Tuesday, January 12, 2016
January 12, 2016: Spring 2016 Previews: English Studies Capstone
[Next week brings a new semester, the last of my 11th year at Fitchburg State University. So this week brings a series of spring 2016 preview posts, this time focused on the texts we’ll be reading in my spring courses. I’d love to hear about your spring syllabi, and other spring plans, in comments!]
My English Studies Capstone course has to wear a lot of pedagogical hats: the course’s overt purpose is to provide a space in which the students produce their senior portfolios, but I also see it as both a place for very practical conversations about the future (professional and educational) and for more philosophical ones about English Studies and the different tracks that constitute it at FSU. Our five readings help us approach one or more of those subjects:
1) William Zinsser’s On Writing Well (2006 30th Anniversary Edition): Because of the portfolios, and because it simply links all of our different English Studies identities, writing is a central topic throughout the Capstone, and so we did into Zinsser’s engaging and essential guide many times over the course of the semester. The book includes a great deal of practical and professional advice, but is also a manifesto for why writing (and English Studies) matters.
2) Steven King’s On Writing (2010 10th Anniversary Edition): To focus on Professional Writing, one of our three English Studies departmental tracks, we spend a couple weeks reading King’s memoir/guide/advice book. King is overtly the crazy, successful uncle to Zinsser’s wry, grandfatherly sage, and the two books pair very nicely. Yet King is also quite simply a model professional writer, not only in his career but in his voice and style.
3) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013): I’ve previously used Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as the text for our two week focus on the Literature track, but decided it was time for a change—and for a chance to teach Adichie’s wonderful recent novel for the first time. I couldn’t be more excited to share this novel with a group of senior English Studies majors, and especially to hear their responses to it.
4) Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning (2011): Finding a reading that works well for our two week English Secondary Education unit has been a challenge; I used this short book for the first time in my last Capstone section, and while it’s not perfect I think it very effectively introduces a number of key challenges and concepts for 21st century American education and society. Getting students thinking about those issues is a key goal for this part of the course, and this book should help me do that.
5) Annie Baker’s The Flick (2013): While our Theater track moved a few years ago from English Studies to the Communications/Media department, I still believe that including a dramatic reading in Capstone is an important way to keep this part of English Studies in our collective conversations. I’ve always used Death of a Salesman in this spot, but once again it was time for a change and a more contemporary work. I admit to not yet having read Baker’s play (we finish the semester with it, in my defense), but it comes highly recommended by my colleague and friend Joe Moser (who has taught our American Drama course multiple times), and that’s more than enough for me!
Next spring preview tomorrow,
PS. What are you teaching/reading this spring? Other spring plans you’d share?