Innovative Teaching — I do not usually make resolutions at the beginning of the new year, but this year I have resolved to write a bit more about teaching in my Monday Missives. In my 33 years of teaching in the English Department, I have long been impressed with my colleagues’ innovative approaches to teaching. Starting with today’s Monday Missive, I am going to celebrate some noteworthy examples of innovative teaching by members of our English Department.
Last semester Matthew Rowney took an innovative approach to teaching his students about ecocriticism. Matt met with Jeffrey Gillman, the Director of Botanical Gardens at UNC Charlotte, and Jeffrey gave Matt a tour of the greenhouses and gardens. In recounting this tour, Matt told me, “I told him about my Romantic ecocriticism course, in particular the author John Clare, who was himself an accomplished amateur botanist. Given the importance of individual plants to Clare, I went through the texts assigned for the course and made a list of plants, and then forwarded these to Jeffrey, inquiring whether the garden contained any of them. Luckily, the gardens have many of the same or similar species. After reading Clare’s work and discussing his ecological vision, my class took a tour of the gardens, stopping to examine individual plants appearing in Clare’s work, and thinking about what seeing these plants within a larger habitat might contribute to how we understand Clare’s poetry.”
An example of one of Clare’s poems that Matt connected to the gardens is “Emmonsail’s Heath in Winter.” In this poem, there are two lines that relate to an ash tree. One of the lines reads, “Beside whose trunk the gypsy makes his bed.” There are three ashes that stand together in the gardens, near where the forest area connects with the Asian garden. Matt showed these ash trees to his students and asked them to imagine the trunks of these trees as a resting place for a weary traveler.
By bringing his students into the garden and relating the plants in the garden to Clare’s poetry, Matt helped his student develop a deeper appreciation of these poems’ intrinsic connections to the natural world.
RD News — As we start the Spring 2017 semester, two of our faculty members are about to experience changes as a result of being awarded an RD (Reassignment of Duties). Paula Connolly will return to teaching after having spent the fall semester working on a research project, and Ralf Thiede is about to take a semester-break from teaching in order to work on a research project.
During her RD, Paula worked on Stories about Slavery, an anthology of U.S. literature published for children between 1790 and 1865. The anthology contains pro- and anti- slavery selections (with many that fall in a spectrum between the two). While the anthology could function as a companion to her earlier critical study, Slavery in American Children’s Literature, 1790-2010, most of the anthology contains new material not previously discussed and only available in rare book rooms. Some of the different groupings of literature include “slave narratives,” “alphabets,” and even “schoolbooks: mathematics” where Confederate children learned how to figure the price of slaves they were expected to one day own. Her goal is to offer historical and literary contexts for the pieces as guideposts, but to keep critical intervention to a minimum so readers can explore the literature–particularly in terms of its racial ideologies–on their own.
For his RD, Ralf will work on project in which he can combine his backgrounds in linguistics, cognitive science, and literature. He is writing a book on the linguistics of children’s literature. He is working within an emerging new paradigm in neuroscience that focuses not so much on brain areas but on the pathways between them and how they develop over time in infants and children, changing their thinking. He then matches the successive processing profiles with what the language of children’s literature can offer at each developmental stage that is not already present in how adults talk to children. He has already completed his study of how babies acquire and produce speech sounds and how authors like Dr. Seuss support that development with noises (Mr. Brown Can Moo!), rhyme, rhythm, anticipation, engaging repetition, funny-sounding words (S-L-U-R-R-R-P), and surprising violations (thnead is definitely not a possible sound combination in English) that trigger the child’s instinct to explore. Ralf will look at interactive book readings between adult readers and preliterate children to describe linguistic collusions among child, adult, protagonist, and author.
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Alan Rauch recently gave a presentation titled “Rethinking A Christmas Carol as a Malthusian Parable” as one of the community salons organized by Twig Branch.
Angie Williams recently launched a blog titled It Is What It Is: Life as a Parent, Grandmother, and Caregiver. Her is the link to her blog: https://pages.charlotte.edu/angie-williams/updates/
Upcoming Events and Deadlines— Here is information about an upcoming event.
January 9 – The first day of classes for the Spring 2017 semester is January 9.
Quirky Quiz Question — Jeffrey Gillman is the current Director of the Botanical Gardens. Does anybody remember who served as the Director of the Botanical Gardens before Jeffrey?
Last week’s answer: Epistolary
In thinking about the term “missive,” I am reminded that some novels are told through a series of letters (or missives). What is the term that is generally used for such novels?