Same Question, Different Forum

A while ago, I started a conversation in the “old room” about what I’m going to have my composition students read next term. I’m determined that they’re going to read – a lot – and I’m looking for suggestions from you, Loyal Readers, about what I should send their way.

My main motivation for asking you this is purely selfish. I’ve got PLENTY of reading material I could give my students – I’ve bookshelves full of anthologies and short story collections and poetry – but I want to do something different. I want to read stuff I’ve never read before; I want to learn something new.

Now, I’m not even going to PRETEND that I’ve read everything in the books on my shelves; if I could live to 125 and devote the rest of that life to reading, I’m not sure I’d get to everything in my bookshelves. What I AM saying is that I, like most humans, am a creature of habit. I go back to the comfortable and familiar. If left to my own devices, I’d give them the stuff *I* know and love – Hawthorne, Frost, Rilke, Shelley (Frankenstein is my ALL time favorite) and the like. By asking you to make suggestions, I get to share in your reading experience and expand my own horizons. Bringing new material into the classroom also affords me one of my favorite teaching techniques. I love to teach by modeling.

I think that a lot of students come to the classroom under the assumption – conscious or otherwise – that the teacher knows everything. I find that some of my best teaching has come when I’ve been exploring the material right along with my students. Admitting to them that I have no experience with the text we’re working with, and then showing them how I approach new learning experiences and working with them to come to some sort of understanding about it gives them insight into how teachers learn. We may have control of the chalkboard and we may have fancy-sounding degrees, but we teachers are always still learning. Showing students how scholars learn, rather than standing at the front of the class and lecturing about a topic is, perhaps, one of the most important lessons we can teach.

So! I’m opening this question back up in THIS space. I’m looking for suggestions for short pieces that I can give to my composition students starting in January. No novels, please, but short stories, articles, blog entries, poetry, essays, op-ed pieces, songs, news stories – pretty much anything that tops out under four pages is game. What have you read that’s impressed, challenged or changed you? Where have you encountered a turn of phrase so perfect as to be sublime? What’s made you laugh, infuriated you, or brought you to tears? What do you think writing students should read?

(I also want suggestions for audio/visual materials. Art. Movie clips. NPR stories (StoryCorps or This I Believe. I did my Master’s thesis on using film in the classroom and recognize the power that audio/visual media has in inspiring writing, so I’m not limiting my students’ experiences to the written word. I’m taking any and all suggestions, so let ‘er rip!)



Filed under Learning, Questions, Teaching

11 responses to “Same Question, Different Forum

  1. I’m pretty sure that James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is over four pages, but it is one of my favourite short stories in the world. The ending always makes me cry and shiver with the beauty of it. You should read it if you haven’t, even if you don’t use it for a class…

    I don’t go for the Mary Shelley love, but Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is one of my favourite poems about writing and inspiration, along with Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.” I love my Romantics. The second to last stanza of “Ode to the West Wind” speaks to me with its yearning to be caught in a great rush of inspiration. “O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! / I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” Ahh, Percy!

    T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock,” of course. Wallace Stevens. I guess “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a great classroom piece, though I like a lot of his lesser known work better. I’ve been reading a lot of Diane di Prima lately and I think she’s just absolutely marvelous. I’ll probably type up some of her work and put it on my blog. I have half a dozen books of Pablo Neruda on my shelves. Hard to think of particular poems because I try to read them in Spanish mostly, but he has a book called Ode to Common Things, an idea that I love. The best is “Ode to a Pair of Socks:”

    Annie Dillard’s essay “Seeing” is very lovely, very exuberant. A lot of the time I find her work too similar, a little too close to saccharine, but she’s in top form in “Seeing.” Perhaps the entire essay would not be appropriate, but I think that in sections she describes really nicely the importance — and, in many ways, the futility — of minute observation.

    More later. I like books better than essays or short stories, so it’s harder for me to think of shorter work without staring at my shelves.

  2. What about text from speeches? I’ve a few I’d like to suggest, but not sure they would qualify for what you’re lookin’ for.

  3. Speeches may be more appropriate for the class I just finished teaching, but there’s nothing that says that composition students can’t read speeches, too. Actually, I think that there are a lot of speeches that would work really well in a comp class.

    What I’m tryin’ to say here is suggest them anyway, Snob. I’m taking suggestions – all suggestions – and I want yours, too.

  4. Well, here are a few, just in case you find they work.

    JFK’s Inaugural Address –

    Barack Obama, “The Audacity of Hope” 2004 Democratic National Convention

    MLK “I Have a Dream”

    Grammatically speaking, the text of a speech is not what it should be. The composition of the text, however, can make or break it. I find that a good speech reads as well as it sounds. It is not always the speaker, but the speech WRITER who can create history with words.

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