#WYOA: week five

To be or not to be … that is the adventure!

Monday was devoted to an in-class read-through of Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be. A read-through and a half, actually: after successfully killing Claudius as the ghost of Hamlet Sr., we played a bit as Ophelia (stopping somewhere around Hamlet’s fouling of his stockings). It was fun, and interesting to see what choices the students made—and their choices were often nearly unanimous, which surprised me.

Also on Monday, I gave them a post-paper cool-down assignment, due Friday: find a picture, and describe it in a thousand five hundred words. I haven’t read these yet, but most of them said on Friday that it was fairly difficult—perhaps because they didn’t choose images based on how easy it would be to write about them.

Wednesday was a bad day. I was being observed by one of the writing program’s senior faculty, who’s tasked with overseeing the grad students teaching writing. (She’s very nice, and this is the fifth semester we’ve worked together in this capacity. She’s a bit unsure about the CYOA approach I’m taking, but still very supportive.) The students came unprepared—all but one or two forgot the book I’d asked them to bring, which we needed for the paragraph-coherence exercise I had planned. I improvised, using Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” instead of student writing, and it did not work. They were completely disengaged—several students were reading for other classes, one was surfing the internet, several were about to fall asleep… it was a bad day, and I’m done talking about it.

…except to say that the students played a few rounds of Five Card Flickr, except with cards from the first Cards Against Humanity set.

Friday went pretty well, I guess. I assigned their second paper—an analysis of a contemporary cultural phenomenon, written as an outline (to emphasize structure and organization)—and we talked about it, briefly. We talked about the “worth a thousand words” assignment, and I had them describe a few of the images in far fewer words (15; 10; 5).

Then we returned to To Be Or Not To Be, and I had them spend fifteen or twenty minutes, in groups, mapping part of the book. I started them, as Ophelia, at the moment when she and Hamlet are trying to decide how to kill Claudius: stabbing, drowning, blasting into space (they settle for a hot air balloon, and he first suffocates and then plummets to earth), and a CYOA-book-within-a-CYOA-book. Each of the four groups had a different branch—Hamlet and Ophelia have different, diverging plans for drowning, so nobody got “blast him into space.”

I’m planning to map, as a class, a different section of the book on Monday—Ophelia and Gertrude’s “to the death” chess match, probably—and that will probably be the end of that. My hope is that these exercises are helping them think about structure and organization in a slightly different way, and that this will result in better outline-papers. We’ll see.

Now, I have to finish grading their first papers, so that I can hand back at least part of the growing pile of student work on my desk.

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