“It has made me more confident in myself, and I don’t view Shakespeare’s work as intimidating anymore.” –freshman student reflecting on the first half of my “Shakespeare in Context” course.
In lieu of reading comprehension quizzes, I have students post informal responses. They respond to an orientation lecture and each act of the play as they read, and finally they write a brief synthesis paper. That cycle usually takes about two weeks. Each unit includes two such cycles and a podcast of some sort. At the end of the unit, they reflect on their work in categories like “risk,” “depth,” “intertextuality,” and so forth. The last unit is shorter, to make room for a final research paper.
One problem I’m facing — and it’s not a bad problem to have — is that I designed the many brief forum assignments (just 100 words, or a recording of them speaking for 45 seconds) to encourage and reward quick responses (“Here’s what I noticed when I was reading this act”) modeled after the kind of 10-minute writing activities I would assign during an in-person class. As the course progresses, and the students have more complex things to say about what they’ve read, some students are committing to making those routine responses the best they can write — and that’s a big time commitment.
I have told some high-performance over-achievers things like “If you wrote half the words, I’d still have given this assignment a 10/10” and after the course was underway I shifted a few things so I’m no longer requiring a separate response for each act (for example, lumping together responses for acts 2 & 3 and acts 4 & 5).
Even though the writing is great practice, this is a 200-level course on “Shakespeare in Context,” so there’s a lot to cover. Perhaps, in the time they are currently spending demonstrating how well they can write about the play they’ve just read, my students might be better off reading — and simply enjoying — another play.
Something to think about the next time I teach this course.