Big Books of American Literature, Spring 2006
Mid-Semester Evaluations
What's Working
What Isn't
Jorge So far I've truly been enjoying the course. I like the way we are handling discussions in class as they motivate me to read books that I never thought I would enjoy reading. The one thing, however, that has been driving me insane is that we don't get grades for any of our work. I know it's kinda silly putting so much pressure on a little number posted on an essay, but it helps me keep track of how I am really doing in the class, if my work from one essay to another has improved, and how much more committed do I have to be for the writing of the next one. Besides, if we receive a grade at the end of the semester, I don't see why we shouldn't get grades during the semester so we can make the proper adjustments during the course before it's too late to change anything. That's my only complain. Otherwise I'm delighted with the course.
Erin am really liking the course so far. I find the discussions very interesting to listen to...I really like the class and all the different perspectives people are bringing to the issues we're discussing. The games/activities are nice change of pace sometimes too. The lack of grades that Jorge mentioned doesn't bother me so much, I have to admit. I think Anne's comments give a good idea of how she felt about your paper, and I get the sense that as long as you keep developing your ideas, keep the thought process moving along, you'll be ok. that's all i have.... I really like the class and all the different perspectives people are bringing to the issues we're discussing. ...but I find it hard sometimes to put in my own thoughts because the pace is very fast and I take a bit longer to process my thoughts. Also, I liked what Anne said about if something has already been said we should let it pass on; no need to reiterate 5 times. I feel like this still happens a fair amount though. Maybe that's something we could all work on. I for one, know I need to talk more, and I hope that with a bit more space in the discussion some of us who don't process and talk as quickly can find our voices...
Jillian -Using movie clips, critical analyses, and excerpts from other works to understand and examine our assigned texts from new angles
-The "games" we've been playing/having to explain why we took certain positions in those games
-Broad range of discussion topics in class
-Lack of focus questions on writing assingments (would like to have some guidance there--too many options at present)
-Pre laid out discussion plans; not enough room for students to lead/deviate from "the plan"
-Tendency to have same points repeated multiple times
Alice I'm really enjoying the on-the-screen outline for each class and the multimedia, especially when it's media that you wouldn't at first think of connecting to the book....I like the broad paper topics, because they give me room to do almost whatever I want....I like almost nothing better than a discussion or tangent that comes out of nowhere and sends me off to strange, strange places that I never planned on. I'm not a big fan of having each class's discussion completely designed in advance as Jill said, although I really don't know to what extent things are or are not allowed to deviate from the plan.
Allie Overall, I look forward to coming to class and the hour and a half tends to go by quickly. I like the reading material and am interested in our approaches to, or jump offs from, discussion through other literary criticisms and the class forum. In response to complaints of belaboring points or being repetitious as a class-maybe the use of specific examples or quotes from the texts, as used to support individual comments/arguments, would help to ground and direct us in a more linear discussion.
Adina I'm enjoying the class and I do like that the discussions are somewhat prepared in advance because it gives them a focus. I feel like we still have enough room to talk about what's on our minds, especially because much of the preparation comes from the forum. Like others who have posted, I also feel overwhelmed by the broad essay topics, but the writing conferences can help with that.
Laura O -Class games(!), they give many different people a chance to share, I feel like we hear more variety in opinion that way
-Personal opinions/reader response type commentary, because they seem to invoke more engaged discussion than pretentious abstract dribble which tends to confuse me
-The new Not-Raising-Hands-While-Others-Speak Policy, with this new trend I personally find myself better able to listen and absorb others' comments

For next semester...I'd just like to request that we try to cover both books (letter and huck) because they are amazing! I read both in high school, and I would really like to have a second go in college with this class. So let's read on!

-The pre laid out discussion plans also stress me out because we never seem to get to the end of the webpage of ideas. It makes me wonder whether or not we have accomplished enough.
Laine Overall I am enjoying the class and I am looking forward to the next half of the semester. As usual, I always struggle with the question of how/why is somthing "useful" to you. Although I think I am coming to terms with the reasoning behind the question and have learned through this class and the evoluction class I took how I can answer that question so that it is most "useful" to me.
Sky What's working for me:

I actually do like the structured aspect of the discussions, and (as much as I am a slacker about doing them) the online postings. I'm really enjoying the books we've got, although I hadn't entirely expected to and I'm worried about Huck (never gotten past the first chapter before). I'm frankly sort of thrilled to be in an English class at all, since I'm a hard science major and was afraid I'd be swallowed whole by English majors who actually know what they're talking about, but I think the way our discussions are run they can be very inclusive and that looking at the text in a different way actually gives me an "in" into the conversation, rather than shutting me out....

Otherwise, I'm having a blast!

on the other hand...

What isn't working for me:

I worry that I don't have enough background in the culture of the period and in literary analysis (read: none) to keep up sometimes, and that we collectively need to figure out the difference between what a book meant 150 years ago and what it means for us now. I know I had to come to terms with that for UTC, and that it helped me immensely. But maybe that's just me. And I hate to sound so picky, but I get antsy when a class goes past its time on a regular basis - I know it's only a couple of minutes, but that means a lot when you've got to get across campus for the next one.

Laura S I keep putting off writing this because I think maybe I'll be more coherent about it later, but that hasn't happened yet. So it's rambling you get.

-the books! I thought I was going to hate "big books of American literature" but I felt like I should read them. Pleasantly surprised that they're actually enjoyable reads.
-the interdisciplinary stuff. As a psychology major, I really like being able to incorporate the way I have to think for psychology in the discussion/in my papers. [However, when we were focusing on theories of emotion, it was somewhat frustrating to have a class discussing psychological theories without some of the basic commitments that make such discussions possible in the psychology department - particularly operational definitions of key terms.] Also, uber-excited for Prof. Ross & Schulz' visits.
-the structured activities. Although unstructured discussion is sometimes very productive (and necessary in an English class), I think that sometimes we get to the point where our discussions are just not generating new ideas. The structured activities helped us get past that.
-the freedom with assignments - having choice of when to turn in the papers and what to write about. I actually prefer having no guidance(although I can see how it could be frustrating).
-the writing conferences and in-depth feedback on papers.

Not working:
-like Jorge, I would love grades on my papers. Just so I know where I'm heading. I don't like surprises.
-this is probably just a matter of perception, but there was a point in class today where I felt a little personally attacked. While I appreciate dialogue about intellectual issues, I prefer that responses be addressed to my ideas, not me personally. It would have been more fitting if the response had simply opened up the possibility that opinions and comfort levels can develop over time, rather than focusing on whether I personally will ever want to dance naked in public.
-I wish there were more dialogue on the forums. I feel like we do a lot of what we do in the classroom - say what we have to say without responding to others' ideas or letting them change our minds. I wonder if maybe this is the result of the once a week posting policy? I know that in my mind it makes me feel like, "Well, my once a week is done." I wish we were talking to each other more!
-On that same note, I wish we were dialoguing about our papers. They are all there, and I am reading them, and I wish we were using this forum to share ideas and responses and feedback with one another! I think we are missing out on a really valuable resource here.
-$20 packet. Since we're not using it. And since half the stuff was accessible on the web. Maybe in the future it could be Blackboarded? (Blackboard's forums might also provide a better place for forums to become more dialogue-oriented - the format makes it easier to respond to particular posts)
-Please stop giving away the ending.
Steph Alright, midterm evaluation:

- i like the no grade system, it takes away a lot of the pressure to work for a specific number. it makes it more difficult to write the paper, however, since you have to like the topic enough to want to write about it without getting the immediate gratification of a grade.
- discussion of class dynamics: i like that we can try to change classroom behavior in the classroom, and think it's a great way to actually make these changes happen (hopefully).

not working:
- lack of paper topic focus: it would be nice to get some general suggetions, nothing mandatory, but just ideas to get our own brainstorming started, especially if we can't make it to a conference with Anne before every paper
- class discussions that spiral in every direction: i like that we can talk about a variety of subjects each day, but like others have said above, it makes me a little anxious about our actual discussion of the novel, and what points we're missing by discussing something else instead.
Angeldeep So far so good, discussions are interesting, and I do like that there is some structure but room to wander. I particularly enjoy the multimedia accompaniments we had for UTC. It offers new and interesting ways to deal with the material, making the process a lot more engaging.

I contrast to a couple of comments I read, I like the ability to work on whatever we choose for papers, it challenges me to find something I WANT to write rather than have to.

I also appreciate the effort everyone has put in to aid the understanding of Christian references :)

Emily So far, I've enjoyed the various ways we've approached the novels. Incorporating film clips, games, and artistic images have helped me find greater meaning in the books. One game which I really enjoyed, after overcoming my initial fear, was fishbowl. The ideas were quick but concentrated; it prevented the conversation from getting repeated and seemed to breed new points of view on the spot. I also enjoy the weekly web postings. They seem to initiate the flow of ideas the continues in class. By reading the postings of fellow students, I constantly get new ideas and perspectives....Anyway, the class is a very welcome alterante style from most. I love that it constantly feels like an experiment. Now for what would be nice to change. My first is almost silly, but when in class, I find it difficult to concentrate on passages that are read aloud. I never seem to take them in, making it impossible for me to have a response to them. Another probelm I sometimes encounter is discussing everything on a full class level. I think it might be useful at times to divide into smaller groups to form ideas, and then come back together as a class to explore them further. This might make it eassier to form ideas, and might lead to more productive class discussions. Finally, it would be helpful to know a little more clearly how I'm doing in the class overall. I like the idea of no grades on papers, I'm just afraid it will come back to haunt me at the end of the semester. I'm trying to think of some half-way alterantive... the conferences were helpful, but I'm still ot sure where I stand.
Marina -I really like how we don't receive grades on our papers, but instead get comments to help us improve without the pressure of seeing the numbers. It makes me feel like I can actually concentrate on improving my writing.

-I enjoy the small discussion games we play; they keep the class interesting.

--I am enjoying taking this class having the opportunity to give some feedback.

-I don't like not being able to raise my hand. It is not one student's responsibility to try and not talk so that the other students (who may not want to talk) can get up their courage to speak in class. We are in college and if we have something to say we should be able to raise our hand. (I don't think it is fair to be penalized for having something to say; that is the way I learn. Raising my hand and participating in class helps me to pay attention and stay involved in what I am learning.)

-The class is too rushed. We are expected to read these books at much too quick a pace. It is very hard to try to understand the book, or even enjoy it, when you have to rush through it. I definitely liked the idea of eliminating one of the books, which will allow us a little more time to spend on each book, to take it in, and learn from it.

Margaret what is working:

-the class games

-the pace of the books

what isn't working:

-I agree with previous posts that the class seems too rushed and there seems to be little room for discussion, I myself limit what I say because I feel that it is most assuredly not in the direction the discussion has been designed to go. It is slightly confusing whether we are supposed to actually discuss (which I believe rarely happens) or just regurgitate what we have previously discussed/posted online.

-I also had a problem with the first day we did for UTC--without having read the entire book it was difficult to form an opinion of which critic I agreed with.

-doing mid-semester evaluations online

Jessica I mainly wanted to post b/c I wanted to voice a pro-plan opinion. I like the webpage, and that Anne has some form for discussion, points she wants us to get to. I don't know everything (usually v. little) about the critical background for the texts we're reading. I think we can stop worrying about how fast we go; whatever we get to is what we need to get to. I find it extra helpful, because its so much easier for me to comprehend and remember theory when its attached to a text. To repeat some of what others are saying, but the only things that I would try and fix: the repeatetiveness of conversation, and how we can get sidetracked on personal annecdotes. I think that's why class sometimes feels so short. It's great to have a friendly, open group where people feel they can share, but these texts are so rich, I get annoyed when we get too distracted. The only way for us to fix this, though, is to be aware of it. While ofcourse Anne could just cut us off, I think everyone involved would prefer if we self-regulate.
AlisonI am really enjoying the class so far and find it very interesting and intriguing. I have been pleasantly surprised by the other students and how often they share the same boredom or excitement that i have. I like how the class is run with various topics and sources put up and Prof Dalke acting as traffic cop and contributor to the discussions. I don't mind not getting grades directly on papers, trusting my end grade will be reasonable....I was worried the discussions would fizzle out but people seem to have a lot of interesting points to make....I would like to keep our class the same for the rest of the year and the discussions as organic as possible. Sometimes, the discussions get a little to philosophical for me and i forget what we are talking about and how we arrived at a point....sometimes we seem to be sharing too many anecdotes.
Anne's Summary/Suggestions 3 of you want grades; 3 of you want "focus questions" for your writing. Sorry; I won't be providing those.

1 of you wants us to always stop on time; can do that.

2 of you want "background"--I can try providing more of that, but it'll be hard to jive w/

--complaints from 3 of you about the classes being "over-designed" (i.e.: "not enough room to deviate," "little room for discussion," "just regurgiating")

--and counter-complaints from 4 of you asking for discussions to be "more grounded, linear," less "spiral," less "distracted," less "ancedotal," more "self-regulated."

Let's try to address both of these today, drawing on Emily's suggestion that we try some small-group work....