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Using the Critical List: Reflections

If you've been to the course listserv page, you know what a listserv is, how to join your section's listserv, why we have a class listserv, and what to do if you run into problems using the listserv. This page is meant to let you know what the reflective essays are for and how to do them. My goal is to make this page as useful to you as possible, so let me know if it can be improved. If anything is badly worded, unclear, or missing, please contact me with constructive criticisms. Thanks.

What They Are

Roughly every third week, no later than 10 pm Friday, you must post to your section's listserv a 500-1000-word reflective essay in which you thoughtfully respond to and reflect on key issues raised by our readings, discussion questions, in-class discussions, and/or team pedagogical project from that week by either (1) discussing how you would use that week's interpretive strategies to interpret a literary work or cultural text of your choice and what that application reveals about the strengths and weaknesses of that interpretive mode; (2) identifying a debate or dispute among proponents of that week's interpretive mode or between them and proponents of a different interpretive mode and explaining/justifying your position on it; (3) choosing a discussion question or questions from that week's listserv postings to respond to by offering your take on relevant readings and class discussions. No more than one reflective essay per week will count toward your total for the semester.

What For

The reflective essays are your opportunity to thoughtfully respond to key issues raised by our readings, discussion questions, in-class discussions, and/or team pedagogical projects. I recommend using them primarily as a means to help you clarify your own thinking on issues that are puzzling, frustrating, confusing, or interesting you. Writing is not just a tool for communicating already-formed ideas; it is also a process by which you discover or invent or otherwise generate those ideas. By putting your thoughts into words, you figure out what you really believe--or at least test out provisional hypotheses. Hence, one key function of the reflective essays is to give you a chance to go beyond what's already been discussed in class by me or your peers--to go more in-depth, to be more specific and organized, and to develop your ideas and analyses further than is typically possible when speaking off the cuff. The reflective essays, that is, give you an opportunity to look back on what we did that week and generate some (at least tentative) coherence out of what was likely to be a great deal of complex and difficult materials--to find, for yourself, some lens through which the key concepts and methodologies of the week come into clearer focus, some thread that runs throughout the labyrinth of our readings and discussions for the week, or some bridge from what we did that week to what we did in previous weeks or what you're doing in another course.

The reflective essays also give you a chance to practice writing for a specific audience: your peers in this class. By submitting them to the course listserv, you are adding a more public dimension to your "thinking through" a particular issue than would take place in a reading journal or assignment turned in to your instructor only. So frame your reflections in a way that will be interesting, enlightening, provocative, even entertaining for your classmates. Given that we're all (supposed to be) reading each other's reflective essays this semester, it's in your best interest to make that reading experience as fun as it can possibly be for others without sacrificing substance. If everyone does this, the listserv component of the class will be a positive supplement to our class discussions and food for more formal assignments, rather than a chore or drudgery. It's up to you to keep your audience in mind as you write your reflections!

Hence, the reflective essays are addressed to the two main goals of the course. By doing them regularly, you should develop (1) an awareness of your own acts of interpretation in reading and (2) an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to interpretation and criticism.

The reflective essays are finally an assessment tool. Your grade on them will be determined by the number of on-time essays you post to the course listserv. Since there are fourteen weeks when reflective essays are due in the semester, and since you are allowed nine missed weeks without penalty, 5 or more essays=A; 4=B; 3=C; 2=D; 1 or 0=E. Essays will be graded on a +/0/-/F basis (F essays will not be counted toward your total for the semester); the quality of your reflective essays will be factored into your preparation/participation grade (see above).

How To

Here are some potentially useful strategies for generating reflective essays. I'll be adding to this list based on what people actually do with their essays on the listserv.

If you find it difficult to come up with reflective essays, it's probably a sign that you're not reading carefully enough or giving yourself enough processing/brainstorming time. Adjust your work schedule accordingly. If you don't, you'll find it very difficult to complete the pedagogical project or final project as successfully as you'd like. Or to put the point more positively: the more work you put right now into reflecting on what we've been reading and talking about, the better off you'll be when it comes time to prepare your pedagogy projects and write your final project.

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ENGL 345: Critical Reading, Fall 2005
Created: 9/7/05 7:00 pm
Last modified: 9/7/05 7:00 pm
For earlier versions of this course, please go to the Spring 2004, Spring 2002, or Fall 2001 web sites.
Webmaster: Bruce Simon, Associate Professor of English, SUNY Fredonia