23 Feb 2009 [ Prev | Next ]

Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise

Update, 18 Feb:

The instructions are the same as they were for last time, except that I'm asking you to choose a passage from The Grapes of Wrath. I recognize that you will only have read the first half of the book, and I don't expect this paper to rely on knowledge that you could only get from reading the second half.


Review Foster for ideas on what to write about.

Here's a link to the handout that I first mentioned in class Feb 2: Close Reading

  1. Groups (as determined in class, Feb 17; Ex 2 is done in groups of four and due in class Feb 23, Ex 3 is done groups of two and due online on Friday, but otherwise the assignment is identical)
  2. Choose a text (1-2 pages of prose from Chapters 1-12 of The Grapes of Wrath)
  3. Read (and re-read, paying close attention to the actual words)
  4. Identify a theme (gender, nature, race, power, love, forgiveness, time, etc.)
  5. Search your chosen passage for additional or closely related references to that theme
  6. Take a stand
    1. Non-obvious
    2. Debatable
    3. About the Work Itself
      (not about life in general, human nature in general, your personal opinions about the subject, real people or events that relate loosely to the literary work, or characters as if they are real people who are trapped within a literary work, or or events that took place during the time the work was written; not about any subject that you could have written about without ever having read the work)
  7. Defend your position.
Draw on what you learned in your freshman writing classes, which ask you to state a claim and support it from evidence. A close reading asks you to draw evidence from the actual words that the author puts on the page.


Your goal for this exercise is not to come up with the "correct" answer, but rather to demonstrate that you can perform a close reading.

Remember that I grade on a four-point scale, so a 15 out of 20 is a B (which to me means "very good," "overall solid work with areas of excellence," "exceeds some expectations and meets all the rest")

Monday night, during class, I will quickly assess all the Ex 2 submissions. 

I won't be able to give a numerical grade on the spot, and can't really promise one until the following Monday, but on Feb 23 I will sort the Ex 2 submissions according to

  • PASS (none of your group members will need to do Ex 3 -- you are ready to start on Paper 1.)
  • REVISE (I'll give you quick feedback in class, and encourage you to seek out more detailed feedback should you desire it; each group member will submit a separate revision, due online Friday. If your individual revision is successful, you won't need to do Ex 3 at all -- you are ready to start on Paper 1.)
  • CONSULT (this means I haven't yet seen evidence that you can do a close reading, so I'd like to meet with you for one-on-one instruction. At that meeting, we will discuss a tailor-made Ex 3 assignment that will not only help you develop this skill, but also help you make progress on Paper 1.)



Dear Professor Jerz,

There has been much dissatisfaction between my peers and I about the class on Monday, February 16th. I will not name any other student, but I feel so strongly about what has happened that I am compelled to voice my opinion. Concerning the results of the group assignment, I feel that it was graded completely unfairly. It seems that we were not graded on our claim and support of that claim at all, or that the papers were even read through in their entirety, especially considering that you yourself said you did not even really look at them closely. The way it seemed to have been graded was if the group put “Fitzgerald said” into the paper they passed, and if we discussed Gatsby as a real person we failed. My group's paper did not have a single mark on it besides this. So basically we failed over semantics? I can, in no way fathom, how a COMPLETELY mistake free paper, according to the lack of marks on it, could be taken to under a B for something that could be fixed with a simple Replace All. First of all, if that was ALL the paper was graded on, which is what it seems, I feel it might have been useful information to have BEFORE we wrote the paper. This being based off the fact that few of the students in the class have majors related to English, and have not done this kind of paper before. Secondly, if my assumptions are wrong and the paper was not graded on the aforementioned rubric, I do not know how I am supposed to fix the actual problems with my writing if I was given no other feedback than to change “Gatsby” to “Fitzgerald said”. Another serious concern of mine is something that I heard in class through the grapevine. From what I observed, you did not even have one of the group's papers, and they all adamantly claimed that they put “Fitzgerald says” into their paper, so you said it was fine. This just furthers the fact that the papers were not graded off of their academic integrity and ability to close read, which is what I thought the paper was designed to test. Again, I do not know the real details so the last part is unfounded.
Not only do I feel that the grading was unfair, but I feel that the new assignment is unfair. I understand this is college, but I do not think you understand how hard a group writing assignment is on us. We have many other classes, some people are commuters, some people have jobs. Just the mechanics of getting a group together is hard enough, let alone getting one together for long enough to create a quality paper. I feel like all we are doing is creating a paper with conflicting styles that we simply do not have the time to make it flow correctly. This along with the fact that we have to keep up with our blogging and reflections, it just feels like overkill. Plus, we have to read NEW material that will take at least a day or two to read, let alone formulate any type of ideas. If anything the assignment should be on Machinal, because we had a lot of examples in class to help us and we actually understand the material. If this were an individual assignment I feel it would be completely rational, but the fact that it is a group paper actually makes it harder rather than easier.
While this is based on my opinion, and in no way do I speak for the entire class, I am not alone in the way I feel. I would rather be the one to hang my neck out than to not state my opinions at all. Honestly, I do not feel that these assignments are in any way helping me close read or interpret literature better. Rather, I feel like I'm running around trying to create a paper with other individuals just so we can all have it done and over with. I hope nothing I said has offended you, but not saying anything would have been way worse than getting my frustrations out in the open so they can be discussed in a professional manner.


Andrew Adams

I would also like to add a comment to what Andrew has so eloquently stated. I do underdstnad his concern, but my main concern is the workload placed upon us for the next few weeks. I believe that this amount of work is overwhelming and that the students of the class are not learning learning everything they potentially could. People are skimming the books quickly so they can get the work done on time. People are not reading to enjoy or to learn from the material; rather they are just speed reading to complete the assignment. For the next two weeks we have been assigned a work load that I believe is unfair to all the students in the class. Some people will have the second group project, plus the partner project, reading the Grapes of Wrath (in its entirety), the portfolio 1 project, AS WELL as the Paper 1 submission. All this is due within two weeks. Many of us are taking this class as an elective or to fulfill our US cultures credit. I am a PA major with a heavy course load, and I have a great amount of other work that also needs completed. I, by no means, am saying that this class is of unimportance, but when it takes up a majority of my week, what other time is left for studying for my major? I know for a fact that I am not the only one with this concern. As Andrew has stated above, we are not naming names but know the views and opinions of others that are very similiar.

I hope this does not offend you or your teaching style, I am just speaking for others that do not want to voice their opinion and cause problems.
Nathan Hart

I'd have to agree with Andrew. Because I rushed to put the last paper together, I did not look at the semantics or closely read my peers responses. I suppose they did not include Fitzgerald said, but I hadn't seen to specifically include that. I thought my group was making a claim about the work itself. We claimed that Gatsby's actions and speech were deliberate to make Tom (and perhaps even the reader) believe he was suspicious. Would we have passed if we said, "Fitzgerald has Gatsby use conflicting actions and speech to..."

If so, I don't understand how our grade slipped so low just because we left this out of our introduction. I don't speak for my group, but I would have rather taken the C and tried to make up the grade later in class than have to do an assignment over again that was stressful and I felt didn't teach me anything.

I know we were supposed to help our classmates together and learn/teach each other together so that we can pass, but really there was no time for that. Reading new work, analyzing, writing, and meshing together a paper took all week and put me behind in other classes. I didn't have time to review with my group to see if this way was perfect.

Now I have to do it again. I feel I'm going to fail at this again because I have even less time and I'm more frustrated. I'd rather have taken the grade, made it up later, and work in a pair of two. Or rewrote the paper on the same material (or Machinal) myself. At least then I would have the time to get it done right and without collaboration.

I also hope what I said hasn't offended you. It's how I feel and, like Andrew said, other classmates feel.

Before I say anything, I want my motive to be understood. I am choosing to speak out not because I dislike the assignment or because of something as silly as “I don’t like the class” or “I don’t want to write a paper.” Simply put, I think that this assignment is a great injustice to all parties present, but especially to those students who may have needed help close reading. Thus, I am speaking out because I think it is important that everyone’s opinion be heard and considered. As Andrew said, I have no problem sticking my neck out and will be glad to cooperate with any punishment of repercussions that may come from speaking my mind. An opinion is a powerful thing and I am simply not able to keep mine to myself. I think it is important that it be understood that Andrew is not standing alone.

Andrew, you’ve touched on the grading of the assignment far more coherently than I could. The grading of the assignment, if the parameters are indeed a simple case of semantics (which seemed to be the case from your explanation), failed to assess how closely we read the work. However, that is neither here nor there; I’m not here to argue that. Instead, I’d like to touch on the nature of the assignment itself. It will always be debated, group work versus individual assignments. The answer is rarely black and white. Group work, especially activities such as jigsaws can often prove very valuable learning tools. But for this particular exercise, the groups are doomed to fail; the reasons for it are very apparent. (Also, before I begin, I want people to know that I am speaking in the most general terms and nothing I say is an attack of even a description about my own group members. They were great!)

We must first assume that the entire class was divided into two types of students. Those who came into the class with a fairly strong understanding of close reading and how to write a paper employing this technique and those who didn’t. The former was most likely composed of students who were English majors, or had taken literature courses already, or perhaps were just upper classmen who had been around the block. Regardless, these were the students who knew what they were doing. The second group could have been anybody. What is important is the role which you as the instructor expected each student to play.

By placing us into groups you hoped that each group of four would have a nice mix of students from both categories. Ideally, two students who knew how to close read would be paired with two that didn’t. Here is where the concept of doing this activity as a group project falls apart. We had never turned in papers to you before. The “writing” that you used to assess how well we could close read and thus group us was nothing more than a half page reflection that we had written without even knowing if it was going to be turned in. Further, this reflection was the first reflection that we had written for your class ever, so many of them were written without a clear understanding of what you expected. Moreover, you read the entire class’s reflections, analyzed them, and assessed them well enough to group us, all in the span of a fifteen minute break. This is by no means an attack at your ability to analyze and grade out work, but I’m sure you can see how the possibility of misplacing students has already jeopardized the “experiment” that you hoped to run.

But the assignment breaks down even further as we continue. It simply isn’t fair to ask students who know how to close read to teach those that don’t. If students know how to close read, they should simply have to write a paper that demonstrates that they can do it and be done. Why should they go through three weeks of two or three papers and endless group work to prove to you what they could sit down and prove to you individually in two hours?

On top of this, why should the fact that some students know how to close read be a burden to them. Those students who know what they are doing shouldn’t have the extra assignment of teaching this skill to others. As students of your class, they are here to learn, not to teach. Having them teach the close reading skill to others could be an efficient way of spreading the knowledge quickly, but it is unfair to those who are asked to teach. That isn’t what these students are paying tuition for.

The imperfect science of placing students in a group once again rears its ugly head here and further attacks the success rate of this project. It is not only likely, but probably that students who know how to close read are stuck with a group of multiple members who don’t. It can be assumed that students who struggle to close read are also probably not as strong writers as those who already know how to close read. Because of this, the student who excels at close reading will be held back by their group members. Their paper will not be written as well nor will their examples be as fully developed because the rest of the group will not be as efficient as the one student. It simply isn’t fair that a student who already knows the material could be slowed down by group members who are relying on this student to teach them.

But the relationship between student and student-teacher fails on both ends of the spectrum. In much the same way that the relationship is unfair to the student who can already close read, the relationship also fails to cater to the needs of the students who need help. Everyone in your class is a student. Some students are more adults than others. Some students might be pursuing an education certificate. But none of the students in our class is a teacher. We are not certified to teach.

By having a student teach another student, you as the professor are doing a great injustice to the second student. I’m sure everyone would agree that it is an entirely different thing to know something that it is to try and teach it. Just because a student demonstrates the ability to close read does not mean that they have the ability to teach this same skill. As a professor, it is your responsibility to teach the students who do not know how to close read. While some of the students who already know may be able to do an adequate or even an admirable job, their efforts will inevitably fall short of what you could provide. And anything less than what the quality of work which you yourself could have done just isn’t acceptable. Students are paying tuition to be taught by their peers, they are paying tuition to be taught by the professors.

Thus, the result is anything but an ideal solution. It is possible, even likely, that the student who can close read will end up doing the majority of the work and the students who don’t know how to close read will continue on to the next round still ignorant of how to perform the task. At best, the student may teach their peers a basic level of close reading that they can then use to build on, but even this is unacceptable. This basic level of understanding falls short of what another teaching method in which the instructor did things himself could have provided, and this simply doesn’t cut it.

Invariably, the assignment is doomed for failure. Sure, it seems like it worked. The papers all got turned in. Some passed, some failed, and the next round is underway. But at the end of the day nothing will have changed. You might have learned which students can close read and which ones can’t, but that wasn’t your goal (at least I hope it wasn’t). If your goal was to emerge from the assignment with most if not all of the students having mastered the close reading skill then the experiment will still have failed.

Students will simply emerge from their groups right back where they started. The students who already knew how to close read will not have advanced or improved any because they will have spent three weeks unchallenged. Rather than refining their skills and pursuing harder material they will have been left in limbo trying to help their classmates catch up. Moreover, their classmates will have latched on and possibly even pulled them back some.

And the students who didn’t know how to clear read? They won’t have made any progress either. Some of them might emerge from the exercise having observed how their peer approached the paper and learned a very basic technique of close reading, but this won’t be anywhere near what they could have learned from you. Most likely these students will have just mixed themselves in amongst the students who could do it and coasted along on their work.

Thus, at the end of the day the students haven’t progressed any. If your goal was to learn which of us could close read and which of us couldn’t, you will have succeeded immensely. But if your goal was to refine our skills and make sure that ALL of us could close read, then the experiment will have failed. After three weeks of writing papers for your experiment, you will have a very clear understanding of who needs help. This is certainly helpful, but it may be more efficient to simply spend the time helping everybody.

Nevertheless, I am not speaking out because I wish you to drop the assignment. The first round of papers have been written, new groups have been assigned, and the second round is well underway. I do not expect you to simply stop running your experiment. I simply wanted to add to Andrew’s comments. The assignment is unfair. Not only does it appear to be being graded unfairly, but it treats both sets of students unfairly. First, the Experiment asks the students who can close read to do something that should be the role of the professor, not the student. Then, the experiment asks those students who cannot close read to settle for inferior teaching that comes from someone other than a professor.

Perhaps I could see the validity of such an experiment in a high school setting where many of the students are not even motivated to be present, let alone learn. But at a University? I’m sorry Dr. Jerz, but it is my belief that we are paying far too much in tuition for us to be subjected to an experiment that is so ambiguous and has so much room for failure. I would highly advise that you reconsider using such an experiment with any of your classes in the future as I think that it is unfair to the student population. I do not wish for this to sound insulting or like I am trying to attack you, but I seriously believe that for a teacher to subject a student to a quality of instruction that is inferior to what the professor could do themselves is negligent of their duties as an instructor.

Professor Jerz,
I am not trying to attack you, in fact I think that your in-class discussions are very fascinating and so far I have really enjoyed the material we have covered. I think that the idea behind the blogs is helpful because it gets students talking about the text and helps non-English majors like myself interpret what sometimes seems like a foreign language. However, I have to agree with my peers: that the amount of coursework is unfair. There are many students right now that have a group paper, a partner paper, twelve chapters of a book most of us have never seen before, two blogs, two reflections, four comments on classmates blogs, and another blog about blogging (which , if you will excuse me, I think is ridiculous) all due in about ten days. When I left Monday’s class I was almost ready to scream. Like Nathan said, some of us are taking this course to fill a US cultures credit requirement for the liberal arts curriculum. I chose American Literature instead of US history because I cannot stand history classes and I thought that history would be more interesting coming from a literature-based perspective, and it is. However, I do not feel that I am able to focus and learn from these works because I am too busy trying to get everything else done. In turn, my work is admittedly deficient and I feel there is nothing I can do about it. Many of us are attempting to hold on to scholarships, grade requirements, and our dignity and this workload is detrimental to those goals. Please understand that this is nothing personal, and I feel that myself and my peers are only trying to shed light on a exasperating situation. If you have any questions or concerns about what I have said, feel free to e-mail me at sar5934@setonhill.edu. Thank you for your attention and I hope we can relieve this situation.

Thank you all for your comments. I'm going to have do quite a bit of close reading myself on all this.

We obviously have many passionate and articulate students in the class, and I appreciate that you've taken this opportunity to share your concerns.

First, because I created the blogs precisely so that we could have conversations like this, I hope nobody feels at all worried that I'm going to penalize anyone for sharing a concern or asking for an explanation, or even just airing an honest complaint. All this is part of being in a learning community, and I knew that when I first took the blogs online.

Second, for the group projects, I am just as available to help you as I would be if this were an individual exercise. I invite you to meet with me during my office hours, by appointment outside of my office hours (I've stayed after class until 9:30pm twice), or contact me online. I'm not sure that I see how a group project in any way prevents you from seeking out instruction from me.

The exercise wasn't designed to measure how smart you are, how valuable a human being you are, or anything like that. It simply let me see simply which groups managed to create a close reading assignment. If the experience motivates students to seek out additional help from me outside of their groups, then the assignment sequence is serving its purpose.

Third, I think there's a big difference between a teacher saying "I'm recording a zero, now please do it again," and "I'm not recording anything, so that you have the chance to learn from your first try without getting a black mark on your grade, now please do it again."

I completely understand that if you're watching your GPA closely, you want to pay close attention to every assignment. Still, according to the syllabus Ex 1 was worth 40 points, and I explained in class that the group component was worth 20 points. Since the syllabus explains that all the grades in this course are on a four-point scale, even if I reported a zero on that 2% of the course grade, the result would be the difference between something like a 3.0 and a 2.9. But I'm not giving anyone a zero for an unsuccessful group paper. I've simply assigned some students to different groups and asked them to try again.

All students still received individual grades on their in-class component.

In the past, I taught literature surveys without assigning any close-reading exercise at all; instead, I gave a lecture on what I wanted, showed students my handouts on close readings, and gave students the grade they had earned on their first paper.

Often, many students who were good writers and intelligent people, but who hadn't yet mastered the unfamiliar skill of close reading, ended up submitting well-written personal essays, plot summaries, author biographies, and character analyses, their grades reflected their skill level.

But in this class, not a single Ex 1 group paper was a personal essay, or a plot summary, or an author biography, which means that from my perspective I think the group exercise was a big success -- at least in terms of generating group work that models the work students will need to achieve on their own later in the course.

So... I'm asking some students do re-do an assignment that's worth 2% of the course grade. This assignment covers a tricky but important skill that some students can acquire without much trouble, that some students can acquire after a few more tries, and that some acquire only after they seek me out for one-on-one, intensive instruction.

Without generating mounds of busywork for the rest of the students who don't need this level of instruction, the close reading exercises are designed to help me identify those students who will need that one-on-one attention -- which I am happy to give.

At a small school, that one-on-one instruction is what we do. I hope nobody thinks that the group assignment, or the online work, is meant to replace or discourage one-on-one contact with an instructor who has a personal and professional interest in your academic growth.

If you're feeling uncertain about close reading, please help me to resolve that uncertainty, by sending me ideas for your paper topics, or by arranging an office visit. I'm happy to help groups, and if the whole group can't make it, I'll be happy to meet with those of you who can come.

I see a lot of enthusiasm and energy and a desire to succeed, and I hope I can channel that energy into the assignment sequence that prepares you for your first major paper.

I would be happy to meet with you to go over any submission in great detail. Because I did not actually assign any mark to the papers that did not pass, I did not mark up the papers in any great detail. I do think it there is a significant difference between writing a paper about the literary work, with a consciousness of the materiality of the text and the author's creative choices, and writing a paper that suggests the characters and events depicted in a work of fiction have a life of their own outside the text.

In class, I did point out "Fitzgerald says..." as a positive sign, but I hope I didn't give the impression that I unfairly judged any paper that didn't include those magic words. Likewise, I hope I didn't give the impression that if only a student had done a search-and-replace before submitting the paper, that a vocabulary change would have made that much difference. That was just one concrete, highly visible sign that I think will be helpful during the composition process.

But I think the most helpful way we can move forward is if you bring me your ideas so I can offer you feedback before you've put in the time to churn out and polish your paragraphs. This conversation we're having here is part of that learning process, and I'm glad that this blog has given us this opportunity to connect and discuss.

Can we please discuss the amount of coursework there is in a given week? Like I said in my previous comment, some of us have a group paper, a partner paper, twelve chapters of The Grapes of Wrath, two blogs, two reflections, four comments on classmates blogs, and a portfolio blog due in about ten days. This is very overwhelming. I understand that we only meet as a class once a week. However, this is still supposed to be equivalent to a three-day-a-week, fifty minute class in terms of coursework. I haven’t timed myself, but I can guarentee you that I will spend far more time than that reading twelve chapters, working on a paper, and blogging than I can give you. As a result I am not only cutting corners in your class, but also in the classes that are required for graduate school and the rest of my life. I have spoken with several other classmates and I am not the only one who feels this way. I am sorry for the directness of this entry but I feel something has to be said, even if nothing is accomplished. Thank you.

I agree with what Rachael said in her above comment. If we could come up with a sort of compromise on the weeks that we have a bigger assignment due such as Portfolio 1 or the writing assignment, and maybe don’t assign us blogging for that week. That allows us to focus more on the bigger project rather then being stressed over the things that we do week by week. This intern will allow us submit to you a better overall assignment. I am just throwing this out here as a sort of suggestion. If you are willing to think about it and maybe get back to us, or even get the classes opinion on the idea before making a decision. I think that most of us would appreciate a little relief on certain weeks, and that relief would make our overall demeanor more positive toward the class. I will be completely truthful; I dread thinking about the homework for this class and coming to this class on Monday nights. I know people are seeing this conversation, and are afraid to comment. They have to realize that they need to be able to voice their opinion on these matters. The only way things will change is if someone starts talking about it. It’s a fundamental concept. If you have a problem, you tell someone.

Dr Jerz,

I appreciate the reply, but I'm afraid I have to respectfully dissagree. Our problems aren't simply solved by going ot your office hours. Many of us would not have thought that we even needed to see you to discuss the paper because we were opperating under the assumption that we were doing things right. Now, realizing that we did not understand the directions for the paper it has become clear that some of us could have benefitted from having visited you. However, it still isn't that simple.

Many of us are complaining about the group work in general. Some groups are struggling to find the time to get together and work on the paper. If we can't even get together out of the 24 hours in a day to work on the assignment, how will we be able to find a time out of the few hours a week that you hold office hours when we are all free? The problem remains the same. Some students commute, others have other responsibilities besides your class. We can't simply just put everything else off and go visit your office hours. I understand that you have certain hours set aside to speak to us, but we don't those same hours set aside to do the same in turn.

You also have not addressed the issue of the workload itself. As has been stated, few of us are english majors. While I understand that this is an english course, we are not english students. For most of us, this class is simply a way of getting our American History credit out of the way. We don't have the time to commit as many hours as you are asking for us to your class. Each of us has our respective major that, no offense to you, is far more important that a core curriculum class. As Rachel has alluded to, those of us with spirations of graduate school simply can't afford to alot your class this much time when it will appear as nearly irrelevant on our transcript to graduate schools.

I too have found myself skimming off on the work. Perhaps I only read two of the three assigned Foster chapters, or perhaps my blogs come a day late, or perhaps I do everything right for your class and suffer in another. Whatever the case, I should not be forced to spend hours and hours more for your class than others. All of my courses this year are three credits and I think it is only fair that most of the workload is similar.

Dr Jerz, I would like to thank you however. I would like to thank you for the very insightful discussions that we have. I would like to thank you for making sure that I walk away with a very clear understanding of the novels. But mostly, I would like to thank you for having the professionalism and the humility to discuss this with us. It is nice to know that our concerns are at least heard and considered.

I propose that for some of our class we do the assignment in groups, in the class. We work on our paper in class next week that way if we have questions we can come right to you and we are together at the same time and it will be apparent if someone is slacking off and you can tell us if what we are doing seems right.

This way we have less papers and we can complete the assignment without overworking our load and all come away with good understanding of close reading.

This would crunch time we have for discussion of chapters, but I feel it would be a very helpful compromise. We would just have to make our debate/discussion quicker and more concise for the first half of class and use the second half (or even a half hour) to work on our paper.

You said we can have time in the computer lab reserved too. We could move there for the last half hour and work, if some people are uncomfortable without a computer.

What does everyone think about this?

Okay... I hear some of you saying that the class discussion is valuable, and I also hear that you'd appreciate some time in class to consult with me about the reading assignment before you submit it.

My intention, when I created the assignment, was to get the attention of people who otherwise wouldn't know that they still needed to pay close attention to close reading, so that they had the time to get extra help before the major paper sequence started.

And I think this conversation is a sign that you've heard what I said about how important close reading is, and that you're taking that lesson seriously. So all this is good.

I'm conscious that, given the eloquent case some of you have made against group work, there may be students who felt they learned something from the group paper, but who might not feel comfortable coming forward and saying so.

Again, let me reiterate that I'm pleasantly surprised -- even stunned -- the Ex 1 submissions included no personal reaction papers, no author biography papers, and so little plot summary.

I've never seen a set of first papers that focused so squarely on the text itself -- not even in a similar entry-level class that has all English majors. That is evidence to me that, whether or not everyone enjoyed the exercise, the results were positive (which means not only that it will have a positive affect on your grades, but you'll also get more quickly to the deeper insights that come from the intellectual shift that I'm trying to prompt).

It looks like the exercises -- which I really think of as warm-ups -- are important enough to some of you that you'd like to spend more class time on them. I had already scheduled time to offer you detailed feedback on individual assignments later in the course, but I hear that some of you would like that kind of feedback sooner.

I like the fact that the thrust of our discussion is moving forwards to how to make the next assignment work better, rather than focusing on the past.

Just speaking hypothetically now -- how would you feel if, as part of the assessment I offer on Monday night, I spoke with each group very briefly, in order to tell them one of the following:

1) their group paper is a PASS,
2) their group paper will very likely pass if they revise the areas I note, and RESUBMIT the assignment by Friday, or
3) I see enough big issues in their group paper that I'll need more time to CONSULT with the group members (initially via e-mail, later via an office visit or telephone conversation with each student) on how they can revise to make their submission a PASS.

Note that a student who gets a "CONSULT" on this assignment will be getting this news on a low-point-value exercise, not a major assignment that will have a big impact on the final grade.

I wouldn't be able to offer a numerical score on these papers Monday night, and I would be happy to offer more detailed feedback in an office visit. This three-tier feedback system would simply inform those students who wouldn't otherwise know that they should seek out my help regarding this foundational skill.

Some specific comments regarding the logistics of doing group work...

I regularly collaborate with people in other states and other countries, by e-mailing Word files. I make some edits, then send it to a partner, who makes additional changes... sometimes I send my version out to two different people and they respond with documents that are now out of sync, but Word has a tool that lets you import and compare two different versions of the same document.

I'd be happy to show that tool to you, if you like. Another option is using docs.google.com to share word processor files that multiple people can edit at the same time. (It's free, and the group members don't have to be in the same physical location, or available at the same time -- they can work asynchronously.)

I'd just like to say that I feel that this class requires a lot of thought and reading, and hard work, and it seems a bit overwhelming for me at times. I'd also like to comment and say that I don't really really have time to be posting 16 paragraph long blog entries complaining about all the work in this class, because quite frankly, I'm too busy DOING THE WORK FOR THIS CLASS. Apparently I have to get my priorities in order.

And the group that everyone thinks lied to Professor Jerz about having a good thesis statement in their paper after he didn't have the paper to look at did NOT lie just to get out of re-writing a paper. Thanks for calling us liars in front of everyone.

Gotta go read. (No offense intended.)

Dr Jerz,

I can not speak for my classmates, but I am very satisfied with this compromise. I think that more than anything, what has caused us to feel that the project was unfair was the initial confusion over the assignment. I think that many of us felt that we weren't told any criteria other than "Pick a quote and analyze it." This may or may not be true, but I think that for one reason or another some of us might have missed a more specific rubric. Therefore, some of us struggled to tailor the paper to fit exactly what you wanted and were frustrated when we were told we had done something wrong.

The concept of working with you in class to get the papers done sounds like a great resolution to me. I do not think (again, I don't speak for everyone) that we are against writing papers or that we are asking not to do the assignment. We are all aware that this is a college course and expect to do work. However I think that many of us were struggling to understand the direction and structure that you wanted.

By taking the time in class to meet with you as a group, when all group members are present and able to contribute, this problem can be readily solved. This solution easily helps us to understand what we are doing write and what needs help.

Personally, I am more than satisfied with the compromise that you have worked hard to help us reach; my areas of concern have been addressed. I would like to thank you for being very professional and very willing to help us compromise so that we could all move forward with a resolution that was best for everyone.

Once again, I do not speak for everyone. My peers may like to continue to discuss the workload and their concerns over this.If this is the case then I shall leave it to them to make their points. I would simply like to say that I am quite content with this compromise and that I am very thankful for your willingness to work towards it. Thank you for your hard work and your dedication to excellence. See you Monday.

Dr Jerz,

I was wondering if finally, we could talk a little about the workload for this class. You seem to have been eloquently skipping over the rest of our blogs and only really responding to Carlos and his concerns. I am afraid that the amount of work for this class may lead me to potentially dropping this class this semester. I am beginning to fall behind in other classes and I am worried. If you could please shed some insight on this topic it would be greatly appreciated.
Nathan Hart

I'm glad this forum has encouraged people to bring up topics they're worried about, and the topics I've addressed here are the ones that I feel are most appropriately and effectively addressed in public.

I feel, however, when we are talking about individual, personal decisions about whether to drop a course, that I would be able to give more effective advice in person.

Here are my office hours for Spring 2009:
Monday 3:30-4:30pm; Tuesday 3pm; Wednesday 11am; Thursday 3pm.

I still feel that the work load is too hefty for this class. I'm spending most of my time doing homework for this class. I'm severely falling behind in other classes in an attempt to catch/keep up with this class. The workload is getting absurd. It is taking away from student's sleep time and time that should be put to other classes and I, as well as others, feel that this is the main issue and it still hasn't even been addressed.

This does not really concern the work, because I have been keeping up with the comments and think the compromise is completely fair. This goes out to Sara.

1 No one called you liars, it says very clearly in my first post that that part of the argument was unfounded.
2 This was a completely civil and thought out argument about something I(we) thought was unfair.

You have ruined any type of respect and dialogue this was meant to create, by taking something that several people in the class had issues about and twisting into a personal attack against yourself. My comment took about twenty minutes to write, and I am doing the work. Maybe before you start attacking others, you should realize that there was no attack on you, not a single one. Obviously your intent was to offend, even though you put at the end that it was not. No one attacked you, and I don't care if it is hostile but your comment was extremely immature and unnecessary. I only wrote this because I was pretty much personally called out because I was the one that mentioned the group, even though I said I had no true basis of knowledge about what happened, and did mention a single name.

Anonymous, if I knew more about your specific situation, I think I could be more helpful about helping you manage the workload. But I just don't think this is really the best forum to help you find an individual solution.

I've never had a student complain that a course requires too little time and that the work is too easy, but if you were to come to me and share your specific situation, maybe there is something I can do to help you meet the academic objectives and complete the assignments that are on the syllabus.

It's possible that you're spending far too much time and effort on your reflection papers, treating each one as you would a basic comp essay. Maybe once-a-week night courses simply aren't your preferred way to learn.

Regarding workload...

In the e-mail I sent out earlier today I noted that students who have demonstrated their ability to do a close reading won't have to do both Ex 2 and Ex 3. If I still haven't seen evidence that you can produce a literary close reading, my thinking is that it's much better that you know about it now -- and it will save you the time that you might otherwise have spent writing a paper that doesn't meet the assignment requirements.

The amount of reading (two weeks to read The Great Gatsby, a week to read Machinal, two weeks to read The Grapes of Wrath, and the Foster chapters as supplemental reading) are typical for a 200-level literature survey course, and in fact I used to assign three full-length papers instead of just two. (Because so many students were unhappy about bombing their first paper, I dropped that paper and replaced it with the close reading exercises.)

There are benefits and drawbacks to every one of the various possible methods of assessing whether each student is keeping up with the readings (pop quizzes, in-class reflection papers, online asynchronous discussion), and no single method is going to be equally effective for every student.

I never like cutting off an in-class discussion when it's productive, but we can try to push through that more efficiently in order to carve out time for visits to the computer lab, Certainly if there's anything else you want more of in class (canned lectures, where I talk and you listen and take notes? small-group discussions? close-reading handouts like the one I did for the Frost poem?) I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Meanwhile, I'd like to focus my energy on responding to individual requests for feedback on your progress towards the next close reading exersises. Feel free to send me a sample thesis statement, once you've got one, or bounce an idea off me.

I already have two appointments for my office hour Thurs at 3, so if you were thinking of stopping by please send me an e-mail so I can fit everyone in.

There's a saying about life on the internet... be liberal in how you interpret input, and conservative in how you give output.

That has nothing to do with politics, it's just good advice about human relations, and I'd like to acknowledge the civil tone of the online discussion (as well as the e-mails I've received).

When I first started teaching at SHU, I noticed that around three or four weeks into the term, the stress level suddenly shoots up. The tension will drop again right after midterms, and then it will pick up again the the last month of classes -- but by then you'll have a better handle on what the course is like.

Sorry Andrew. My hostility got the best of me at 2 AM and I somehow decided that I was angry that my group was mentioned. My comment wasn't simply directed towards you, even though, I admit, after reading it, it DID seem like it was. I didn't want to be rude, but I was, and I'm very sorry for acting so immaturely towards you. I have no problem with YOU for starting this blog, I just think that it got a bit out of control for a hot minute there. That's all. Seriously, no offense intended, and this IS NOT IN ANY WAY DIRECTED towards you, but I think there are better things for some of us to do than spend hours blogging about one issue within this class. Sorry for being such a (insert word I can't say in front of a professor), I just felt like someone had to say something about it. I truly was not trying to be a jerk towards you specifically though, and I am very very sorry that my words made it seem like that. Sorry.

So after I really thought about this whole situation, I have realized that this whole sitaution has been blown a little out of proportion. If we just focus on the tasks at hand and focus on them one at a time, we should not have a problem getting the work done. Time management is probably one of the toughest things to get used to in college. If set up a time management plan, and schedule out your day properly. Dr. Jerz has done a good job at looking into our concerns and I know he will make himself available to us in th future with any problems or concerns that we may have. If any of you still have any issues you are worried about. I would encourage you to email him or stop in his office, or even talk to people that has had a one on one with him and ask them. When you get stressed out.. all you need to do is take a deep breath..

See everyone is class on Monday

Leave a comment

Recent Comments

Nathan Hart on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: So after I really thought about this whole situati
Sara Benaquista on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: Sorry Andrew. My hostility got the best of me at 2
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: There's a saying about life on the internet... be
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: Anonymous, if I knew more about your specific situ
Andrew Adams on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: This does not really concern the work, because I h
Anonymous on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: I still feel that the work load is too hefty for t
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: I'm glad this forum has encouraged people to bring
Nathan Hart on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: Dr Jerz, I was wondering if finally, we could tal
Carlos Peredo on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: Dr Jerz, I can not speak for my classmates, but I
Sara Benaquista on Ex 2: Close Reading Group Exercise: I'd just like to say that I feel that this class r
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
1 02 3 4 5 06 7
8 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
1 02 3 4 5 6 7
8 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
      1 2 3 4
5 06 7 08 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30    
          1 2
3 04 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30