Arts & Humanities SoTL Example – Complexity in Literary Texts


One possibility, just one possibility of
a humanistic method and methodology, the approach to the project and then how we
actually gathered evidence of student learning and analyzed it and all that, is
a collaborative project I did with two colleagues, Holly Hassel and Erin Haney.
The three of us worked very closely together to look at how students made
sense of, or reacted to, complexity and ambiguity in literary texts. Again,
what’s going on when they encounter a literary text that seems to contradict
itself or contradict some of their own assumptions, something that’s difficult
and that they struggle with. What’s going on there, what is that frustration,
resistance, whatever you want to call it, confusion, what does it look like? We did
a variety of things to collect what that looks like but my favorite slice of
evidence from that experience, I think the most illuminating piece of evidence,
they read a poem, they annotated a poem in their discussion in small groups. They
annotated the poem with how they were reading it, how they were making meaning,
patterns they saw in it, so they had multiple copies and so there were
multiple annotations with their, okay, so here’s our interpretation when
we’re talking about abuse and so here’s how we read this word, when we’re
talking about abuse, and here’s how we read that rhyme scheme when we talk
about abuse. Okay, now let’s talk about dancing. This was theatre, Reothke’s My
Papa’s Waltz, I should say. So now we’re going to talk about the pattern of
dancing and here’s how we see it there da da da da
and then so each group had four or five different patterns of how they were
trying to make sense of this poem that challenges you to make sense of it
because it’s so wonderfully complex. And so when we got out of the class and
started to look at these patterns, we could write books upon books upon books
upon books about what was going on in each annotation, in the conflicting
annotations or complementary annotations, in the annotations about form, versus
those about content, in the annotations of one group versus another group, in the
annotations that they did kind of collectively, versus, okay, when I read the poem
on my own, this is what I came up with, then they would annotate with okay, well
this is how I read it and this is how I read it and this is how I read it, so
let’s annotate that together. Those were just amazingly rich documents that were
not final papers, love final papers, but they tell us something completely
different. This captured, that’s a word we’ve been using a lot lately, captured a
few different moments in the work of literary study that we often don’t have
access to. And so that’s just one example of one slice of how we try to figure out
what’s going on when our students interpret particular moments and texts
that are so valuable to us.

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