I’ve been a busy girl lately.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been turning around in my head the courses I’m going to be teaching next term. Since we’re essentially starting the English department from scratch, I’ve had a lot of freedom in putting together new syllabi and curricula for these courses. With all that freedom comes an almost crippling absence of guidelines, though; I fear that, without boundaries, I’ll go too far afield.
That’s where you all come in, Dear Readers. I’m planning to post the syllabi for each class I create here so that I can get your input, questions, comments, or suggestions before I print them up to submit to my director. The fine print of each course is going to be the same – I have identical expectations for attention and productivity for each group of students – so I’m more interested in what you think about my content; am I missing something rich or vital or just fun? Do you have any winner lesson plans to share that have worked for a course like this? If you were taking this course, what would you expect to emerge from the other side knowing, having experienced, or understanding?
Film and Literature
Charter High School
Course Description: Stories are an essential part of every human culture; they help us to make meaning and to understand ourselves, each other, and our place in the world. The means by which these stories are told – whether they are written, spoken, or acted on stage or screen – influences the way we approach and interpret them. Film, while it may be influenced by written work, should always be considered an entirely unique piece of art for the purposes of critique and analysis. This course explores the complex interplay between film and literature. Selected novels, short stories and plays are analyzed in relation to film versions of the same works in order to gain an understanding of the possibilities—and problems—involved in the transposition to film. We will also investigate films that do not have written work as their inspiration to discover the ways in which these stories work in terms of our understanding of the nature of literature and the role it plays in our lives.
*Students are cautioned that this course requires extensive reading and writing in addition to viewing films and taking part in class discussions. Students not prepared to read (up to 150 pages/week) and to write on a regular basis and to take an active part in class discussions should not consider taking this course.*
Objectives: In this class, students will;
• Enhance their ability to understand, appreciate, and discuss works of literature through extensive reading and discussion of short stories, novels and plays.
• Analyze works of fiction and drama for plot structure, setting, characterization, theme, and narrative point of view.
• Develop an understanding of critical analysis of film through careful examination of adaptations of literary texts, focusing on character development, dramatic structure, and performance.
• Learn and utilize the terminology of film analysis, both those terms shared with literary discussion (character, plot, theme, setting) and those specific to cinema (lighting, dialogue, special effects, etc.).
• Demonstrate an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition of literature to film, applying terminology and critical skills acquired during the semester to analyze a cinematic adaptation of a text not discussed in class.
Texts, Materials & Films:
• Monk Kidd, Sue. The Secret Life of Bees
• Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
• Grisham, John. The Client
• Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Access to a good dictionary (online is fine)
*A note about texts: I have no investment whatsoever in how you access these texts; you may buy them (new or used), you may borrow them from friends or the library, or you may obtain them online or as e-books. If you choose to go the electronic route, however, please understand that you must – must! – have the text with you in class; excuses about computer or printer problems will not be accepted.*
• The Secret Life of Bees. 2008; Gina Prince-Blythwood, dir.
• The Kite Runner. 2007, Mark Forster, dir.
• The Sixth Sense. 1999, M. Night Shyamalan, dir.
• Willow. 1988, Ron Howard, dir.
• Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 2007, David Yates, dir.
• The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 2005, Andrew Adamson, dir.
• Empire of the Sun. 1987, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
• The Client. 1994, Joel Schumacher, dir.
• Finding Nemo. 2003, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, dirs.
• Karate Kid. 1984, John Avildsen, dir.
• Hook. 1991, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
* this film list is subject to change and/or addition.
Expectations: There are certain things that I will expect from you and, likewise, there are a number of things that you can expect from me. First and foremost is respect. As a community of writers and thinkers, we must be able to trust one another. Writing (and thinking) is a process that most often involves missteps and risk-taking. We need to create an environment where it’s okay to express half-developed ideas, where we won’t feel ridiculous if the thought we started chasing turns out to be silly or unsupportable, and where we challenge each other to expand thinking beyond the safe and expected. To that end, it is vital that we approach this class – and each other – with a high level of respect. We’ll learn a lot from each other – this class is not about me imparting learning on you, but rather is a collaborative effort on all our parts – and we’ve got to be able to trust that we’ll support one another in the process of learning. Everything else that we do at a community of writers and thinkers will expand from that sense of trust and respect; without it, we’ll get no where.
Beyond that, there are certain day-to-day expectations that need to be made clear. You can expect me to be in class every day on time and prepared. You can expect me to take you seriously and to be entirely supportive of your own learning process. You can expect me to be clear about what I want from you in terms of work, both in class an out of it, and you can expect me to assess your work according to those standards. You can expect me to respond to your questions and concerns (whether they be class related or not) in a timely and respectful way. In short, you can expect me to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.
I expect you to be in class every day on time and prepared; that includes having completed any assigned reading and having all necessary materials with you in class. I expect you to be present and engaged in class and to take the time we have together seriously. I expect you to complete all the assignments I give, to participate in group activities, and to be a careful and conscientious participant in workshops with your classmates. I expect you to ask questions, to stretch beyond what you think are the “safe” answers, and to take full responsibility for your own learning. I expect you to come to me with any questions, problems, or concerns you have and, if your concerns are about an assignment, I expect you to come to me well before that assignment is due. I expect you to behave in a mature and respectful way toward the material, yourself, your classmates, and me. In short, I expect you to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.
*A word about participation: please be aware that my definition of participation does not include hiding behind a computer screen or a doodle pad. Unless we are actively working on a writing or research project, computers are to be completely closed and put away altogether. There will never be a time during class discussion that it’s okay to have earphones in your ears. Finally, while I understand that some people are able to focus better on what they’re hearing if they’re drawing or doodling, if I feel that your participation while you do such things is suffering, I will ask you to put them away.*
Assignments: As a practice, I don’t map out an entire course on a syllabus; I feel that limits the class too much and stifles our ability to follow fruitful tangents that may come up as a result of our thinking. That does not mean, however, that you won’t know about assignments in plenty of time to complete them. For day-to-day work, I will usually write the assignment on the board or simply tell you what we’re doing for the class. All homework is always posted on our class Haiku page. For major projects, I will print out an assignment sheet with detailed instructions and the assessment standards I will use to grade the work. These things will also be posted on the class webpage. It is your responsibility to understand the assignment completely before you begin; telling me that you “didn’t get it” is not an acceptable excuse for not having completed an assignment or for doing it poorly.
Unless you are absent from school, work not handed in on the due date will not be accepted and will count as a zero in your grade. If you are absent from class, it is your responsibility to find out what, if any, homework was assigned that day and to have it ready when you return to school. I do not offer make-up or extra credit work; I do, however, negotiate due dates with students who have legitimate reasons for not being able to complete an assignment on time. If you think you’re going to run into trouble getting something in when it’s due, let me know and we’ll come to an agreement that meets both of our needs. I will make every effort to have your work graded and returned to you in a timely fashion. Please keep in mind, however, that you only had to write one paper; I’ll have to read and assess everyone’s work.
Books and Permission Forms: All students must have all required texts by the second week of class. Failure to obtain the texts will result in your being administratively dropped from the course. Permission forms for the entire semester’s film schedule must be signed by a parent or guardian and returned before the first scheduled screening (likely the third class of the term). Failure to return the permission slip will result in your being administratively dropped from the course. Please email me directly if there are any questions or concerns about the films we’ll be viewing; I’ll be happy to address specific goals and objectives for the film(s) in question.