Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

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Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

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A Collection of Notes & Texts from Sandra L. Beckett’s Red Riding Hood Criticism Trilogy

Warja Lavater's Le petit chaperone rouge

As I prepare to visit Wayne State next week, I am forced to go through my library books and remove tabs and/or take notes before I return the books to the library. I find myself reluctant to do so, probably … Continue reading

Genre Activity: 19th C. Periodicals & Dickens Journal Online

While I have incorporated fairy tales into teaching genre in a composition course, below is an excellent “genre activity” that pulls from my field of 19th century British literature. It is an actual competition, if you are interested in writing for Dickens’ Household Words, but the instructions seem to also fit a writing assignment emphasizing genre, audience, and publication format. It also encourages the use of technology and the exploration of Victorian culture and literature. Moreover, at least until Nov. 15, 2014, it is a real-world writing assignment, writing that serves a purpose outside of the classroom. I could envision using this writing assignment in a general composition course, but also in an introduction to literature or 19th c. survey course. Has anyone taught a similar assignment? If so, was it successful?

Competition Announcement–Deadline Extended!

Written by John Drew

We are delighted to announce our first LITERARY JOURNALISM COMPETITION. Write an article (reportage, sketch, exposé, informative factual account, digest, etc.), short story, instalment of serial fiction, or poem(s), suitable for publication in a weekly number of Household Words or All the Year Round. If you are not sure what to write, browse the contents of either journal, using the navigation tools above. Minimum word-length is 1,500 words/60 lines of poetry; maximum word-length is 2,000 words. No author’s name should appear on the pages of your entry: name and contact details should be supplied as a separate final sheet, to permit anonymous judging.

Send your entry to djo@buckingham.ac.uk as an e-mail attachment, by midnight on Saturday, 15 November 2014; at the same time, make the minimum donation using the ‘Charities Aid Foundation’ widget on the right of our homepage, to cover entry costs. Once your entry and your donation have been matched up, your entry will be passed to an expert panel of judges. Short-listed entrants will be informed by the end of November; winners will be announced during the Festive Season Details of prizes given on website; winning entries will be typeset in an ‘Extra Twenty-First-Century Number,’ available by Christmas. We hope you enjoy participating!

via Welcome to DJO.

Technology in the Classroom: Infographics

I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as some of my previous posts on the topic may suggest, but I’m trying to overcome my knee-jerk rejection of technology in the classroom, which seems to be largely caused by my frustration with trouble shooting technology problems. As usual lately, this post was inspired by my Pinterest addiction (a good indication that I am an all too frequent user of technology outside the classroom). So today I’d like to share some thoughts on how I can envision using infographics in the classroom.

Because of my Pinterest addiction, I’ll begin with an infographic entitled “Professors, Peers, & Pinterest.” 🙂

Okay, back to infographics in the classroom!

Assigning students (or groups of students) to create their own infographics seems to me to be a fun and useful assignment in an English classroom. In terms of the composition classroom, infographics are a unique form of communication, incorporating images, charts, and researched statistics or other information to educate and inform an intended audience (general or specific). Infographics thereby become a distinct genre of communication, with a specific purpose and audience.

Yet it is a genre quite different from the typical kinds of writing I usually assign in my composition classroom (think summary, analysis, and argument). Although related to summary (info graphics are, after all, a summary or even synthesis of information and research), communication in this genre occurs not through sentences and paragraphs but mainly through images. It appears to be a more obviously creative form of communication that I think might appeal to students with a creative bent, as well as an opportunity for students to consider the creation, layout, and appeal of a visual form of rhetoric.

An infographic assignment could be a welcome break from the typical written assignment and seems an ideal way to transition to a researched argument paper. It would offer students an opportunity to practice their researching skills, including the evaluation and citation of sources, and it could even accompany (or replace) an annotated bibliography.

An infographic assignment is a bit more difficult to incorporate into a literature classroom, but I think there are still some available options. I’m intrigued by the idea of using infographics to present reader-response information following each text. For instance, groups of students would be responsible for creating a survey for their classmates to complete after reading each assigned text; survey results then would be transformed into infographics to be presented to the class and/or uploaded to the course wiki or blog. Surveys could ask questions regarding the speed of reading (such as whether students read only assigned pages or read ahead–and even why they read at that speed) and/or students’ enjoyment of, comprehension of , completion of, or agreement with the text. Whether students are reading a bound or digital copy of the text would also be interesting to know.

If someday reading speed could be calculated as it was for this “How We Read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice” infographic, it would be an amazing tool. But as an instructor, I think it could be helpful to receive such anonymous feedback concerning my student’s interaction with specific texts. For instance, a text that is more appealing to female readers, as the infographic suggests Pride & Prejudice is, would preferably be balanced by a text more appealing to male readers. Moreover, knowing whether students finished reading or understood the text is equally important, and I think students would be more likely to admit such information to their peers in an anonymous survey than to me in anonymous feedback submitted to the instructor.

Or infographics could be created to provide background information on literary texts before or while reading. Such an assignment in the literature classroom would practice many of the same researching and citing skills discussed previously concerning infographics in the composition classroom, as well as provide fellow students with important contextual information on assigned texts.

Finally, infographics could be used in the classroom not as an assignment but as a way for the instructor to review information and skills. In this way, instructor-produced infographics would become a quick reference for students in the course. Although the last method to be discussed in this post, this is probably where I would begin incorporating infographics into my classroom practices, if only because it would require that I become familiar with the creation of infographics, thereby allowing me to help my students create their own as well as more effectively evaluate and assess their final products.

10 Free Tools for Creating Infographics” seems to be a good place to begin playing with the creation of infographics.

I would greatly appreciate any suggestions and/or reviews of infographic creating applications (preferably free and user friendly). I’d also love to hear from anyone who has used infographic assignments in their classrooms.

Note: I have not checked the veracity of the infographics included in this post.

reading statistics, book facts

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Response to “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities” (with Class Activity)

For the past five years, I’ve been examining the pros and cons of reading on-screen versus in print. The bottom line is that while digital devices may be fine for reading that we don’t intend to muse over or reread, text that requires what’s been called “deep reading” is nearly always better done in print.

Naomi S. Baron via How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Baron’s short discussion of digital versus print texts in the humanities classroom caught my eye, probably because it reinforced some thoughts I expressed in a previous post when a family friend urged me to purchase e-texts so he’d have less books to move for me. In that post, I commented that bound books are easier to use in the classroom, and Baron supports that statement in “How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities”; she writes of the results of a survey taken by students on the pros and cons of bound books and e-books:

Several open-ended questions on my survey were particularly revelatory. I asked what people liked most (and least) about reading in each medium. Common responses for what students liked most about reading in print included “I can write on the pages and remember the material easier” and “it’s easier to focus.” When asked what they liked least about reading on-screen, a number of Japanese students reported that it wasn’t “real reading,” while respondents from all three countries complained that they “get distracted” or “don’t absorb as much.”

My all-time favorite reply to the question “What is the one thing you like least about reading in print?” came from an American: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.” Isn’t careful reading what academe was designed to promote?

Which brings us back to the humanities.

Readings in the humanities tend to be lengthy, intellectually weighty, or both. The challenge of digital reading for the humanities is that screens—particularly those on devices with Internet connections—undermine our encounters with meaty texts. These devices weren’t designed for focused concentration, reading slowly, pausing to argue virtually with the author, or rereading. Rather, they are information and communication machines, best used for searching and skimming—not scrutinizing.

Teachers and scholars must look beyond today’s career-mindedness in talking about challenges to the humanities. We need to think more carefully about students’ mounting rejection of long-form reading, now intensified by digital technologies that further complicate our struggle to engage students in serious text-based inquiry. (Baron)

As a student, I can testify to the veracity of Baron’s survey results. Texts that I read via a paper copy (whether a bound book or printed article) invariably taught me more and stayed with me longer than those texts read digitally. In fact, as a graduate student, I would frequently make decisions regarding whether to purchase print copies or digital copies of a text based on whether I thought the text would (or could) prove to be significant or relevant to my personal research interests and fields of study; texts that merely fell into required reading for a course were downloaded digitally as not being worth the (extra) money spent.

Kindle App, e-texts, technology

Screen Shot of my Kindle App for Mac

But as a graduate student in English literature, I am far more aware of my personal reading habits and reading needs than first- or second-year undergrads.

I think Baron’s short essay may prove useful in introductory English classrooms, particularly those introducing students to the study of literature (although it could be equally relevant in the composition classroom if reading skills are being stressed). This is not to force my students to purchase paper copies of texts, but to at least get them thinking about the difference medium can have on their reading practices. Such a discussion could easily be used to transition into a discussion of close reading strategies or even active reading and learning; it would also offer students an opportunity to reflect on their current reading practices.

Furthermore, an activity whereby half the class is asked to read Baron’s piece (or an assigned short story or critical article) online while the other is given a paper copy to read could prove both interesting and enlightening. Would the students with the paper copy of such a short piece prove more able to discuss the points in detail than those who read online? Or would the results of such a small sampling prove to be inconclusive, or even the opposite? No matter the result, I think such an activity and discussion could function as a simple and productive gateway to what we mean by “reading” in the English classroom. Moreover, I think this activity would urge students to reflect on their own reading practices and encourage them to make thoughtful choices when it comes to reading medium and their learning in general.

(Dissertation) Writing Tips

These are the steps that I have found productive in my personal dissertation-writing experience so far. While mostly basic and unoriginal, the tips below are tried and true in my experience. They may not work for everyone, but they are working for me, and so I’ll (re)share in the hopes that someone else finds them helpful.

Keep Writing

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1. Write every day.

Or almost every day. As regularly as possible. I’ve discussed this in a previous post, with links to other sites that offer similar tips and discuss daily writing specifically. When I wrote that post, I was just about to begin my trial run of daily writing.

Like most graduate students I know, I was previously a binge-writer, setting aside large amounts of time to write a lot all at once and then taking some days off. Although it has taken me several months to get into a daily (or almost daily) writing groove, it truly is amazing how much more productive I (feel I) am. Regularly working on my dissertation has also the side benefit (other than the main benefit of progress) of reducing my stress and guilt. Moreover, I can still binge-write; some days I might only write a sentence or paragraph, plan an outline of the direction I plan to take next, or read and take notes in preparation of writing the next day, while other days I will sit down for 6-8 hours and write.

But it’s important to note that by “write every day,” I do not necessarily mean WRITE. Perhaps work would be better, but writing is such a major component of the process that I think it needs to be emphasized. Once a complete draft is written, reading and incorporating secondary sources as well as revision are equally productive and necessary tasks. I therefore might not actually “write” anything that day yet I have prepared for the next day’s writing task.

1.2. Write every day even while teaching.

While I must note that my productivity has increased a lot since I began my fellowship and have not had to worry about teaching preparation and grading at the same time, it is also important to find ways to prioritize writing and research while teaching, especially because the final goal for most of us is to find a academic position that will require research and teaching.

One way I incorporated my own productivity into my composition classroom is through a Daily Writing Challenge. Basically, students could earn some extra credit points by posting daily writing (related to the course, such as paragraphs or outlines for writing assignments, reflections on or plans for progress in the course, etc.) to our course’s Blackboard Discussion Board. I posted as well, and if I did not meet the 6 out of 7 days a week goal I set for my students and myself, students earned freebie days they could skip as well. (So if I posted 5 days one week, students only needed to post 5 days to earn bonus extra credit points for completing the challenge for the week). Knowing I’m not helping my students progress by handing out unearned points motivated me to prioritize my own daily writing practices even while being busy teaching.

HabitRPG (discussed previously here and here) has also proven an excellent tool to encourage my own daily writing.

Moreover, Gregory Semenza just wrote on the benefits of writing in short 10-15 minute bursts throughout the day, in “The Value of 10 Minutes: Writing Advice for the Time-Less Academic;” these daily writing bursts can take place in between classes or any time some spare time is found.

2. Have a comfortable and dedicated writing space.

This really helps the writing process as I know when I sit down at my desk (or stand at my desk…more on that coming soon), I am preparing to write. Sure, I end up playing online games and checking out Facebook or Pinterest, but more often than not, writing occurs without me forcing myself to do so. A thought will pop into my mind that I begin to work out in writing, or my notes will catch my eye and inspire a new direction or nuance that I’ll want to immediately begin to record.

But comfort is also important, and the more you write in your dedicated space, the more you’ll realize what adjustments can and should be made to improve productivity. For instance, I purchased a separate keyboard a few days ago after becoming frustrated at how high my laptop sat on my desk; with the separate (and wireless) keyboard on my desk’s keyboard shelf, I’m sitting in a much more comfortable and natural writing position, without the edge of my desk digging into my wrists or my back aching from leaning forward.

3. Know your writing process.

This may seem basic but it is important, and if you don’t already know your writing process, you probably will by the time you’re halfway through your dissertation. This knowledge will certainly prove useful as you try to optimize your productivity.

I know my process begins with marking up the primary source, followed by drafting, researching, incorporating secondary sources, revising, and proofreading. I know that researching before I write my analysis usually leaves me confused and overwhelmed. I also know that I will inevitably write more during the drafting process, followed by less writing while I research and read secondary sources, followed by a final return to the writing process. Because I know this, I don’t worry when I’m not making visible progress on my written draft when I hit the secondary source stages; progress is still being made even if concrete evidence of it cannot be seen, and the bulk reading and note taking (or rather, quotation flagging) will pay off in a quicker incorporation and revision process.

4. Plan your writing projects strategically.

By this I mean that you don’t necessarily have to write your introduction first, followed by Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. I began with my middle chapter first because I felt most confident in the argument being made in it and I already had ~40 pages written on the topic from my Master’s Essay. I chose my next chapters based on scheduled conference presentations related to the topics, as well as based on which chapters had the most written on the subject from previous term papers and presentations. I know I’ll be leaving the introduction until the end, and I’ve also decided to wait to work on one of my chapters because it easily drops out of the project if I run out of time to complete it and defend in order to graduate in May 2015 (my current plan involves an intro, seven chapters, and a coda and therefore more than meets any length requirements even with one chapter dropped).

I’ve also allowed whim and muse to play a role in my writing process. If I’m trying to decide what chapter to work on next, and I’m not particularly interested in the subject at the moment, I choose a subject and chapter that does interest me. Writing about something I like and care about at the moment only increases my productivity and has me still loving my project even after several months of writing.

 

Happy Never After by Saint Hoax: Disney & Domestic Abuse

Happy Never After

“An awareness campaign targeting any girl / woman who has been subject to domestic violence. The aim of the poster series is to encourage victims to report their cases in order for the authorities to prevent it from happening again.”

Saint Hoax Batter Cinderella

via Happy Never After.

I was introduced to Saint Hoax’s “Happy Never After” series of posters featuring Disney princesses as domestic abuse victims via this Jezebel article. As described on the artist’s website (and quoted above) these posters are intended to encourage awareness, reporting, and prevention of domestic violence, and while there have been several variations on the topics of both domestic violence and Disney princesses, this one by Saint Hoax struck me as particularly effective.

Featuring a battered Cinderella, Jasmine (Alladin), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Ariel (The Little Mermaid), each poster has the same caption:

“WHEN DID HE STOP TREATING YOU LIKE A PRINCESS? It’s never too late to put an end to it.”

I think part of what makes this series so powerful is that it gets right to a basic, pervasive cultural belief: marriage and romance leads to happily ever after.

Teaching fairy tales last semester, I asked my students for the components that form the genre of the fairy tale (What is a fairy tale?), and I was stunned by the number of students, especially female students, who insisted that fairy tales need to have a romantic component. Likely drawing on cultural ideas concerning the fairy-tale wedding and the wedding day as a bride’s chance to be treated and look like a princess, not to mention the heavy influence of Disney’s princess films on their conception of fairy tales, for these female students, fairy tales are inseparable from the marriage plot. Happily ever after weddings were so essential to the fairy tale that most of these students were more than willing to discount and discard stories that did not feature this romantic component as not being fairy tales. Furthermore, when my students were asked to write their own original fairy tale, almost all featured a romantic plot, even those written by students who did not explicitly include romance and marriage as part of their definition of the fairy-tale genre.

So for adults and young adults like my students last semester, who cannot separate weddings and marriage from fairy tales, these posters seem particularly impactful. These Disney princesses, these epitomes of feminine beauty that lead to a presumably happily ever after wedding, live on in perfection after the end of their respective Disney films (sequels not withstanding). So to show that even these women might be abused, that the models of happily ever after romance might not live up to their own mythology, is, I think, profound.

It also may help to alleviate shame in a similar manner. If Cinderella can be fooled, if the male perfection of Prince Charming can be a deceitful masking of an abusive boyfriend or husband, then the idea that a “regular,” flesh and blood contemporary woman might make the same mistake of finding herself in an abusive relationship is a lot less surprising or even embarrassing. If a “real” princess can be abused and presumably stand up to and leave her abusing, princely husband, then so can the every woman.

I am constantly intrigued by the many ways Disney princesses are reinvented by artists (and I actually have a Pinterest board basically devoted to the topic), but this poster series by Saint Hoax stands out among the crowd for me. Reminiscent of the less “pretty” and more violent and dark fairy tales of previous centuries, these posters help remove the Disney veneer of perfection and utter happiness, and for a good cause. As visual rhetoric, I think “Happy Never After” succeeds in communicating its message, and I think these images would prove to be useful subjects of discussion in both the basic composition and fairy tale classroom, probably (possibly?) with a trigger warning in advance to prepare any student victims of domestic abuse. (Trigger warnings have been a topic of debate this year and The Chronicle of Education and other publications have featured several articles on the topic, including this one and this one. I also responded to a practicum discussion on the topic in this previous post, although I haven’t decided how I feel about the subject of trigger warnings overall.)