Saturday, November 10, 2007

How much is too much?

I'm signed up to teach a 6-week summer course on detective fiction/film--restricted pretty narrowly to the whodunit genre, as I really don't want to get into police procedurals. Law & Order is not really my bag: everyone I know thrives on its predictability, but I don't need to watch our justice apparatus in action over and over again to feel warm and fuzzy, Sam Waterston aside. (Isn't he, really, the Jimmy Stewart of our time? But I digress.)

I've mostly fleshed out *what* I want to teach, a mostly chronological progression from tried and true genre classics into Highsmith, Hitchcock, and Auster. The class meets twice a week for 3 hours; the students will write some sort of response for each session, loosely structured around literature or film analysis exercises to get them warmed up for paper-writing. Theoretically, each class session is supposed to equal a week's worth of class during the regular semester, which is where I'm getting stymied. In principle, I'd have no problem spending a week or its equivalent on, say, a short-ish Chandler novel and its film adaptation. But add a couple of secondary essays, and fitting that into a 3-hour class session without inducing brain overload seems difficult.

As students or as faculty, how much is too much?


SK said...

As a student who routinely takes 10-week courses, asking your students to read some criticism isn't too much. On the other hand, they might be able to handle it better if you made everyone read the book, and then each week had a different pair or group make a class presentation on the secondary essays. That's worked in a lot of my classes.

Also that sounds like a kickass class.

kermitthefrog said...

Heh, thanks. Just to clarify, I'm definitely including the criticism, and was even going to have presentations on them as well (although I had been planning to have the entire class read the essays, and one person present on each; the pair idea's intriguing, though. I'll have to wait and see who takes the class, since there are usually some adult students who might have logistical problems with group work).

But might it be too much (mentally, if not time-wise) to discuss, say, a novel, a film, and a couple of essays in one 3-hour class?

Hilaire said...

I'd think maybe just one essay - and have you felsh out the rest of the critical terrain while lectureing?

Hilaire said...

"flesh out" and "lecturing", I mean! I am a terrible typist sometimes - and an even worse proffreader. :(

kermitthefrog said...

hilaire, I don't know whether "proffreader" was on purpose or not, but I think that's a good term for a student who can suss out the mood of a classroom very quickly.

ex: "Noticing that Dr. Jeeves' eyes were glazing over, she put her proffreading skills to use and goaded her classmates into a lively debate, earning the professor's gratitude."

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I think all the police procedurals stem from the old Scooby Doo formula.

That said, I don't think it's probably too much to try and do all those things - you just can't do them all from day one. I think starting with one and using the others as mirrors and refractions of the starting point would make for an awesome class. Wish I were taking it.

Sisyphus said...

For summer classes what matters is how short and intensive the course is --- how many days off between sessions will they have to (theoretically) read?

My summer class met every day so I felt I could do almost no reading. The people I knew doing the detective fiction in the summer 6-week course did a novel a week, with a couple articles on the later days of that week and possibly finished up with a film version of that text on Thurs or Fri.

It will also depend on the students themselves --- whether they are well-prepared or remedial at your school, how standard it is for them to work or not (at my school the Summer Session people trick students into taking 3 or 4 intense courses for the price of 2, so you have to deal with students complaining about being given homework every day in their other "real" courses like math and stats.)

I've come to the conclusion, at least here, that less is more on syllabi --- you can always talk in more depth on something and it always takes longer than you expect for students to get where you're trying to lead them.

(hope that helps)

kermitthefrog said...

Hmm, good points, all. The class meets T-Th; what I had been thinking about is about what your friend did, sisyphus, and teaching a novel, a film, and some critical essays per week (2 class periods). That's certainly a more comfortable schedule than trying to fit a "real semester's" week into one class session.