by Karon Rilling
Attending the Lilly Conference gave me an opportunity to meet and interact with master teachers. Several were from here at Austin Community College. Others came from Cornell, Central Oklahoma, Kent State, and Chapel Hill. The timing of the conference gave me a chance to process what I learned and to make some changes to my instructional plans before the spring semester began.
I want to re-examine my introductions to the stories we will read in Comp 1302. Our own Chelsea Biggerstaff challenged me to think about hooks as a way to encourage interest in the story at hand. The hooks relate to theme, conflict or relevance to students’ lives. I’m looking at the stories with a new eye: Can I build an activity that will evoke an emotional response, interest, and a desire to read the stories’ exploration of those themes? For “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” the activity can be students designing their own utopias, then learning the cost for that utopia will be three increasingly draconian conditions for a few of the citizens. At what point will the students tell the utopian financier to forget it; they will not condone social injustice on a few for the benefit of the many? This will lead us into the story and the characters’ choices.
For another story, “The Edge of the Shoal,” a person v. nature survival at sea story, we’ll begin with an activity Lost at Sea that has students prioritize what resources they would need to survive in a small boat in the middle of the ocean.
Before reading Virginia Woolf’s “Kew Gardens,” we’ll examine paintings from the turn of the century for changes from representational art to abstract, cubist, and surreal art works. The point here is to help the students change their expectations of what a short story can be. If they can make the connection between the changes in art to the changes in story construction, “Kew Gardens” will make much more sense to them.
I’m working through the introduction to Isabel Allende’s “And of Clay Are We Created.” I had thought about an internet search for the historical events that inspired this story, but students should experience the story first before comparing events to crafting fiction. I thought about an internet search for movies based on historical events, but that ultimately seems a superficial endeavor. Another possibility is a virtual tour of the isolated villages in the mountainous areas of Columbia. However, if I want to emphasize the journalist’s role conflict between reporting the story and becoming involved with the rescue operation, I should look for interviews where David Muir or Martha Raddatz are tempted to help or intercede rather than just convey what is happening. What I am trying to do here is guide you through the thought process of developing a successful hook worth the instructional time devoted to it. Chelsea Biggerstaff expanded my consideration of what student engagement is so that I thought about behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement. Her presentation was one of four that will change what I do this spring.