While the writing and analytical opportunities I present to students in each class are unique for that particular group of individuals and semester, here are some major projects from my literature and composition courses.
Students engage in a realistic simulation of an academic conference by each presenting a 3-5 minute paper based around an original thesis and argument related to a piece of children’s or adolescent literature they have selected. Students form panels based on similar topics and after sharing their papers, discuss commonalities through a question and answer session, followed by individual meetings with the instructor to discuss their ideas more fully.
This project asks students to choose their own approach to writing about literature, purposefully and thoughtfully selecting or creating a genre (any type of real world writing or communication) that will exhibit critical thinking and demonstrate their understanding of the unique ways that scholars and teachers think about literary texts.
The critical thinking in action project builds from two shorter assignments: a more formal analytical essay and a modified annotated bibliography. These assignments help students to develop their own ideas and analysis when it comes to texts and then put these observations and conclusions in conversation with critical discourse, then adapting the research and interpretive work they have done into a specific kind of writing in teh final “critical thinking” project.
Although having choices can lead to creativity, some students struggle in deciding what kind of topic to pursue or what kind of project to create. These documents model styles of research question that offer sufficient depth and specificity and highlight several key genres (or types of projects students can create) students have had success working with in the past. It can be difficult to anticipate what types of projects are realistic to tackle successfully given the time and experience constraints of class, and thus this document offers recommended genres that have more specific conventions students can learn about by studying more accessible examples.
Picturebooks are a medium often designed and created with a particular reading experience in mind: an adult reading a book to a child. This experience is more than simply articulating the words on a page, but creating a moment and often a memory with a child that can have a profound impact. With this context in mind, students choose a day from the sign up sheet, selecting the book they wish to share with the class. Reading aloud involves both creative expression and critical analysis; teachers, parents, and other adults mediate an experience in which a child can come to understand a book’s meaning. This assignment simulates this experience and gives students opportunities to not only analyze these texts, but consider how they might discuss their findings with young readers.
The critical article handout offers a chance for students to delve into critical discourse related to children’s literature and share what they discover with their peers. Students select and read a critical article, then synthesize the main ideas into a visually appealing one page handout that focuses on identifying key quotes, defining terms, and making connections to other scholarship. Listed here are a few key components to include/remember when creating a critical article handout.
In addition to earning points through daily activities (including exit tickets, which I use as a staple in my pedagogy), students work on several short writing assignments throughout the semester in order to develop their ability to write analytically. Each of these essays builds on the one before as students choose specific elements of their work to improve, directing their attention on elements of thesis development, organization and use of evidence, substantive conclusions and depth of analysis, etc. They articulate what they will focus on in each essay toward improvement and work to develop their writing throughout the term.
The line of inquiry assignment asks students to choose one or more pieces of assigned class reading and/or theoretical concepts discussed in class and develop a research project that would explore this/these ideas and texts in more depth. The goal of the assignment is to envision a larger project analyzing a book or applying a theory and do some preliminary work to both make observations about primary texts and seek research that would inform and bolster such study. While students need not draw firm conclusions for this assignment, they will develop several specific and robust research questions, pairing these with secondary-source research.
The daybook is a place to collect, organize, reflect on and explore thoughts, ideas, musings, and connections you make in your daily life as a critical thinker. Students will use the daybook throughout the semester, then collect evidence of the work they’ve done by selecting and photocopying entries that demonstrate their growth as a questioner, a creative thinker, an analytic thinker, a connection-maker, and a reviser.
The purpose of the portfolio and report is to interrogate the activities of those who engage literature in a variety of situations, examining a range of literary practices and approaches to literature to replicate this kind of thinking and transfer this critical consciousness to new situations. Students produce a variety of written/spoken genres and comment on these texts, attempting to articulate what are the similarities and differences in the ways that people think about literature.
This assignment is a variation on the literary research assignment suited especially to general education students studying adapted texts.
Students will compile a group of review style annotations of texts related to a particular theme or concept, then note the implications of this research by describing several considerations relevant to texts in this grouping.
Graduate Course Analytical Writing Assignments
In my ENGL 5820 course for advanced undergraduate and graduate students (which focused on image and theory in children’s and adolescent literature), we framed the semester with two analytical writing assignments that allowed us to discuss trends in the field, with particular regard to visual representations in film.
This midterm and final project opportunities allowed students to pursue their own research goals and interests, including preparation for WMU’s comprehensive doctoral exam.
To give students an opportunity to further their ideas in ways similar to the review process for academic publication, I also offered the chance for students to revise and resubmit their analytical writing.
Composition and Writing Studies Projects
By turning their perspective from a user to a producer of a particular kind of writing, students will focus their investigation on the various factors that impact writers who produce this text and the system in which they do so.
Genre Portfolio Assignment: Professional Language and Culture Exploration
Students consider a particular discipline by analyzing and researching the ways individuals in that field communicate with one another in a variety of ways. The focus here is on identifying the genres of writing and speech that exist in a particular workplace, then consider carefully how these types of communication affect culture in that community in ways similar and different from other careers/fields/disciplines.
Students will again analyze the features, conventions, and expectations inherent to genre published in their particular field, whether academic, creative, or commercially oriented, then produce a text that demonstrates their understanding of the system in which such a text is embedded.
This assignment asks students to great a professional visual text that provides viewer/audience an overview of the information gained about genre from both previous projects by synthesizing information and
preparing to speak to colleagues about what they have discovered.
Students research a self-selected topic of personal and social significance, then explore the parameters of either an established informational genre or one of their own creation, using this format to present information they have collected and documented through sophisticated research techniques.
In an effort to deconstruct the idea of genre, students will maintain narrative elements of a story from their life or a known literary work, then placing the story within a new genre to demonstrate their understanding of a genre’s parameters, conventions, and expectations.
Students will analyze a specific genre of spoken rhetoric, then mimic the genre by using their knowledge of its conventions to create a new, original text to deliver a message of personal importance in a new context, presenting this to the class either in live form or via a multimedia presentation.
Students have the opportunity in this assignment to compose their own scholarly article to submit to the Grassroots Writing Research Journal. After creating a report detailing the conventions and expectations of the GWRJ, they create a 10-15 page article and work with classmates to revise and prepare their work for potential publication.