[This Fall was another extremely exhausting semester, and first and foremost I’m proud of all of us for making it through. But it also featured moments that reminded me of why we do what we do, and in this recap series I wanted to highlight one such moment from each of my Fall classes. I’d love to hear your best and your hardest moments, and everything in between, from Fall 2021!]
On a discussion that balanced skills and content as well as any I’ve ever been part of.
This was my first time teaching FSU’s new First Year Experience seminar, and I wrote back in my Semester Previews series about my goal of featuring a consistent thread of content (around the topic of cultural representations of #BlackLivesMatter) despite the course’s overarching and important emphasis on student skills (as framed by a Reading Apprenticeship approach). Finding that balance between content and skills within my overall student-centered pedagogy has been both a challenge and a priority for all of my classes for many years now. But the particular nature of the challenge here, in a class so fully dedicated to preparing students for all of their experiences in college, was one of many things that was new and different about FYE from any other course I’ve taught.
I can’t say that I really figured out how to achieve that balance consistently in this first version of FYE, and I’m excited to have the chance to teach the course at least one or two more times over the next couple Fall semesters. But this week’s Semester Recaps are focused on moments that did work, and there was one particular class discussion that really exemplified the balance I’ll work to achieve more regularly in my future FYE sections. After many weeks working with written texts in a variety of genres (nonfiction including memoir, journalism, and scholarly analysis; creative literature including fiction and poetry) I wanted them to spend a couple weeks practicing analyzing multimedia texts, and so we watched the same pair of recent cultural works that I’ve used in my First Year Writing II sections for a few years: the film Fruitvale Station and the Black-ish Season 2 episode “Hope.”
I love both of those texts, and it was fun to share them with this new group of students, who seemed to enjoy them a great deal as well. But I have to admit I wasn’t sure how much we’d have to say about Fruitvale when we returned to class discussions (after portions of two class periods spent watching the film) to engage with it. Which made the discussion that ensued one of the most surprising as well as one of the best I’ve ever been around. Students highlighted a wide range of analytical lenses for working with multimedia texts, from camera angles and sound editing to choices in the screenplay and the acting performances, among others. And they used those analytical lenses to raise a number of important elements of the film’s themes, its portrayals of identity and community, race and racism, the real historical figures and events that inspired it, and more. I’ve never had a discussion balance analytical skills and content more successfully, a moment that modeled not just why we teach a class like FYE, but what we’re aiming to do in every classroom.
Next recap tomorrow,
PS. Responses to this moment or other Fall 2021 reflections you’d share?