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Monday, December 06, 2004

Comments on ENG 162

Looking at myself as a student I think that perhaps it would be best if I took writing classes in the flesh so to speak. As much as I prefer the web format, it does not make me perform and push myself in the way that a live class does, in respect to writing that is. I get a lot out of direct interaction with teachers and classmates when it comes to creative pursuits.

As a writer, I feel that I have failed to produce to the level that I am able, though I did like several pieces I did for this class. There is some kind of mental block for me when I think about non-fiction… I even tried reading several non-fiction but novel-esque books, but was unable to lift the injunction. My block kept me from really embracing the assignments in a whole-hearted manner. It seemed like the only two options were to write something backed with a lot of research (something I only tried once or twice), or something directly to do with my life. This isn’t true really, but for some reason I can’t get my head around writing anything else.

All in all I found the class really interesting. It opened a lot of new doors for me thought-wise, though I am sure it will take me a long time to assimilate this new knowledge. Real life does not have to be as boring as it generally appears, and a lot of the same things that work in fiction can be applied to non. I’m grateful for the others who took this class at the same time. I can’t recall how many weeks it took reading someone else’s responses to a theme or prompt before I felt I had a good idea of what was wanted by them. Perhaps some sort of monthly meeting could be set up for students who would like to attend and get some live feedback… that might be my only suggestion, though I know Mr. Goldfine you tend to be a more hands-off kind of teacher. Two weeks left… homestretch here we come.

5 Comments:

Blogger johngoldfine said...

I originally gave this course in Fall 03, live and in person. I enjoyed it immensely--and that is not something I would say about teaching ENG 101. There were only five students, and I did many of the assignments in class with the students--then we read our stuff aloud. I got to know the students better than I usually do, we had a lot of laughs, and I saw some good writing.

But I confess, I was still very hands-off. I think it's much easier to crush someone than to actually help them.

Anyway, there weren't enough signups to offer it in the spring, which bothered me no end, so I decided to lure students by offering it as an online course. Online means much more work for me and loses a lot of the laughter and conversation and inspired moments which were part of a live class, but I really didn't want to let 162 go.

So, it looks like it's going to fly again as an online offering. Which weeks should I keep? Which should I drop? Should something change? Everything? Would it have been more challenging if I'd kicked assignments back and said, "You can do better! How about giving us more detail about the raccoon who ate your wedding cake and some dialogue with the green-haired preacher?"

As I think I wrote once, I'm of two minds about personal material. It's a huge strength and source; it can be self-indulgent and self-absorbed and lead to sloppy and lazy writing. Should I steer people away from 'my life sucks' and assign pieces about 'Life in your home town in your grandma's day'?

I like the idea of meeting every so often, but the logistics are tough, and I think it will probably stay an idea. The wonderful thing about meeting is knowing the other people a little, having inside class jokes, and so on--meeting a few times over the semester would never get to that point.

This semester I've had to think a lot more than I ever did about what I wanted to teach in 162--and there were times when the class gave me good ideas or I realized my ideas needed serious change and modification because of who you all seemed to be--that's very valuable: to be in the game, thinking, and not sleepwalking through a syllabus that hasn't changed since 1968 (I don't have any syllabuses like that, but still....)

And, of course, I've seen some fantastic writing, which is a huge fun thing for me. Despite your sense of not meeting your own standards, some of that fantastic writing was yours.

December 6, 2004 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Erika Lynne said...

I realized the work level must be much higher for an online course... I wondered if maybe it would be easier if you still had the four-piece requirement, but maybe said two must be posted by wednesday/thursday and the other two by sunday? I am guilty of waiting until the last minute to post.. and I figure it's got to make for a really busy weekend/monday for you.

I really liked it when you posted links to other sites for us to go read. There were several really excellent pieces, I particularly liked the "double-standard dad" one. I always wanted the proverbial "shotgun father", but in the end I suppose I'm very lucky I ended up with a slightly more liberal one then that.

I'd say I found the most challenge in the themes from week 10 on up. Not that they weren't good before that, but these last few weeks have really made me stretch at the manner in which I go about writing things. I generally just write the thing and let the tone or style etc go it's own way with only the most general attempts at direction. If it comes out funny, or sad, or choppy (in a good way) then so be it. It was interesting to actually try for a specific effect. The irony one in particular I banged my head against, but it really made me work.

I could perhaps use a few more examples, or a little more direct instructions in theme area. I'm a person who's terribly anxious about doing something 'right'. Therefore I tend to over think things or decide something is incomphrehensible unless it's spelled out in the "idiots guide to..." There were a couple of themes where I paniced and floundered on the meaning before I panicked and floundered on the writing end :). The ty cobb one is an example. That theme left me a bit confused, though frequently from other people's comments or enlisting someone here at home I would get enough of an idea of what you meant to get the writing done. I apparently, am babbling. Right then, those are my ideas, thanks.

December 10, 2004 at 12:30 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

Thanks for your thoughts. One thing I can assure you of: there will be more examples next semester, just as you suggest...more examples, thanks to all of you, my little guinea pigs. Now I have YOUR fine stuff as models for the students who follow you!

I will go through an evolution--next semester will be a lot like this, a few modifications, then eventually I'll get tired of tinkering and bored and try a whole nother set of ideas. I can tell you that just about everything I did this semester was completely fresh and new, never before tried by me, and invented whole every Sunday. You guys made it possible for me to do that by hanging in there with me and being brave and giving everything a shot. I never expected to hit every ball for a homer and am pleased that the last few weeks stretched you.

Part of me feels guilty as hell that my instructions and ideas were sometimes obscure and that you had to talk to other people, see what other people did--and part of me says, 'So what! She's not allowed to get education from any other source than John A. Goldfine? It's a bad idea to talk about writing with civilians?" I guess, since I'm sitting here smiling, that last take will be my official one.

I'm not unhappy at all with the way it all worked out.

December 10, 2004 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

'Double standard dad' was written by a student 15 years ago and I've read it to every class I've had since, first day, sometimes without any intro at all. Students arrive, not knowing what to expect, sit in anxious silence. At the top of the hour, I pull it out and start to read....

I read it to an audience of several hundred at a college teachers' conference in Baltimore, and they gave it an ovation!

December 10, 2004 at 6:22 PM  
Blogger johngoldfine said...

I'm not worried about people posting at the last minute or even slacking off a week or two. I am concerned about people disappearing for months and then popping up again, and I'm afraid that to protect myself and the integrity of the course I'm going to have to write fussy teacher-language into the syllabus. I hate doing that and never have before, but--

December 10, 2004 at 6:25 PM  

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