Reflection before our first meeting

Hi all! My name is Katie and I’ve taught in CUNY since 2003. It’s been quite a journey teaching between two schools. I’ve taught a variety of courses, starting with composition courses, short stories and novellas, drama, intro to literature, writing in the workplace and, more recently, intro to journalism and technical writing. I taught hybrid and fully online courses before the pandemic and I believe that they can be made to work well. I also believe that they are not suitable for all students. There is a certain level of self-discipline that is required. What I have done with fully online courses has been to take the first couple of weeks to ease them into the class. I start by explaining how the course is structured, what are the expectations and how they can be successful in the class.

Students respond well if they get to hear from the other students in the class. I’ve used the Discussion board to let students introduce themselves (exactly what we’re doing here.) I also start a thread on questions or concerns they might have. My prompt asks them to introduce themselves, their writing experiences and their expectations for the class. I also add a thread on  their understanding of whatever the course is about. For instance, if it’s intro to journalism, I ask them to write a paragraph on what they think it is, where do they see it, what’s its significance in society and how they feel about its practitioners, namely journalists.

    • Respond to the following questions from Kerry Dirk (approx 300 words): What is a genre of writing you know well? What are the rules of that genre? How did you learn them?

For these questions I’m going to focus on nonfiction. When I met with the MFA program director, it was made clear to me that fiction is not non-fiction. I had just gotten a graduate degree in non-fiction and she wanted to clear any misconceptions. So, as I went through the program, I focused more and more on what makes fiction, fiction. Of course, there have been memoirs that have been passed for non-fiction and have brought their writer to their knees when found out. So, what is non-fiction? It’s a big umbrella that encompasses writing that passes the truth test, not truthiness. For something to be nonfiction, it has to be real, it has to have happened, it has to have been lived in real life. The audience expects it so and if it’s not, then the audience is misled and deluded. Like Dirk extrapolated, writing is situational. A memoir can have a number of motivations. The writer might be trapped in the past and turns to the memoir as scriptotherapy. The writer might want to leave a legacy for their loved ones. Virginia Woolf fits both scenarios. The writer might want to shock the audience like Mary Karr or relate to a particular audience or is asking for their empathy. The rules are pretty simple. Just like in a card game, rule #1 is don’t cheat. Reading has definitely been instrumental in my learning process. No two writers approach their life story alike. There was a time in the past when a good memoir was a collection of personal letters sent to family, friends and acquaintances, or received from them. Even going through my MFA program, there was no class that taught rules of writing. We learned by reading, analyzing, reflecting and trying to understand the options the writer had and the choices he or she made. You don’t assume, period. There are techniques for specific effects. Philip Lopate has built a theory of writing as both show and tell. In non-fiction, you have the story, it’s pre-fabricated, ready-made, the challenge is what you do with it.

2 thoughts on “Reflection before our first meeting

  1. Carrie Hall

    Katie, That’s a great idea to have your students write a paragraph about what they think the course entails. I would definitely like to hear some more about your ideas for creating community in the online classroom!

    As I mentioned, you can add more discussions, etc to the course we have outlined.

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