I'm remaking an assignment I'm really excited about that truly blends information literacy with English. I was talking to a friend about the ways we collaborated at Roosevelt where I was a librarian and she was a full-time comp instructor and it got me thinking. I had been trying so hard to teach "like an English professor" that I was neglecting my strenths. It was time to put me back into my teaching and stop trying so hard to "invent the university" the way we know our students do. My old literature essay had questions that were too open ended, to start, but worse -- I had research tucked away at the end of the course like I needed Me The Librarian to come along and talk about building the research process into the assignment.
So here is the redo in draft form and briefly summarized. It is a stretch to think about teaching literature research in a 100 level class that isn't truly a lit class. Do I teach literary research? Or do I teach the research process. Big build up.....I do both! Duh, right?
With 100-level students I usually work on developing good keywords, realistic scope, working from a research question and introduce concepts about information creation. How to do this for literature?
Students will find a reference article on a short story of their choice when we're in the library together and I'll guide them through this. They'll look up the author of the article and find out (most likely) that they're a university professor and they teach classes and we can talk about why they might have written this article. We'll look at where it's published to help them understand reference material -- what else is published there? Why is this created? Students will read their article, noting keywords and unfamiliar terms. Having them pick out keywords is harder than you'd think, so we'll spend a little time there. Then they'll summarize the entry. Literature reference articles are long so they get to practice summary which they're usually pretty skilled at and it's nice to do something well while you're otherwise being challenged. They also get to work on paraphrasing and condensing here. They'll end this portion by generating five questions they have after reading the article.
The next stage is the scholarly article assignment. I'll help them locate scholarly articles that take up their question. It's fun to get them to consider "has anyone else asked a question like this?" since that is part of a scholar's process. Then there's the magic: they don't need to simply start "using" them in an essay. Students will locate the author's question and identify the author's primary argument. Then they'll locate a place where the author is using textual evidence to support his or her claim and analyze how they structure this (probing questions provided). They'll locate a place where the author is responding to another scholar and the moves the author makes doing this, what kind of source they use, how it contributes to the argument, and if the student trusts the source.
Finally, they write a brief essay attempting to answer their question using their own ideas, textual evidence, and evidence from the scholarly and reference article. Later in the term, we build! (I hope).
What I like about this is I am remembering to teach them to be writers and researchers. I have found a way to honor their abilities and not overtax them with "using" a bunch of research they picked up on sale at the library in between other errands. I'll let you know how it goes.
I met a close friend the other day before work at a coffee shop. Both our toddlers were tucked away at daycare and our schedules aligned for a full half hour before I was off to teach English 102. She remarked that she had recently visited our remodeled neighborhood branch of the public library and lamented that it wasn't at all what she wanted.
"I wanted to feel like I was at an old Ivy League college. I wanted tall book shelves, dark wood, reading lamps, quiet --and it's nothing like that! It's so open with short stacks and computers and a Super Fun kids area."
I nodded slowly. I've tried to convince administrators that there is romance in libraries and been rebuked. She went on,
"Like, what are they? A computer center? A copy shop? what?" She asked.
We want to be everything to everyone. We're like a middle school kid that will do anything to get an invite to your party: wear different pants, act like our parents are married, change our hair. I get it, I get it, I get in. Times have changed. People don't go to the library on some admirable desire to sit at the feet of great books and educate themselves a la Martin Eden. I know they now go to work on a resume because they don't have a computer at home, watch pornography, and vote -- a great noble trifecta of tasks. And we fight that image with everything in us -- We're not quiet! We're modern! More than books! we yell from the rafters and yet people still come to libraries looking for books and looking for quiet. I don't want to kick out the computers. I love the public library maker labs. I also am so annoyed that I lost all my iPod music and glad I held on to my CDs and working on building up my vinyl collection. Because romance. Because of the real thing. Because of the physical version I can touch, see, and watch come alive. I believe in it and tall shelves and old wood and reading lamps in a LEED certified building. Do you really think college kids will continue to brag about having sex in the library if they no longer think they're defiling a holy place? Come on, right?
You may or may not know that 100% of children's books with animal characters have male characters while only 31% have female characters (see here). It doesn't stop at animals. Consider the following statistics (source):
- 57% of children's books published each year have male protagonists, versus 31% female.
- As with television and film, books with animated characters are a particularly subtle and insidious way to marginalize based on sex, gender and race. In popular children's books featuring animated animals, 100% of them have male characters, but only 33% have female characters.
- The average number of books featuring male characters in the title of the book is 36.5% versus 17.5% for female characters.
Researchers claim (and I agree) that this teaches children that girls and women are less important than boys and men, that their stories are not universal, and that they're stories are fringe or special.
Consider that this weekend I walked into the Kalamazoo Air Zoo with my wife, toddler son, and aunt-in-law. The docent asked us informed us about one section "I think you would really like" -- women in aviation. Of course I'm pleased they don't feature just male pilots or just white male pilots (there was also an exhibit on the Tuskegee air men), but pissed we were supposed to like it because it was about women because we're women? Women or black male pilots stay special when we act like they're only for women or black male pilots; but that's who the exhibit is about. I didn't stick around to see if she suggested that to groups of dads and sons, but I doubt she did. I also realize that we're not at the point where we can act like female pilots and black pilots weren't special, historically since they were battling more than the rigorous training programs, but come on? Do they have to be in a separate room -- only. The only is what really gets me.
I take this into my own hands at home and destroy the authorial intent in children's books by changing the gendered pronouns or names of the main character. We have at least a handful of books where gender is only indicated in one or two places, but it's always male.