Wednesday, 27 June 2007

my Waterloo

I have a special folder on the desktop for collecting pictures of clowns being sold on ebay. It's got rather a large number of pictures in it, just sitting there waiting for the moment when it feels right to unleash them upon the world via a blog post so horrifying, so terrifyingly disturbing, that no mortal will be able to look upon it and emerge with mind unannihilated. (Probably the day the election is called.)

Meanwhile you will just have to be satisfied with these photos of an 'Original ABBA Hand Carved Leather Artwork Signed Retro.' The auction was all over when the item was brought to my attention. Suppose that's for the best.

do not want?

Speaking of groups of immobile rictusly smiling people, I had an idea today for the Jane Austen subject next semester. There are meant to be three contact hours per week but after the lecture and tutorial the remaining hour is not generally aside for anything in particular. I think I will put the students into informal, self-directed reading groups for the third hour. What they do in their groups will be more or less up to them and it won't be directly assessed, but if they spend the time on any reasonable activity it will improve the quality of the work which they do get assessed on.
This is what I have thought out:
  • I'll divide them into groups (of 6-8 people) to save them too much embarrassed shuffling and throat-clearing
  • In the hour immediately after the lecture they will go off with their group to whatever place in the University they like - discussion area in the library, coffee shop, empty tutorial room - and spend the hour talking to each other. They would normally spend the semester with the same group though they could change if they wanted to.
  • I would give them a list of suggested things they could talk about and it would be up to them what they actually chose and how assiduously they stuck to the nominated topic.
  • The default suggestion, and the one I would hope they'd actually follow most of the time, would be to read aloud a portion of the week's set book, length immaterial, and either discuss it as they go or after the reading is finished. Other options might include talking about adaptations, about essay topics, about Austen-related topics, about the set critical reading for the week, or reading aloud from & discussing things that Austen herself read.
  • Students now are always being told that they are learning how to operate in a small group and how to plan their own work, and if they did this well then they'd be learning those skills for realz.
  • It would be emphasised that this was not an assignment which required extra preparation and which was intended to be enjoyable as well as instructive. I would tag along with each group for a week in rotation, just so they don't feel turned completely loose. But they shouldn't feel supervised either.
You'll see that it's copied mostly from the book club model, which I think it just a match made in heaven with a semester devoted to JA. But it's also adapted from the long term self-described 'nerdy study group' Dorian was a part of when he was doing his music degree. They used to meet outside class, but on campus, and do their work together. (A side-effect of this was that he made a lot of friends at university whereas I hardly even knew anyone's name until my Honours year.) In the back of my mind is also the reluctance to entirely farewell one of the best things about the tiny Mildura cohort, viz the way they all know each other very well. In frankness this created some friction but it also meant they became very adept at having actual conversations with each other rather than talking only to the teacher all the time.

I think it's a good idea but I'm posting about it because I would like to hear what other people think - is this the sort of thing you would see value in as part of an English subject, or would you think it was a waste of time? Bear in mind that if we don't do something like this in the second hour it will mostly be left empty, with only the occasional video or dull lecture on the correct placement of apostrophes.


Pavlov's Cat said...

I thought 'reading group' the minute I saw the words 'extra hour', if that is any help. The hanging out with each group in rotation thing is a good idea for several reasons, all of which I'm sure you've already thought about.

I think this might work less well with other subjects, but they'll probably find Austen irresistible as a topic of conversation, or, presumably, they wouldn't have taken so precise a subject in the first place. I used to adore teaching my 19thC Women's Fiction subject because they were all so focused and highly motivated before the semester even started.

Mindy said...

Going to each group in rotation will mean that they can't skive off, but I think once they get used to the idea that they'll like it. Especially if you don't mind them retiring to the Uni bar or something.

M-H said...

Also suggest you try and find out from them how much it 'improved the student experienece' in a written evaluation as this cold be useful info for you in teh future.

Ampersand Duck said...

I think you should pitch this to the ABC as a reality tv show. The fact that it's Jane Austen is an instant demographic winner, and I'm sure if it were filmed you'd get at least one romance out of the semester. I'd watch it! If you divided them into tribes I reckon even the commercial stations would bite.

[Seriously, though, it's a ripper of an idea. All hail to you.]

Zoe said...

Oh yes, tribes. With those headscarf/bikini top/cleaning cloth thingys like on Survivor.

I think it sounds brilliant fun. Perhaps they could have a brief update to the whole group at the lecture/tute so the most fun/valuable things to do are shared and they can feed off each other's enthusiasm.

Kate said...

I think it's something at least half of the students are sorry they don't have routinely - the opportunity to meet each other. Some tutors don't even reinforce the importance of learning each other's names, which makes it really hard to suggest classmates go for a coffee. So even if they drift from the suggested work , I think it could improve the tutes.

TimT said...

Live readings are jolly good, and it's my constant regret that we never really did anything like that when I was at uni. The only thing is, people's natural inhibition in front of an audience and unfamiliarity with the text might sometimes work against it. I think when you get characters like Catherine de Bourgh, for instance, or Emma, or Marianne Dashwood and her frequent bouts of hypochondria, you have to be willing to overcome a natural reserve. Drama, meet the novel.

It's been a while since I read Austen, but aren't there several descriptions of the reading/recitation of passages out of popular 18th and 19th century novels?

Um, that's only feedback on a small part of your idea, I guess. Hmm, maybe this is why I'll never be a teacher...

Anonymous said...

too bustled to read all the above, sorry, just want to point out a item on Austen:

best from Max in Doncaster Vic

alexis said...

I think it sounds a super plan. It does require rather a lot of self-motivation (or peer pressure) - and if that flags then some of the more enthusiastic ones may find themselves in a reading group of one - but if it comes to that, then the lone Austenphiles can band together.

lucy tartan said...

Thanks Max! I hope the bustling eases off soon.

Yes, Alexis, I imagine some will fade away. That's OK. I think P.Cat is right to take into account the Janeite effect.

I really love the idea of a reality series. Really. Can't think of a better thing to put on the telly. I'm almost certain must have been done already, in fact, it is so beguiling.

Nobody's said anything about the aspect which I feel most unsure about, the small group work part. This is not a thing that's generally liked.

Anonymous said...
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Kate said...

small group work is fine unless it's assessed (which you aren't doing)

lucy tartan said...

Thanks Kate. I hoped it was.

Anonymous said...

That Abba artwork, It Burns! it burns!


lucy tartan said...

Yes it does! And I'm glad you think so too!

Anonymous said...
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