English 101 at STLCC: Second day of class

In my last post, I was pretty dissatisfied with the text I was given to teach from. I prefer texts that overtly support deconstruction of the assumptions inherent in any message. But this text did give me something to work with in Chapter One.

I was working with my students on how to take notes, which is far more analytical and deconstructionist an activity than most of them realized before class that day. The text gave us a model of how to approach a text:

  • Why? Why was this text written? What is its purpose?
  • Who? Who was this text written for?
  • What? What genre is it?
  • How? How (through which medium) will this text be accessed?

The text itself gave particular reasons to examine each of these questions.

  • Why? The purpose of the text determines which concepts will be emphasized.
  • Who? The audience of the text has certain needs, interests, and preferences.
  • What? Each genre has its own conventions, such as structure.
  • How? The medium through which the text will be accessed has its own conventions.

Because I wanted my students to understand that every text presents a particular view of the world, which privileges certain kinds of knowledge over others and either reinforces or challenges existing power dynamics, I asked my students to use those four questions to interrogate the textbook itself. With my guidance, this is what we came up with:

Why was this text written?

  • To teach us.
  • To help us understand how to write better.
  • To make money.
  • To help the professors who wrote it to get tenure.

Who was this text written for?

  • College students across the United States. Any college student who has to take a composition class. These two audience characteristics tell us that this textbook will cover the basics that are common to all comp classes in the United States. The conventions it teaches will be applicable to higher education in the United States, but not so much to university-level education in other countries.
  • This text uses words and concepts that are more tied to traditional classroom practice than to real life. This tells us that the intended audience is a more traditional type of college student, one who does not demand that what she or he is learning be immediately useful. Therefore, it is written primarily for students at four-year universities, and only marginally for community college students.

What genre is it?

  • This is a textbook. Although real life is not divided up into subject areas (for example, if you make cookies from a recipe, you are having an English experience, a math experience, and a chemistry experience all at the same time), textbooks deal with a clearly defined subject that is divided into chapters, which are divided up into sections, which are further divided up into paragraphs.
  • The first and last paragraphs of a chapter or section are especially important, because they summarize what will be explained and then tell you why it is important.
  • Textbooks use chapter titles, section headers, topic sentences, and bolded and italicized text to signal to the reader how the information is divided up and which parts of it are most important.
  • Textbooks also use diagrams and charts to present a lot of important information in a way that is easily accessible.
  • This means that when we are pressed for time or when we are taking notes, if we pay more attention to these structural conventions that carry the most significance, we can understand the content of the text and its importance a lot faster.

How will this text be accessed?

  • A text can be accessed in hardcopy (printed out), online, and in audio, as well as other ways. Each mode makes access easier for some people and harder for others.
  • This textbook is a hardcopy with some supplementary materials that can be accessed online. In order to use this textbook, you have to buy it. So, primarily people with money to buy this text can access it.
  • We didn’t talk about questions of ability and disability in relation to mode of access, but I will make a point of doing so in a future class.

Overall, I am very pleased with how class went. The students seemed to get information out of the discussion that can be used for notetaking and for planning and constructing their own texts, such as the personal narratives and essays we are working on in this first unit.

In class, I used two songs as examples of personal narrative: Gloria Gaynor’s disco-era classic, “I Will Survive,” and a swing band revival number by The Blues Jumpers, “Good Morning, Judge,” which we deconstructed using the Why? Who? What? How? questions. I also provided them with a number of examples of student work and professional work in the genre of personal story/essay: student papers, memoirs excerpts and previews, and stand-up comedy recordings from the BBC and the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). I gave them their homework related to these examples verbally, telling them to use their notetaking skills to write it down it as exactly as possible. Then I sent this email as a follow-up:

  1. Read or listen to two examples of personal narrative or personal essay from the several I gave you on Blackboard.
  2. Before you start, predict in writing what to expect from this genre: structure, purpose, who does it, who is supposed to read or listen to it, etc.
  3. After you are finished reading or listening to each example, write down how you think you personally could make use of this genre. What could you say? To whom would you say it? What could you accomplish?
  4. Now, look at what you wrote down in class to help you remember this assignment. How close did you get?

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