Tag Archives: Classroom Exercises

In Which I Become the Body in the Classroom. Literally.

In any city, in any country, in any university in which you have been enrolled, go into any classroom and silently say, I seek the Holder of the A. If when you open your eyes a professor stands at the lectern, then you have failed, class will proceed as normal, and your journey ends here. But if when you enter you are greeted by a prostrate woman, eyes-open and non-responsive, then quickly assemble in groups of five or else prepare for a horrific end. The mind is more fragile than you know, and there are worse things than death.

If you seek the Object clenched in the body’s hand, you must tell the corpse its own story: the myth of the Holder of the A.

Do not forget as you write, this is no myth. Do not touch the Holder or attempt to take the Object by force. If you do either, or if you fail to reinvent her in the allotted time, she will stay dead and you will be forever destined to fail no matter the task you undertake. Succeed, and the corpse will awaken, and offer you a crumpled, bloodstained note promising intellectual supremacy.

The note is Object 537 of 538. If you can attain it, success is yours.

If, like me, you lurked or participated on 4chan’s /b/ or /x/, you may be familiar with the generic conventions in the short prose piece above. It mimics the style of the Holders Series, a collection of creepypasta chronicling the tasks of reckless, curious individuals seeking to collect mystical objects that should never come together. In the vein of open-source fiction, the individual stories in the Holders series lack attribution and the mythos is collaboratively, transparently constructed based on communal negotiations concerning the generic conventions of horror and expectations for the story itself. The mythos is unstable, unfixed, and thus can be continually modified and augmented. As a case in point, while the first Holders story states there are 538 Objects, stories exist after #538, telling the story of Objects 539 of 538, 540 of 538, etc., and a sequel series, Legion’s Objects, was started to chronicle an additional 2000 Objects.

I wrote the piece quoted above as part of an experimental class on open-source fiction, fandom, and amateur production online. I did this exercise in a media studies course, but I think it would work equally well, or better, in a composition or creative writing classroom. More after the jump if you’re interested in replicating the exercise or just want to hear how it went. Continue reading

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For Every Student Who Ever Has to Complete an Analytical Writing Assignment

Only not really because that would just be a blanket generalization, now wouldn’t it?

Tongue-in-cheek remarks aside, I finally decided to try to shortcut an answer to the questions that come pouring in right before the first analytical paper assignment, regardless of the course subject: What’s a theoretical concept again? How am I supposed to use it? What do you mean, “apply”?

My use of “the lens” dates back to my teacher training in Columbia University’s Undergraduate Writing Program, and it was a confusing concept for students then and it’s still confusing now. Since today was a snow day and I like procrastinating, I decided to take a stab at a video explanation of what a lens is and how to use it.

The materials I used were a notepad, a pencil, a strip cut out of a transparency sheet, and a Batman plushie. Hopefully that was enough. I think one slide may have been out of order but still, you get the idea.

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In which I reflect on Fall 2014 and ASP 2014.

The effects of airplane turbulence aside, I’m feeling more like myself and realizing how much I’ve been meaning to write about. The surreal nature of being classified in the ER. The progressively decreased emphasis on quality of work in favor of quantity of interpersonal drama on Inkmaster. Something about Crossed‘s Cindy or Crossed: Family Values‘ Adaline and/or her Mom for a CFP. And, for months now, my recent experience teaching first-year writing in Columbia’s summer bridge program for the second time, as it has kept me afloat through a rocky semester of teaching in which I had to power through the pain and fog of recovery in order to make money to survive, and simultaneously ignore the nagging feeling that, maybe, I shouldn’t have had to.

Mark Strand once wrote: “We all have reasons for moving./I move to keep things whole.”

As I faced the pale shadow of myself, floundering in my work load and trying to find my way back to the teacher I knew I used to be, the memory of ASP 2014 sustained me. As professors we talk warmly about students “getting it,” and I knew, whatever my pedagogical lapses as I recovered, I had helped those students “get it” and, as dark as my map had become, that was a place my teaching could return to.

Continue reading

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“World Go Boom”

Prior to diving into the murky waters of my qualifying exam period, I thought I would share the lesson plan I used during a mock class tailored to a portfolio assignment. As I hadn’t seen the instructor’s syllabus, I planned a lesson around conceptualizing the portfolio as a material artifact whose message could be manipulated through organization on the small and large scales. I had 40-45 minutes for the lesson, so the plan itself crams a lot more in than I necessarily got to. Still, the gist of it was that I used a mashup video to provide a conceptual foundation for thinking through the arrangement and narrative arc of the final portfolio.

The video can be found here. The full lesson can be found here. Feel free to use wholesale or adapt (attribution appreciated).

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Just break the rule, then you see the truth.

statuhs: n., still reeling from Wednesday’s shoot-out and trying to figure out the best approach to this Gurren Lagann paper.  CFP deadline: June 14.  Amount of research I’ve done thus far: nothing. Talk about awesome.

Today I’m supposed to be figuring out how to frame an academic paper about the visual and text representations of trauma Gurren Lagann—how the two media interact with one another to create a more persistent sense of grief, despite the show’s ultimate message that we are more resilient than we think, and that absolute despair can be overcome—and so it seemed appropriate to post this follow-up to my last post on using formal elements in music to illustrate the importance of form as well as content in a literature course.  In that post, I mentioned how the theme song of the show is revisited several times, set against a different background track each time.  Here are the 3 tracks I would probably use, along with the lyrics (disclaimer: they are godawful.  But I imagine this would make the exercise that much more fun for the class).  It might be interesting to tell the class that the songs come from a mecha anime, and then have them free-write while listening to them, describing the scene they envision taking place to each track. Continue reading

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Dear Students: I am not your friend, buddy. Or your buddy, guy.

Email etiquette, particularly when students are emailing their professors, is more of an issue than you may think.  While it often does not make its way onto course syllabi, behind closed doors we freely gripe about student emails that a) are written as though we are a close friend of the student, b) lack any sort of recognizable syntax or are written entirely in Internet/1337 h4XX0rsp33k, and/or c) lack a signature or other indication of who is actually emailing us.  For instance:

From: mrt55@school.mail.edu

Time: 5 minutes before class begins

Subject: [No Subject]

im running late lol whats the hw again???? bts

Sent from Blackberry.

There is a lot wrong with this picture. Continue reading

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Every-day analysis.

“If you go deep enough into the grading cave you’ll discover that it isn’t a cave at all, but the dank maw of a giant carnivorous beast.  I’ve just hit the tonsils and am hanging on for dear life.” -Me

Let me tell you a story.  Yesterday, I was working with 10th-12th grade at the Harlem Children’s Zone, attempting to get them to draft personal statements for college.  It was a beautiful day, and the senioritis in the air was so contagious even 10th and 11th graders were susceptible.  One girl woke up from a nap and shouted to a girl at the other end of the table, “Oh my GAW~wd, I had the WEI~rdest dream, I’m gonna write you about it.”  She then proceeded to write a note to her friend, which an advocate confiscated, to her shrill complaint of “But MISTER, I wanna know what she think it meant, ain’t that like doing work?”

Huh. Continue reading

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The “point” of literature.

Rather stupidly, I had my first-year writing literature classes read excerpts from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red.  Rather obviously, students had a difficult time understanding the content as well as its arrangement, and the most common initial responses to the reading were “What’s the point?” or “Why did she even write this?”  I tackled this in class, but since it came up towards the end, I tried to wrap up the discussion online in the following post.  This was drafted in 30 minutes on the NJ Transit train, so it’s less polished than I would have liked, though it did end up modeling the kind of writing I encourage in their Zero Drafts. Continue reading

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(Re)Interpretation via Gurren Lagann


If you aren’t a Gurren Lagann fan or 4channer, you likely have no idea what that means, so let me enlighten you: it’s a rap lyric from the main “theme” of the show, “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii” etc.  The Engrish isn’t terrible, though the lyrics are somewhat hilarious (particularly the refrain, “row, row, fight the powah,” which has achieved meme status all by itself).

As my brain slowly pieced itself together following illness, I was rewatching the Gurren Lagann Parallel Works videos—sort of like official anime music videos (AMVs) created by the production company Gainax and set to different musical tracks from the show—and it occurred to me that much of the music is comprised of different versions of the main theme.  We are given the same lyrics set against different background tracks, ranging from electronica/hip-hop (“Rap wa Kan no Tamashii… Datta… yo…”) to orchestral/operatic arrangement (“‘Libera me’ from hell”) to “Rap wa Kan no Tamashii da! … Kamina-sama no Theme [etc.],” which has a funky, casual aura with its twangy guitar and its beat, whereas the piano-accompanied beat of “‘Libera me’” and the crash of opera vocals gives us a sense of build-up, of imminent danger, perhaps warns us that something tragic will happen, that there will be survivors who will overcome regardless.  This is, incidentally, how the track is used toward the end of the show.  Each background track evokes a particular response in us, whether we’ve seen the show or not, and when embedded in its visual context, the meaning of the lyrics accumulates significant meaning.

And yeah, I listened to the full soundtrack before watching the whole show. Continue reading

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