Month: January 2018

Local Flavor

TIL none of my students have seen the movie Soul Food 😳
Ahmad from the movie Soul Food

Ahmad is displeased by this revelation.

*more on that momentarily*

For today’s class, we had a reading about how Black chefs have shaped American cuisine throughout history and a reading about the similarities and differences between “Southern Food” and “Soul Food” and the power dynamics between those distinctions.

After going over some of the key details in the readings, I pulled up Yelp searches I’d done for the highest rated restaurants in Columbus categorized as “Southern Food” and the highest rated restaurants categorized as “Soul Food.” I pointed out how there was some overlap, but most of the restaurants at the top of the list for the former have White owners and a lot of the ones at the top of the list for the latter have Black owners.

I asked them if they could see any other differences between the lists, and this is what they noticed:
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to have images that showed more “stylish” or “upscale” plating
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to be more expensive
-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” tended to have many more reviews

-Restaurants labeled as “Southern Food” were more centrally located within the city, whereas restaurants labeled as “Soul Food” were pushed out to the perimeter

And we talked briefly about what all of this might mean: about stereotyping, about power, about who can afford rent where, about segregation in Columbus, etc.

What I’m finding with this particular theme is that it’s really easy to make connections to our local community (for example, in Monday’s class, we analyzed images from a local coffee shop’s website as part of a discussion about the ethics of craft culture). And I think that *maybe* these things might stick in their minds better (time will tell) than more abstract or distant examples. One of the things I’m trying to do is highlight how rhetoric, analysis, and rhetorical analysis factor into more than just the essays they write for me.

Toward the end of class, we shifted to analyzing the trailer for Soul Food. Hence, the above revelation haha. Their next essay requires them to choose a food-related artifact (such as a commercial, a print ad, a movie trailer, etc) and analyze the messages its conveying. I’m a big proponent of in-class practice and modeling. I want them to see what I mean when I say analysis and to ask questions if they don’t understand something. So today, we went through some of the first steps of notetaking for analytical purposes with the trailer. We talked about what details you might look for in something you’re analyzing, how you would then identify the meanings conveyed by those details, and you would ultimately think about the significance of those meanings. I try to model my responses to them on this process. So someone might say, “I noticed x detail,” and I might ask “Ok, what do you think that means?” Or someone might say, “I think this means x,” and I might ask, “Ok, why is that important?”

Ideally, they’ll keep asking questions as well.

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Incorporating Student Feedback from the Start

The new semester started at my university this week, and I’m teaching First Year Writing for the first time in a couple of years. Our First Year Writing classes are themed, and they focus on analytical writing. I decided to have my section be themed “Representations of Food in Culture” because I’ve been wanting to teach a class about food for a long time and because I knew it’d be fairly accessible to the entire class.

This is my second time teaching First Year Writing here. As I prepared for the new semester, I found that I really wanted to slow down the process, and I wanted to make sure there was some solid foundation before we get to working on the bigger assignments.

As such, we’ve spent most of this week on topics like using your voice, how to read for college, how to take notes, what we know about writing, etc. We’ve had one reading related to the theme, and we talked about their first essay today, but beyond that, we’ve been taking our time to get established. Thus far, I’m enjoying this approach. I’m one of those people who gets REALLY into course prep, and I’m susceptible to the impulse to DO ALL THE THINGS. But I think that sometimes less really is more. There’s more breathing room and more time for things to marinate.

Over the years, I’ve done various things to get feedback from students, such as mid-semester evaluations and course blogs. I don’t generally like to wait until end-of-semester evaluations comes because (a) we should all know by now that those evals can be #problematic and (b) while that feedback is useful for future classes, getting feedback earlier is more useful to the current students.

Thus, I’ve decided to incorporate various reflective and metacognitive activities into the course this semester. One such activity is the Minute Paper. I’m sure a fair amount of you are familiar with the activity (or something similar). Essentially, at the end of class, you have students turn in a short response noting something they learned and a question they have. You could do this at the end of every class session, but I’m having my students submit it once a week.

What I like about this, besides the fact that it allows me to make changes/tailor future sessions as needed, is that students will write things they would probably never say to me directly. This opens up a line of communication between me and them that might not exist otherwise. It also allows me to check and make sure that the messages I’m trying to convey are coming across clearly. Here are some things they found important this week:

  • “The most important thing I learned is that you value the writing portion of the class more than the grades, which I appreciate”
  • “The most important thing I’ve learned this week is that writing doesn’t have to be so structured and put-together, which basically throws everything I’ve ever learned about writing out the window”
  • “The most important thing I learned this week is that you are encouraged to tell your own story and not simply conform to ‘normal English rules.'”
  • “Most important: speak truthfully and with purpose. Write the same way.”
  • “The most important thing I learned all week was how to approach academic readings. The excerpt we read the first night was very helpful.”
  • “I learned that there are not as many limitations to writing. It’s just how, when, and where these limitations can be applied. Writing can be whatever the writer wants it to be.”

When I look at these I responses, I feel reasonably confident that they got what I wanted them to get out of this first week. When we have class again next week, I’ll respond to some of their questions. All in all, I think this is turning out to be a much appreciated addition to my teaching repertoire.