Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Different Kind of Syllabus

I am still waiting for Sense and Sensibility to make its way to me, via a closer library location.  But yesterday, I picked up 2 other books I requested.  One is Emma Thompson's collection on the making of the movie of the book, and the other is Lynda Barry's Syllabus:  Notes from an Accidental Professor.  Last night I devoured most of it.

I first heard about the book by way of Molly Spencer's blog post.  She even includes a picture of her attempt to keep a journal/day book the way that Lynda Barry's students are required to do.

I was both surprised and not surprised that our public library system had it and that it wasn't checked out.  I devoured much of it last night--in a way, it's an easy read, yet each page is jam-packed.

As a teacher, I'm interested in what she has her students do.  I'm most intrigued by her practice of having students do a 2 minute self-portrait, dated, on an index card each day, instead of calling roll.  If students come in after the sketching period, they are late (3 lates = 1 absence).  She collects them each day, and she gives them back at the end of the semester.

I'm interested in that technique, both as a way of starting class, and as a way of chronicling one's emotional state.  It seems that it would work on an individual level too.

Here's another drawing technique, which may or may not also work as a teambuilding experience.  Everyone folds an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper into 16ths.  They draw lines on the creases.  Each person writes down the name of an occupation or style of person (like nurse or alien or mad scientist or babysitter or dragon slayer) at the top of a box.  They pass papers to the right and do the same thing on a new sheet of paper.  They keep passing until all the boxes have been filled in.  Then they keep passing and drawing in one box--pass and draw in one box, and so on.  Each sketch has 1 minute to be completed, and it can't be stick people.  Barry says it takes approximately 25 minutes.

She has students bring in a photograph of a group of people posing for a photo and then draw the photograph.  She has students memorize a poem by Emily Dickinson that she chooses--a different one each week.  I like the 4 panel drawing, a cartoon of sorts, as a way of teaching narrative.  She has them experiment with crayons and pens and all sorts of different utensils, and she includes what they learn about each medium.

She has students evaluate each other's work, usually by hanging it on the wall, with names on the back.  They try to analyze what draws each person to each work or what repels them, and Barry stresses that even something declared bad still exists.  If it's a class that includes writing to be read to the group, the group draws spirals as the student is reading.

It's a fascinating book, full of techniques and examples and experiments to try.  I'm glad I came across it, and I'm grateful to the serendipity that leads me to works like this one.

Monday morning update:  I finished the book yesterday, and I want to include her idea of building a book vs. writing a book, an accumulated project, one that takes shape as it's accumulating.

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