thinking about a YA Lit class…

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I’m in the process of planning a writing-about-literature class. I want to focus on Young Adult Lit, for lots of reasons: I like to read it, it’s having a huge “moment” right now that would be interesting to interrogate in a scholarly way with students, and I see YA Lit as a kind of “literature gateway drug.” It can be a way in for students who “hate reading,” or who “just don’t read, man.” It can help them dip a toe into literary analysis and even just enjoyment of literature.

As I think about how to structure such a class, I have lots of ideas about assignments, and texts I want to introduce. Perhaps structuring the class around a question, such as: “What is YA Lit, anyway?” could be interesting and survey-ish, taking us through the history of YA Lit and some current conversations about it, but would also offer plenty of footholds for students to write their way in to the conversation.

A couple of things I’m musing on as I brainstorm:

1. Integrating multiple modalities: this semester, I’ve been thinking more theoretically about digital humanities and its place in my classrooms. I’ve always integrated “new technologies” in my pedagogy, just as a function of my generation and the era in which I went to grad school. However, I’m thinking more pointedly about it, lately. Having my students write in public digital genres is a feature I’m considering more seriously as I plan courses. (think, blogs, but also Wikipedia, Amazon reviews, etc.) Still not sure how this might play out in a specifically Lit class, but I’m excited to try it out.

2. Grading: I will tell anyone who cares to listen that grading is the LEAST great part of teaching. It honestly sucks. I hate it. We can’t get rid of it, though, for a million not-great reasons. (sigh) Grading is especially sucky, I think, in writing classes, because there is such a process to writing well, and grades just skew students’ focus. Reading this post on hybridpedagogy has got me considering grading contracts, like, more seriously than ever. A friend of mine is having great success with them in her composition classes, and it is something that I’m curious about. I wonder, though, how it might play out in a writing-about-literature class, as opposed to straight up comp. Hm.

The brainstorming continues…


It used to be the most boring word: assessment. In the beginning of my master’s program, I thought there could be nothing more mind-numbing. That was before. Before I became involved with assessment, and before I understood its power. In the first chapter of her book, Assessment Clear and Simple, Barbara Walvoord underscores this point when she declares that “the end of assessment is action” (4). Assessment, done correctly and by educators and stakeholders who are passionate about student learning and creative in their practices can bring about positive changes at the curricular, program and even institutional levels. In his article, “English Program Assessment and the Institutional Context,” John Ulrich describes two functions (or perhaps, motivations?) behind assessment: the first is that it is a very smart thing for any English department or writing program to engage in, purely for defense purposes. In an increasingly hostile academic environment, a strong assessment system can buffer against administrator ire. It can also perhaps be used as evidence to support an argument for, say, funding. The other function of assessment is to help teachers teach better. “What we want, after all,” Ulrich declares, “is to read and discuss our students’ written work in the context of program expectations, not analyze abstract sets of scores that allegedly ‘measure’ our program’s effectiveness” (4). The contrast here, is I think, between my original assumption of what assessment was (boring! abstract! lacking context!) and what I’ve come to realize it can be (extremely strategic! useful! helpful for teaching!).
Now, I’ve been involved in program assessment at two different universities, and both focused on Composition Program assessment. For this reason, it was fascinating to read through Wilder and Wolfe’s study, “Sharing the Tacit Rhetorical Knowledge of the Literary Scholar.” Thinking through what assessment means in a Literature context, I realize there are some key differences between comp. and lit. contexts. Yet, there are perhaps more similarities. Walvoord’s straightforward strategies for assessment can be applied to either corner of the English department writ. large. Just one more reason to acknowledge the importance of building in assessment across programs.