In this section, Dr. Kelley describes additional tools, workshops, and assignments used in the class.
Using Tools in the Classroom
This course is not about using any particular digital tools, or even using digital tools at all; I also used low-tech tools such as posters, diagrams on the chalkboard, writing, small group work in class, and peer review. Students sometimes annotated directly on a page in class. We didn’t need a map for the second theme on strange families since we were looking at stories that focus on family and genealogy. The bloodlines, racial relationships, and racial genealogies were important to the structures of the novels in that theme. I had students draw family trees and present posters in which these became meaningful for understanding a character or some aspect of the text. That approach took us all the way back to the very first novel, Kindred, which was a historical novel. It also flowed into the final theme, strange self, with Absalom, Absalom! and A Mercy where I had them make timelines. The idea was to look at a history of slavery that’s seen before slavery and the ways that what we know as a timeline has so many fluid narratives breaking it up and opening it up. In both of those novels, it was really helpful to make a timeline, but it also revealed how the novels work against a structure like that.
The workshops involved various forms of self and peer review, along with a library workshop during the semester where we learned about research methods. I try to be consistent so that if I’m in a class where we do workshops, then I do workshops for every assignment. That way, they build on what they learned from the last workshop. I try to gauge what they’re most ready for and do different things at different points in the semester. I focus on a writing problem, like the opening, the thesis, transitions, topic sentences, or verbs—something specific so they’re not trying to do a global reading of the paper. They can work on their own paper, or they can exchange them and work with each other. For this course, my usual workshop was different because the workshops involved five-minute presentations with posters, the mapping, or timelines.