Monday, May 12, 2014

May 12, 2014: Spring 2014 Recaps: 21st Century Writing

[It’s exam week, the final act of the Spring 2014 semester! So in this week’s series, I’ll recap some of the best of my semester’s courses and conversations, leading up to a weekend post on my summer plans. Add your semester recaps, summer plans, or whatever else you want to share in comments, please!]
On a few exemplary papers from a fun semester of contemporary analysis.
As I wrote at length in this semester preview post, I used a new syllabus for my Writing II course this spring, one analyzing our 21st century world and identities from a variety of angles. It worked really well, I’d say, and that can be concisely illustrated with an exemplary paper for each of the three relevant assignments (the fourth, a research paper, was more individually driven and less necessarily tied to the course content):
1)      Ad Analysis: For the first major assignment, the students chose an advertisement (in any medium) and both read it closely and put it in context of some other text or issue. In one of the best papers in the batch, a student worked with an interestingly progressive new Swiffer ad, one that portrays 21st century families in a variety of ways (including an amputee husband who does the majority of his family’s cleaning); he then contextualized it with a far more traditional, original Swiffer ad, developing compelling readings of gender, family, and society as a result.
2)      21st Century Identities: For the second major assignment (revised and extended into another paper as well), the students considered both digital and off-line identities and issues, engaging with their own personal narratives as well as analytical lenses. One of my students, a second generation Arab American woman, wrote an incredibly nuanced and thoughtful paper on technology, media, and gender and identity in both Middle Eastern and American contexts, managing in just a few short pages to resist stereotyped or simplistic engagements with either cultural context. To say I learned a lot from her work would be an understatement.
3)      Comparative Film/TV Analysis: For the third major assignment, the students chose a visual text (either a film or episode of a TV show) and developed extended analyses, both focused on the one text and comparing it to a second such text. In one of the more original papers I’ve ever read, a student utilized an article we’d read on recent TV anti-heroes and compared the protagonist of the film American Beauty with more overt anti-heroes such as Dexter Morgan and Frank Underwood, arguing that the film’s seemingly heroic protagonist is actually more amoral and anti-heroic than the TV types. He changed my whole perspective on both the original film and the TV trope, and, like the class as a whole, made me think about our 21st century moment in the process.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. How was your spring semester?

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