, (poetry, even). How to get students informed enough to respond to the literary texts, without the course ceasing to be about the texts?

I’ve frequently created a two-page handout with four paragraphs on it, two front, two back: excerpts from four different essays discussing topics relevant to the literary text at hand, but not directly about it. Students split into groups to discuss and summarize their paragraph. Then they have to apply the paragraph to a specific moment in whichever text by Philip we’re reading. They present both elements to the whole class; the exercise takes about 25 minutes, and means that we’ve got four perspectives into the discussion, with some students choosing to follow-up on the essays excerpted in later writing or presentations.