I went to a Twelfth Night party on 5 January: we spent Twelfth Night reading Twelfth Night aloud. We had a couple of middle-aged moms (not exactly SAHMs: people very active in assorted unpaid activities, including home-schooling), a couple of teenagers, a couple of grad students—in all, something like 10 people for 14 parts (plus assorted Officers and Attendants who had to be rapidly assumed). Viola was traded back and forth between two people who wanted to do her. I got to be both the Duke and Sir Toby Belch. Since I was sight-reading, I fluffed a couple of lines, realizing only after the words left my mouth that I wasn’t speaking to the person I thought I was speaking to, or that the double entendre wasn’t what I thought it was. But I did okay. The teenager whose voice had just broken took Feste, and did a fantastic job using his different registers to highly comic effect.

I am SUCH a nerd, but that was the most fun I’d had in quite awhile. Of course it was partly the people and the party atmosphere. Would that I could bring mulled wine and munchies to class when I want students to read aloud. I’m sure it would make a difference, the way a drink or two helps enormously with fluency in foreign languages. (Since I often teach in a “smart room,” we’re not supposed to have any food or drink, even water, to protect the equipment.)

This spring I’m teaching a lot of Malory. I plan to use the Malory Aloud CD as an example before students read aloud; this time around, rather than having a formal paper in which students analyze the passages, I’m going to assign Discussion Board posts on Blackboard about the passages they choose to read aloud. I find this is a good way of testing or working up to formal assignments. When I have an idea for a new kind of assignment, I try to work it out in stages, making it somehow more informal at first—through group work, in-class writing, or Discussion Board comments—while I work out what about it interests students, and what they find difficult or frustrating about it, before working out a full formal essay. Sometimes it never does go to an essay or formal project; some ideas work better as informal writing or reports. Or I may wind up with a sequence that starts with something informal and works up to a longer, more point-significant piece of work.

I wish I could get to the point where I have my courses prepped once and for all. My parents, who went to college in the days of formal lecture, do not understand why I spend so much time on course prep. But the students change. The people I teach now are different from those I taught at the beginning of my career, and different even from those I taught 5 years ago. Dr. Crazy had a good post recently about the changes she’s made in her classroom. I’ve had a similar transition, but it took me longer—partly because 15 years ago, it was still possible to teach in the more traditional way she describes. Most of my students did understand what I meant by “a 5-7 page paper.” As the years passed, that was less and less true. I’m sure some of it has to do with what happens in high school, but I have no control over that, so I have to adapt my course delivery so that we are all happier.

At least, I hope we are.

Another thing I’m trying this spring is very detailed sets of reading questions/note-taking questions for each class day, inspired partly by discussion at—somewhere—I actually saved the discussion for myself as a file, but now I can’t find it (d’oh!) and don’t, of course, remember who sparked it. Anyway, it may be overkill. But I want to make it very clear that there are certain things students should get out of the readings and out of lecture and class discussion, so if they fill out the question sheets for every day, they will have excellent class notes that will help with writing papers and studying for the final. We’ll see. Can someone tell me who had the post and comments about assigning points for reading questions and so on?

Edited to add: I found both my saved document and the original post. It was Hilaire‘s. My brain isn’t totally down, just temporarily off-line. I was inspired in a sort of backwards way, since she was encouraging students to ask questions and I am telling them what the important questions are (though I’ll also include a question about their questions); but the discussion of giving credit for such things was very helpful.


6 thoughts on “More on performing reading

  1. The problem with detailed reading questions for me is that it forces me to prep class ahead of time. Yeah, I’m a procrastinatory git, but on top of that, I leave myself three hours before each class to prep, the day of, as a strategy for preventing teaching from eating up all my time.In reference to that last question, I doubt you’re thinking of me, but I have a one-minute quiz in my large classes, having students write down on an index card the answer to a random question from the reading. Usually something butt-easy-if-you-skimmed-it-but- impossible-if-you-didn’t, but occasionally more free-form.It takes 10 seconds to grade each one (if that), so it’s a way of reducing the grading load while still assessing something. Plus it rewards the students for keeping up with the reading.

  2. I have a terrible time figuring out what’s easy if you skimmed but not if you didn’t. I’m not always this organized, but if I can prep ahead of time, it makes the semester vastly easier.

  3. Ooh, read-throughs! Since moving here, I have contrived to intrude myself into the Renaissance drama read-through group at the nearest university with a graduate program in English, and it is awesome.

  4. I’m doing a “lyric poetry project” in my English Renaissance lit. class this semester that has students record a reading of a lyric poem and post to a wiki. The stages involve completing a precise paraphrase of the poem, then composing an analytical essay focusing on how the poem works, rather than what it means (something else I find students get less and less instruction in these days), then the reading, all of which goes up on wiki pages. Then they’ll compose short response essays to two classmates’ projects, again going up on the wiki, and each person finally will flesh out their pages in any way they see fit. I’ve just assigned the poems for each of them, so we’ll see how it goes from here.

  5. Highly Eccentric–I just saw your comment. Thanks for thinking of me. I will have to think for a bit. I don’t really think in terms of “favorite” for historical characters–they just are themselves, I don’t judge them. And I spend a lot of time in the world of Anonymous.

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