Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reader response paper - 'Blue Winds Dancing'

If you want to start reading ahead, here is a text of "Blue Winds Dancing" by Tom Whitecloud. Whitecloud was an Ojibwe Indian, the people we've been studying the last week or two, and I'll post more links in the next few days. The paper is called a reflective response, and we'll write a reader response on it over spring break.


Did I say "we?"

I mean "you." You will write the paper over spring break.

And here's the assignment sheet. It'll be due right after the break, in other words on Friday, March 19.

Assignment: Reader Response Paper
"Blue Winds Dancing" by Tom Whitecloud

Read the short story “Blue Winds Dancing” by Tom Whitecloud and write a 1,000- to 1,250-word paper in which you analyze your response to the story and the specific things about the story that made you respond to it as you did. You will need to look up some information about Whitecloud and his tribal heritage, i.e. the Ojibwe or Chippewa people, for background. But I want your paper to be the product of your own independent judgment. [Please see Note on Plagiarism below.] You may use either MLA or APA documentation. Due the week of March 23-27, the week after spring break. Start by reading “Blue Winds Dancing.” As you do, ask yourself these three questions.

  • What about the story stands out in my mind?
  • What in my background, values and experience makes me react as I do? How does it compare to Whitecloud’s background and experience as a college student?
  • What specific things about the story trigger my reaction? Which specific passages speak to me? To what extent is the story grounded in Whitecloud's cultural background as a Chippewa Indian? To what extent is it universal? Does it transcend the boundaries of its culture?

Thinking about these questions will help you frame a thesis. For this paper, you have to narrow your topic. You might decide, for example, that Whitecloud describes the same feelings anyone has upon going off to college and returning home for a vacation. So you might say his story is universal, even though it is grounded in his memory of returning home for an Ojibwe dance. How do you feel about it? Another example: You might say when Whitecloud says the drum is the heartbeat of the universe, he is reflecting a common Native American belief about music, dance and drumming. How do you feel about it? There are literally hundreds of good directions you can take your paper. Whatever your thesis is, be sure to say how the story speaks to you. In writing your paper, follow this format:

  • Circumstances. Give a two- to four-paragraph introduction to your essay. Start by describing what's on your mind as you read the story, how you feel about it, what you had for dinner, what the weather's like, anything that sets the stage.
  • Background. Here's where you give the necessary information about the piece. You don’t have to dwell on this, but at least tell about Whitecloud’s background as an Obijwe who went away to college in California. The story is autobiographical, so this stuff matters.
  • Analysis. This is by far the longest part of the paper, and the most detailed. In many ways, it will read like other papers you’ve written in English and humanities classes. Since HUM 221 is a course in cultural studies, I also want you to address the following question: To what extent does Whitecloud deal with issues unique to his cultural heritage, and to what extent does he deal with universal issues - i.e. human nature? Does he transcend the boundaries of his own culture? As always, argue a thesis. Support your thesis by quoting passages from the story and analyzing how they affect your response. Remember, in college-level writing, an unsupported thesis is sudden death!

(I'm also linking to a sample reader response essay I wrote when I was teaching freshman English. It's about a country musician instead of a Native American author, but it shows how I use the "Circumstances," "Background" and "Analysis" headings to get into the paper. It also shows how I like to use a quote from the text and analyze the quote in my own words.)

Email me your paper at pellertsen@sci.edu as a Microsoft Word attachment to the email message. If you do not follow the content format stipulated above, or if I suspect plagiarism, I may be required to submit your paper to an electronic data base for computer-assisted analysis of its dependence on unacknowledged sources. By turning in the paper for a grade in the course, you expressly assent to such electronic monitoring.

Note on Plagiarism

My writing assignments are designed to be plagiarism-proof. If you follow the steps I list on the assignment sheet, they'll help you write a paper on which you exercise your independent judgment, come to your own conclusion and support it with evidence drawn from reading the story. If you don't follow the steps, I will stop reading your paper as soon as I realize you're not answering my questions. In that event, I may l return it to you with no grade and enter a zero (0) in my gradebook which will not be removed until you turn in a completed, original paper. If I suspect plagiarism, I am required to submit a full report to the Dean of Academic Affairs.

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