One choice that I wanted to adhere to in designing my first college writing course was that I would have my students read some Science Fiction. Since I settled on the space exploration theme for the class, I thought that Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was the path of least resistance to bringing SF into the writing classroom, particularly when the majority of them had never read SF (a suspicion confirmed by talking with my students).
I assigned the novel as part of the second unit of the course, in which my students will write their second formal essay. Over the course of two weeks, I have my students read one (during the week) or two parts (over a weekend), and we come together to talk it over in class. In addition to the text, I bring a lot of materials to class such as documentary videos and still images from the Kubrick’s film and astronomy observations. Also, I bring my science background to class, because my students have had many poignant and spot-on questions about the science that takes place in the novel. The integration of science, which they should have had some exposure to in high school, into the writing curriculum allows for another level of instruction in addition to the tremendous, yet not impossible, amount of writing that I require of my students. Also, their curiosity about how and why things work the way that they do is leading them down the path to developing better critical thinking skills.
I can report that there have been good days and bad days in regard to our discussions on the novel. A large part of that is my own lack of experience in leading discussion, using wait time, and encouraging my students to think about things before class through tailored assignments. I spend a lot of time, a whole hell of a lot of time, planning my classes. My student’s weekly two page journals have been an invaluable resource for altering course when one thing works better than another, because I can get their reflective feedback on things that we do, in addition to my own observations of class and my performance.
As much as I’ve enjoyed using 2001: A Space Odyssey thus far in class, I’ve now come up against a wall regarding their next writing assignment. I have a couple of ideas, but I will have to narrow these down tomorrow and put together a handout to give out on Friday after we finish talking about Bowman’s exit and return through the Star Gate.
This returns us to planning. I’m still grappling with finding the appropriate time to devote to class planning and responding to my students’ work. I can confidently say at this point in my burgeoning professional career as a teacher and researcher that I cannot meet my students on the page with the same intensity and time as someone such as Carmen Kynard, who writes about her work and experiences as an instructor in her article, “‘Y’all Are Killin’ Me up in Here’: Response Theory from a Newjack Composition Instructor/SistahGurl Meeting Her Students on the Page.” I wish that I could, but there isn’t enough time in the day (and I’m only teaching one course–Kynard writes about having 140 students!). I spent approximately 10 hours evaluating my students’ first essay, and I regularly spend at least an hour and a half to two hours prepping for each class. I realize that this is my first time teaching, so I’m building up an archive of materials and methods of teaching that I will be able to remix and re-purpose in future classes, but at this point, it all seems rather overwhelming to me. I want to give my students my all, because I expect no less from them. On the other hand, teaching is only one aspect of my PhD career at this point, and I have to engage the courses that I’m taking and produce my own work for those courses (and conferences–I still have to rewrite my Transsexual Technologies paper for SLSA 2008).
So, that’s my report thus far from a lone spaceman in tiny pod floating in space and feeling many millions of miles from home. Luckily, my shipboard computer didn’t try to kill me, but the stresses of second year PhD life are taking its toll.