Wednesday, March 03, 2010

HUM 221: More about writing a reader response on 'Blue Winds Dancing' ... and a highly recommended way to outline your papers

Your first paper in Humanities 221, a reader response on "Blue Winds Dancing" by Tom Whitecloud (Ojibwe or Chippewa), is due Friday, March 19, at the end of the week after spring break. For the assignment sheet, link here or scroll down to Feb. 23 when I posted it under the headline "Reader response paper - 'Blue Winds Dancing'." The story is on line. Link here to read it.

For this assignment, here's how we're modifying the three questions we've been asking of every artistic work we look at.

  • 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?

Linked to my faculty page under "Writing and Editing Links," there's a tip sheet on "How to write a reflective response paper on music" that will help you lift your Humanities 221 paper up out of C+/B- range. I highly recommend it. (Of course I do: I wrote it, so I think it's brilliant!) It's based on Louise Rosenblatt's theory of "reader response," if you care about things like that. (And you should, if you plan to go on to teach elementary school. It's a great way of teaching English!) Rosenblatt says:

The special meaning, and more particularly, the submerged associations that these words and images [in a literary work] have for the individual reader will largely determne what the work communicates to him. The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment, and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his response to the peculiar contribution of the text.
It's just like that for music or any other art form we experience: We create the meaning it holds for us.

So over the years I've worked up a formula that helps students get into a work of art. That's what my tip sheet "How to Write a Reflective Response on Music (or literature of any other work of art)" is all about. It's designed to start by focusing on your experience of the music, but to move on from there into analyzing the music. You'll notice the "three questions" we keep asking, and you'll notice some elaboration on the questions by a lit professor from Georgia State (which is where I got the questions from).

Below that, I've got kind of an outline. And I've linked to a sample essay I wrote - well, started - when I was still teaching English. You don't have to use my outline, but I hope you'll try it. It's helped students write some pretty good stuff over the years. Here's one example from The Sleepy Weasel, Benedictine University-Springfield's campus magazine. And here's another example, also from The Weasel.

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