Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Role of Role Playing in Teaching

When I teach World Literature, I like to involve the students as much as possible.  My students are placed in teams, and the teams compete on their own Amazing Race, trying to defeat each other in the weekly opening quiz.  Teams also take charge of teaching various aspects of the text.  One of the learning activities my students enjoy most is the mock trial.  After reading and discussing Antigone, a Greek tragic play by Sophocles, my students take the role of prosecutor of Creon, defense for Creon, prosecutor of Antigone, defense for Antigone, judge, jury and defendants. 

While my students may know the text, and answer the questions I pose during discussion, during the trial they almost 'become' their roles.  It is uncanny how quickly they embrace their given roles, and become quite passionate about their innocence, or the other student's guilt.  It reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted over 25 years ago with a set of volunteers at Stanford University.  One set of volunteers became the prisoners and the other set were the guards.  After a few days the 'experiment' had to be terminated because the guards were actually becoming abusive and the prisoners were becoming depressed.  It is amazing how quickly one assumes the role one is playing.  When done well, role playing can be a very effective tool, and it causes students to remember the material better than any lecture.

Click on this link to see my students enacting the Trial of Creon!

Then they had even more fun conducting interviews afterward - totally their own idea!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Daddy's girl

This week I read an outstanding essay by one of my Comp 1 students.  She wrote about accompanying her father to a demonstration at the United Nations in 1993, commemorating the anniversary of a massacre in Cuba in 1962.  The student wrote passionately about her father, his love of politics, and her eventual fervor for politics as well.  Her career goal is to become a lawyer, and a politician.  I've never had a student aspire to a political career before, and I think she'll be great!  She ended her essay with "the little girl . . . waiting for the next opportunity to make her daddy proud."

This reminded me of an essay we read in Comp 1 by Sandra Cisneros, entitled "Only Daughter."  Cisneros grew up with six brothers and strove to please, impress and gain the attention of her dad her whole life.  With all the awards and accolades she has received for her writing, she notes "the best thing" that happened one year was when her dad wanted copies of her story for the family.

I too wanted to make my dad proud of me.  There is a unique bond between fathers and daughters.  The competition and antagonism that sometimes exists between mothers and daughters is absent.  We daughters, most of us, love our dads fiercely and want their approval.  So when I was deciding on a major in college, I chose psychology -- the subject my dad taught at the very college I attended - Cal State Northridge.  Fast forward 20 years.  After I decided I wanted to get a master's degree, and possibly teach, I again thought I would major in psychology.  But a friend reminded me - "Katie, you love English.  You love to read, and you love to write."  Duh!  So I earned a master's degree in English Literature, and now teach English at a community college . . . just as my mom did for about 20 years.  It turns out, I'm mommy's girl too!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Double negative = positive

I often have to remind students that two negatives make a positive -- just like in math.  So if a student writes "he don't have no education," I let the student know that the person must actually have an education, because he does not have no education! 
minus × minustwo negatives make a positive:plus

Where am I going with this?  Well, I did not get a negative response from an agent.  That's two negatives -- so it must be positive!  An agent asked to see a full synopsis of my manuscript.  I'm taking that as a very positive sign, and I promptly fixed up my synopsis and sent it off to her.  It's not a request for a partial manuscript, or a full manuscript, or an offer to represent me, but it's a first step . . . and I'm ecstatic!

Monday, September 10, 2012


I like diversity.  That's no surprise to anyone who knows me well.  Since 1980 I have lived in diverse neighborhoods, in New York City and Jersey City.  I enjoy learning about other cultures, eating different kinds of foods, learning phrases from other languages, and especially getting to know people who were not born and raised in America.  My friends come from such diverse places as Aruba, Côte d'Ivoire, China, Puerto Rico, India and the Philippines.

     Hello            नमस्ते                  in-i-che            aloha             nde-ewo              你好       Dia duit
            goedendag            bonjour         καλημέρα         여보세요          Kumusta po kayo?

My campus is a very diverse place in a diverse setting.  While about 50% of the students at Hudson County Community College are from a Latino background, the remaining 50% include many Americans, and other students from all over the world.  I've had many African, Indian and Chinese students, but today I met a student in my class from Tibet - that's a first!

Not only is the student body culturally diverse, the students also span a wide age range.  Of course there are many students who have recently graduated from high school, the under-20 crowd, but there are also many students who are in their 30's, 40's and 50's. 

Finally, not only do I enjoy a diverse student body, I also like teaching a variety of courses.  We professors talk in terms of how many 'preps' we have, how many different courses we have to prepare for, knowing that more preps means more work.  This semester I have four face-to-face classes, and three preps.  But that's the way I like it.  I enjoy teaching a different class every day, to an avid group of students who represent our world.  What fun!

Friday, September 7, 2012


Why do college students read the first extant literature, about a Sumerian king who lived around 2500 B.C. in Mesopotamia?  I like to read and teach the Epic of Gilgamesh because he is a fascinating and passionate man (based on a real king of Uruk).  Yes, it's true, he does sleep with all the women before they marry, and yes, he does draft all the young men to fight for him, and I must agree, he's not a very good ruler.  But for reasons I find difficult to put in words, I like the guy.

With Gilgamesh, what you see is what you get.  He loves passionately, fights bravely, and grieves deeply.  When my students read the Epic of Gilgamesh we talk about the elements of an epic -- take a national hero, give him obstacles to overcome (usually including gods and goddesses), temptations to avoid, quests to win, voyages to complete, and see how he passes the tests.  Gilgamesh is the first epic, following by other noteworthy epics like The Odyssey, The Iliad, Beowulf, and even modern-day epics like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or even Harry Potter.  Gilgamesh was the first.  He set the standard.

At a conference I attended over Memorial Day, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) Division of Creative Arts "took all the themes in the story – from love, loss, power and politics to friendship – mixed it with stories from people in Cleveland, OH and brought in NY-based composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) to write and record a songbook."  The result was Project Gilgamesh.  To learn more about it, or just listen to some great original music, click on the link below.

For my blog followers, for the next several months I plan to blog regularly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So please check in on those days to see what I'm thinking about books, writing and teaching.  Thanks for following me!