Course Syllabus Revisited, and The Week In Review 1/17/2014

Good morning! The sun is peeking over the horizon, there’s coffee the cup, the cats are busily knocking over all of my carefully-stacked papers — in other words, all’s right with my little corner of the world.

This post (hopefully) initiates a new tradition for this blog: The Week in Review. I hope each week to provide a brief summary of my teaching, research, writing, reading for classes, and other academic endeavors — and, of course, what I did to nurture my Self!  — both to keep me accountable, and to give you an idea of the workload and what you might expect while navigating graduate school with a teaching assistantship. An added bonus is that maybe you’ll pick up some tips on things that work well and things that don’t work very well in the classroom, so you can capitalize on my experiences and do better for yourself!

Before I get started on the review bit, I want to revisit the “Crafting a Syllabus” series of posts with a postscript on how my syllabus ended up. As you’ll recall, I was concerned with pacing and how much I was trying to accomplish in the class, as well as with finding a balance between having enough formal assessment and having too much grading on my plate.

My superviser, on the other hand, thought the pacing was good and that I had a good amount of material I was trying to cover, but noted that he felt that poetry was getting short shrift, especially considering this was n intro to literature course, and suggested that since this is not a WI (writing intensive) course I should cut out the timed essays, or fold them into the midterm and final exam, rather than having them as separate assessment activities.

I therefore chose to remove Goethe’s Faust and replaced it with alchemically-infused poetry by Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Rainier Marie Rilke and Rumi. I also excised the timed essays. I’m actually really happy with how it turned out — it’s balanced, challenging but not overwhelming, and the students responded well to it — we’re off to a good start!

And now, the Week in Review:

Reading for Classes/ Independent Studies:

Raymond Clemens & Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Cornell UP, 2007) pp. 67-132

Liz Herbert McAvoy and Diane Watt, The History of British Women’s Writing, 700-1500, vol. 1 (Introduction; chs. 2, 6, 10-13)

Carole Meale, Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500 (Introduction; chs. 6 & 7)

Brown, Medieval English Literature and Culture, 1350-1500 (essays by Jones & Baker)

Southern, The Magic of the Middle Ages, ch. 5 (“From Epic to Romance”)

Savage & Watson, eds. Anchoritic Spirituality (“Introduction”); Ancrene Wisse through Part 6; Part 7 in Middle English; Wooing Group

Shepherd, ed. pp. xxx-lxxiii

Millet, ed. Holy Maidenhood & Soul’s Ward


Peter Brown, ed., Reading Dreams: The Interpretation of Dreams from Chaucer to Shakespeare (Oxford UP, 1999), pp. 1-57 (the introduction by Spearing, and essays by Brown and Kruger) in support of my article on Alchemical imagery in Arthurian dream visions.

Joel T. Rosenthal, Understanding Primary Medieval Sources: Using Historical Sources to Discover Medieval Europe (Routledge, 2012) — I’m about halfway through it, reading as background for approaches to using primary texts and artifacts in my research.

Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose, A Companion to the History of the Book (Blackwell, 2007) pp. 1-33, read in support of building my knowledge of this subject area towards comps and future teaching.

Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago UP, 1987), read in support of knowing the history of the world I’m seeking to enter as a literature professor!


Re-read Silvia’s How to Write a Lot — indispensable advice for people trying to be productive. Committed to 6 hours a week scheduled into my planner for writing without interruptions. Made a list of the writing activities I need to and want to accomplish this term (13!)

Revised 6 pages of an essay for an edited collection due on February 1.

Compiled and submitted my teaching portfolio for the TA award competition — I’m not expecting to win it this year, but it is good experience in assembling documents to create a snapshot of who you are as an instructor, which we need to be able to do before we hit the job market!


English 101 (College Writing I): Tuesday — introduced myself and the class, had the students introduce themselves, went over the syllabus, and went over the basics of rhetoric — the triangle, the appeals, and a brief history of definitions of rhetoric. Thursday — gave an 8-question reading quiz; went over David Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University” using the rhetorical triangle and appeals as a starting point for discussion; watched George Carlin’s “Euphemisms” clip in support of reading “The World of Doublespeak” and then had them discuss the difference in tone between the essay and the stand-up routine, how that affected and was affected by the intended audience for each, and how they personally received each text, and then divided up into small groups to parse out and come up with an example of each of the “Ways We Lie” in Stephanie Ericsson’s essay to share with the class. It sounds like a lot, but everything actually fit very well together and we finished right at the end of the class period, so I was happy with the pacing of this class this week. Only one student dropped so far — an athlete concerned about the attendance policy — and the slot was immedioately picked up by another student who said I had been recommended to her as a teacher for this class by a former student (yay!) There are 22 students in this course.

English 105 (Introduction to Literature, non-majors): Tuesday — introduced myself and the class, had the students introduce themselves, went over the syllabus, gave a brief overview of alchemy as a science and art, and literary alchemy, and briefly touched on conventions of drama and some historical considerations for reading Shakeseare’s plays (and informed them that this is NOT OLD ENGLISH! And that they should read through the Act for basic understanding — what’s going on, who’s involved — and we’ll get to deeper meanings during class discussion.) Thursday: began with a review of the conventions of drama, added to that the conventions of comedy in general and of early modern English comedy more particularly, and then had a fantastic discussion of Act I of The Tempest. It was clear that most of the students had actually read the assignment. I asked them to tell me what they noticed — lots of points of entry! Some noticed how it was following the dramatic structure outline (inciting incident, exposition, rising action, climax, resolution) and that made it easier to follow what was going on; some noticed the characters — Miranda, Prospero, Ariel — and a few theatre majors are even noticing the stage directions! We looked closely at how Shakespeare constructs characterization through both direct and indirect means, and how he uses language to reinforce the alchemical subtext (which they noticed! especially in Ariel, who describes himself in elemental terms (fire) and is enslaved to Prospero, who therefore becomes an alchemist able to control the elements. For a general ed. class, this is a really great start!) They correctly identified Prospero’s speeches in Act I as monologues rather than soliloquys and we discussed how his constant interruptions of “dost thou mark me?” and “Art thou listening” serve both to include Miranda in the scene as a participating figure and also to keep the members of the audience paying attention, and how one might stage those moments, and how that staging might change the character dynamics in a production, which brought us around nicely to a discussion of character relationships in the play. One student noticed while we were discussing “antagonist” and “protagonist” that Antonio begins with “Ant” and Prospero begins with “Pro” and wanted to know if that was intentional on the part of Shakespeare. I told her it’s hard to determine an author’s intent in such cases without a record from that author in the form of notes, letter, journal, diary, & etc, but that given Shakespeare’s language play it wasn’t beyond the bounds of reason to think it could possibly be intentional — but that certainly, it would make it easy to remember who was the protagonist and who the antagonist when it came time for the quiz! (Many students laughed in appreciation at the humor. Humor is cool.) I also made certain to let her know that that sort of considered, analytical, observational reading is exactly what we want when we are trying to construct meaning in a text, which reinforces to everyone in the class the level of thinking I am expecting and gets them all looking to hit that level. All in all, I was very pleased with this class’s first foray into literary analysis, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the rest of the play next week! There are 35 students in this class.


I attended the executive board meeting for GSA (I’m the VP of Finance) and we set an agenda for the general assembly next week. I held office hours for 2 hours on Tuesday, processing travel reimbursement requests and answering funding questions. I also compiled a summary financial report of how many awards went to how many students for what kind of conferences, how much money went to how many students for thesis and dissertation costs, how much money went to operation costs for the organization, and how much money we have left for the year.

I touched base with my co-editor for the department literature textbook, and we alerted the undergraduate intern applicants of their selection for the job. We also touched base with our supervisor concerning pages , cost of publication, arrangement and layout, and timeframe to publication via email.

It’s hard to believe all of that happened in a single week — but it did! And it was great. I feel that we are off to a really strong start this term and I’m looking forward to the weeks to come!

Nurturing my Self:

This week I went for a 30-minute run on Monday and Wednesday, did some light stretching and calisthenics on Tuesday (only about 10 minutes) and walked to and from campus from the commuter parking lot on Thursday (.59 miles each way). I art journaled on Monday, and journaled in writing a little each morning before getting up and around for the day. And I went out for a nightcap at the local watering hole with my classmates following class on Tuesday, where we caught up on what we’ve been up to since the end of last term. We plan to make this a regular thing, which is great — it gives us something only tangentially related to academia to look forward to, and builds a sense of community and solidarity among the grad students in our department. I recommend setting up such a standing social event as a way of “rewarding” yourself for all your hard work, as well as a chance to practice those much-needed social skills we want to hone sharp for conferences and the job market!


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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