Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Apples and the Composition Process

I meant to write about Thursday's classes sooner than today--so let me get some details down, while I still remember.  I knew that I wanted to do something with apples in class, but did I want to do a whole mini-festival?  Something with pumpkin bread and apples and candy corn?  In the end, I decided to just go with apples.  

I bought a bushel because I wanted to have enough to feel like students could take more than 1 apple.  I wanted apples left over for my household.  I wasn't exactly sure how I wanted to use apples in class, but I knew I wanted it to lead a daily writing, and perhaps more.

Could I develop something that I used in both my first year Literature and first year Composition classes?  Of course I could!

In both classes, we read "Summer Apples" by Cathryn Essinger.  We talked about the startling way the poem starts, those stunning first 2 lines, and we worked our way through the poem to the ending that is so perfect.  We talked about memory and aging and the potential in seeds.  

For my Lit class, I started by having them talk about their personal history with both apples and other fruits.  I asked where we saw apples in literature, and we talked about the Garden of Eden and Snow White.  And yes, there are plenty of other apple possibilities, but we just talked about those two.  I asked if they could conceive of a piece of literature--a poem or a song or a piece of fiction, where the apple in the Garden of Eden or Snow White's apple had a voice and a perspective.  For my Composition class, we went to the next part of the exercise.

For both classes, I asked questions that I hoped would lead to a different way of seeing.  What color is this apple?  Green.  All green.  Some brown.  Describe the color of green.  Now describe it by a comparison:  The green of this apple is like the new grass of spring, not the dying grass of late September.  Now try for something more unusual:  The green of this apple is like the color of my true love's eyes, soaked from crying because I'm leaving one last time.

I asked them to listen to the apple.  What did they hear?  What does this apple have to say if it had a voice?

If they wanted to, I had them taste the apple.  What does it taste like?  What kind of sweetness/tartness?  What is that like?

We did the same thing with the other senses, and then I had them write.  I asked them to write half a page or more that would give me something evocative about apples.  They had lots of choices--a poem perhaps, something in the voice of an apple or the apple standing for something else.

I think it worked well.  In the Composition class, one student exclaimed, "I love this class!"  I don't think she was doing it to ingratiate herself to me.  

My Lit class is a bit harder.  About 8 of the 24 students are routinely involved.  Many of the others just sit and try to resist the lure of their phones--with varying degrees of success.  Occasionally, one or two engage, but often not.  They're not hostile, exactly, but they are more vacant than I would like.

I continue on in the hope that maybe their engagement looks different.  Or maybe my class offers some other kind of benefit, even if they're not engaged in the way I would like.  Even if it's just a respite, that would be fine too.

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