Metawriting posts from the new blog location

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Walking Dead in my writing classroom

How to kill those zombie students before campus is overrun

Yes, I am talking about the comic book and TV series, but in some ways this is also an apt description of the level of engagement most of my students bring to Eng 200 or Writing II. We have a two course general education writing sequence at my institution – Writing I and Writing II. Writing I is the typical freshmen writing class that has been around for decades and similar to offerings on other campuses around the United States. Writing II is a different animal entirely. It is rather like the platypus in that no one really knows what it is. Is it a bird or a reptile or a mammal? I plagued my co-workers when I started at MSU to help me identify the species of Writing II but much like the blind men describing the elephant I could not get the big picture based on their individual responses. During my decade at this institution, the course has gone through two revisions and yet we still grapple with it. The other day I had a conversation with a new hire that echoed my own struggle to come to terms with the class more than 10 years ago. And much like colleagues then (and now) all I can do is share my own interpretation of the class and wish him the best of luck.

The most current version, born of frustration, is a compromise and no one is entirely happy with it. The concept itself is OK in that we explore humanity’s “big ideas” through reading and writing, but the actual execution is somewhat lacking. While some instructors are offering some interesting versions and some students are doing some interesting work within the framework, the hallway conversations frequently confess that overall the class is not accomplishing its primary goal (improving student writing). Worse, faculty and student engagement in the class is low. Many instructors dread teaching it and students dread taking it.

However, this week after engaging in an animated discussion about my current obsession with The WalkingDead (shared by many of my friends and family and millions of others), I had a bit of a brainstorm. What if I could have my students explore those “big ideas” not just as they are found in these important cultural readings (mostly by long dead people who are not going to reanimate) but also as they are explored in popular culture – specifically comic books. Now, I am not a comic book scholar but as the mother of an 11-year-old boy I have spent quite a bit of time in recent years becoming conversant in comic book heroes and viewing my share of comic book heroes brought to life (via the magic of movies not a zombie virus). After all, our comic book heroes (and villains) are grappling with the same issues that drive the philosophers we are studying in our reader – good vs. evil, the needs of the individual vs. society, and defining/defending humanity (literally and figuratively), and so on.

I think this class can be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get started. I am sure there are many of you out there who have are already doing something similar (in fact I can name some friends that I’m almost sure are doing so). Probably that is where my idea came from after percolating in my brain. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and suggestions with me.

1 comment:

  1. I've done something similar with our composition II class, which is a literary analysis class. My students analyzed the themes of stories and poems in reference to other "texts" (song, photograph, painting, etc.). They got to choose these other texts. We can't completely take out the formal literature element of the course because it's a prerequisite to sophomore literature.

    Have fun with it!