I love it when students surprise me

In my Comp 1 class last semester I made a wonderful discovery…

One of my students, Taylor, was a doodler. I noticed right away that she was always drawing something… everything was inspiration for her. By the end of our very first class meeting, her copy of the syllabus was covered with little scenes taken from snippets of conversation and discussion during the class.

In September I assigned a reading in class on the World Trade Center. The accompanying worksheet came back with a wonderful illustration of the NYC skyline  – sketched out in pencil and blue ink. I began to look forward to every homework assignment Taylor turned in, and we had more than a few conversations about her artwork and interpretations of various images, discussions, and texts.

I was very happy when I saw that she signed up for my Comp 2 class this semester.

Our first unit of the semester was on poetry. Technically, I’m not a fan of giving comprehensive exams in a writing course – I find them counterproductive in a class that is supposed to be based on writing. But it’s required, so I make a bit of an adjustment to the typical “Unit Test”.

I treat the exam as an extensive Homework assignment. I give them a week to complete it. A few multiple choice questions, but mainly short answer based on analysis of poems from the text that we did not go over in class. The danger with this approach is that the students simply use the internet and don’t actually think about the poem they are writing about. They let themselves be led by the nose because they are, as HS has taught them, concerned about being “Right.” Personally, I don’t care about “Right” and “Wrong” when it comes to interpretation. I care about “Supported”, “Unsupported”, and the “Expression” of their interpretation. Remember, this isn’t a Lit course. It’s a Composition course.

To combat the internet problem, I have taken to giving the students an unpublished poem with no author credited. I’ve used poems of friends, but mainly I stick with something that I’ve written without telling the students I wrote it. Typically I ask students to, in paragraph form, first paraphrase the poem and then analyze it. This semester I used a sonnet that I wrote a dozen years ago or so.

Now, I don’t consider myself much of a poet. I use poetry as writing exercises to help me focus on specific elements and devices for my fiction and non-fiction. It’s fun, and exhausting, and intensive, and – most often – infuriating, and I think it makes me a better writer even if I’m not very “good” at it.

Below, with Taylor’s permission, is what she submitted with her unit test. I was – AM – floored.

[singlepic id=245 w=320 h=240 float=center]

It’s a wonderful interpretation. It’s unique. It’s creative. It translates some elements of the poem while adding new elements missing from the text of the poem.

It’s inspiring.

See how that works? This is what I try to teach. Inspiration breeds inspiration. Creativity breeds creativity.

If you allow yourself to be affected, you will, in turn, affect others.

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