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And while I am constantly updating my syllabus to reflect recent events and debates, students’ varying skill levels and my own pedagogical growth, one assignment I’ve been reluctant to give up is the personal narrative.
In preparation for our discussion in class, I had the students read the essay at home and write a response journal highlighting five quotes that they had found particularly interesting, confusing or that they agreed/disagreed with, and then write a short comment explaining why they had picked them.
This was a low-stakes assignment meant to engage student and theory.
As for myself, I am already thinking of new strategies I can incorporate the next time I teach this assignment.
NOTE: I used the assignment below for my Fall 2010 sections of WRTG 3020.
“The narrative essay was the easiest because all I had to do was write about myself,” and “I struggled with the personal narrative the most because I’m not used to writing about myself to a wider audience” are the reactions I usually get from my First Year Composition students when, at the end of fifteen long weeks of analyzing a variety of texts and genres, I ask them about their experience in the class.
I’ve taught composition at Stony Brook for a few semesters now.In class, the students discussed the article in small groups following a series of guiding questions I had prepared beforehand.This helped focus the general class discussion afterward, as most of the groups had been able to put together their own interpretation of Brandt’s argument.Drawing on case studies, Brandt examines how literacy functions as a key skill in the job market, increasing the individual’s competitiveness and employability.At first, I was unsure about assigning a theoretical piece at the start of the semester, but the students seemed intrigued by the concept and how it might apply to their own experiences.We looked at the way the lack of racial diversity and a sociopolitically stifling educational environment can hinder one’s writing development in Junot Díaz’s “MFA vs.POC.” Then we read an excerpt from David Sedaris’ , where the writer describes his efforts to learn French in spite of an abusive teacher.In this context, we talked about “exigency” – the purpose or main idea that the student is trying to convey – and audience expectations. While some students struggled to find a central moment around which to develop their narratives, resulting in fairly generic essays that would need further revision, many showed a good understanding of literacy and sponsorship, and were able to create nuanced interpretations of these concepts.A significant number of non-native speakers wrote about their efforts to learn English, often demonstrating frustration with the insufficient resources available to them in public education.We focused on the shifting literacies and sponsors at play in each text, but also examined more closely the rhetorical elements used to make these texts compelling.Then came time to introduce the literacy narrative assignment: in 4-5 pages, the students would focus on one/more key moments in their personal literacy development, as well as the people who had helped or hindered their process of acquisition.