At my institution our Writing II class is based on using a reader and it is intended for students to read, analyze, and evaluate diverse texts across disciplines in class discussions and in writing. The big problem is that students don’t want to read these diverse texts and they are even less likely to want to engage with them very deeply. This, of course, does not bode well for the writing they generate.
My primary strategy for combating this lack of engagement is to give students the power to choose which readings interest them (just one primary reading and two secondary readings) rather than trying to drag the whole class through an assigned reading list. They are responsible for leading class discussion about their primary reading and providing support for the classmates leading discussions about their secondary readings. They will engage in many discussions and be exposed to the ideas of diverse texts in those discussions. My belief is that those discussions, inspired by their peers, may result in a deeper engagement than I could possibly mandate by quizzes and other measures. Plus, this is a writing class and I want to use the reading to fuel the writing and I do not want to make this a mini lit class so less is more in my opinion.
This semester I continued with that strategy but I initiated those student discussions in a new way – I had my students create six-word-memoir posters for their primary text and then write a post for the class blog about why that six-word memoir and the artwork they selected for it were representative of that text’s message. I was hopeful that this exercise would help students think about their primary texts in new and different ways as well as see ways those ideas can connect across the different texts. Not only were my hopes realized but I was very excited about the level of thinking about these texts that many of my students displayed as they worked through their six-word memoir and representative artwork. They shared some really interesting ideas that we can use for future weeks of discussion as well as future writing assignments. Not only did they inspire each other but I was drawn to think about these texts (with which I am quite familiar after using this book for several semesters) in new ways. Now that is exciting! I could not be more pleased and I cannot wait to tell you what we are doing next (when we begin writing with The Walking Dead, read more in past blog posts Pedagogically and The Walking Dead in My Writing Classroom).
What are your favorite strategies for engaging your general education students with texts outside their scope of interest and/or comfort zone? How do you help them find ideas to write about in those texts?