Friday, September 07, 2007

Rocking the Gateway Course

Our English major here does not currently require a gateway-to-the-major course, the kind that essentially sets expectations for how students do the work in English/literary/cultural studies. But we've been kicking it around.

I've been thinking about what one of these courses should look like, or perhaps better, could look like, and trying to think big about such a course--how to best introduce a student (perhaps one who has taken some 200-level surveys, perhaps not) to the work of upper level courses in the department.

  • Should we work through genres? how many? poetry, novel, drama, short fiction, non-fiction, film etc. etc.
  • Should we include theory? How much? How closely should it be tied to primary texts? Should we use introductory texts of go straight to the source (remember, it's a gateway)?
  • How much writing should we be doing? How much writing instruction should we be doing?
  • How idiosyncratic should the course be, with, say 4 sections per semester? Should they have themes? Can they avoid themes?
  • And most importantly: how can we make it exciting? How can we make the standard "3-6 primary texts in Norton Critical Editions with theory alongside" class one that students clamor over? How can we rock out the gateway course?
  • But first, how do you do it? What d'ye like, hate or wish about that class?

5 comments:

Sisyphus said...

I sent you a thing. Well, an email actually. I have suggestions, but no ideas for rocking it out.

Ooh, 'cept maybe --- my ex did a course with a huge library component and took them in multiple times to special collections, where they got to see how books were made and bound and touch some famous old stuff. (well not that famous.)

I don't know if the _students_ were excited but the librarians _loved_ him.

Neophyte said...

My undergrad English department organized this really well, I think. Each faculty member designed a threeish-week-long unit for the required course, so the department had this big cache of well-designed lessons from which whoever was teaching the gateway could choose, say six or seven. Lots of variety in terms of method, period, theoretical emphases, lots of room for the person teaching it to maneuver, lots of different things for students to experience. You end up with weird progressions, like Othello next to Angela Carter next to Northrop Frye, but that's part of what's great about the system.

Don't know how well it would work at a big uni, with more folks designing lessons, but it's an idea.

The Constructivist said...

We do a 1.5-credit-hour freshman seminar required of all entering majors (yes, our first-years have to declare a major and stick with it to qualify for the "four years and out" promise we make). Runs about half a semester. Here's my first try at it--try #2 coming in the spring.

Our gateway course as you describe it is Critical Reading, which I've taught a bunch of times.

k8 said...

Is the assumption that it is a gateway course to the study of literature, or is the study of writing and rhetoric also included? You can probably guess what I see as missing based on that question.

Bardiac said...

We do a course here that tries to get students to think about texts of all sorts. Most of us base the course in a rhetoric of popular culture text, and then maybe use something like *TextBook* along with reading a variety of texts.

My students do assignments on reading a mall or campus space, reading a web page, storytelling, a couple "traditional" literary texts, and a couple movies. Their culminating assignment asks them to think about representing themselves through a variety of texts in their lives.

The course is required for all our English major emphases, and seems to work well to give them a common vocabulary about texts and rhetoric, and set them up for the theory class (also required of all). It also starts them having a sense of community as English majors.