Ok, so I've mentioned in an off-hand sort of way that I might be leading a reading group for students interested in reading Notoriously Difficult Novel. (I don't want them to find this via googling, if they're looking for insights on NDN, so let's just say that NDN is a remake of The Odyssey.) It looks like this reading group is, indeed, going to happen. And I wondered whether I should blog about this experience, but I've decided I should in part so that I can call on all of you who've either run or participated in reading groups for any expertise you might be able to offer. But also, I think I want to write about this because I'm so proud that it's even happening at all.
I teach at a regional university in an urban area. The majority of the students who attend this university are in the first generation in their family to attend college. The majority of these students live at home with their families, work at least 20-25 hours per week, and many work as many as 50-60 hours per week, while maintaining outrageously high (think 15 hours or 18 hours, doing all of one's classes back to back either on MWF or on T/H) course loads. Many of these students, regardless of age, also have family responsibilities, whether those include caring for siblings and/or ailing parents (many people in this region have large families, so it's not uncommon for my students to be one of 5-8 children, and if they're on the older end of things, that often means that they have responsibilities related to their younger siblings' care) or caring for children of their own.
You can imagine what this means for "campus life" at the university. There really isn't much. Nor is there much intellectual curiosity or deep drive to brown-nose, as there might be at, say, a liberal arts college, and so something like a "reading group" as far as I'm aware is an entirely foreign concept to most of them. And I've got to say, the idea of a "reading group" would have been foreign to me as an undergraduate, too - my own background, while not quite as complicated as the backgrounds of many of my students, was such that I, too, worked a lot during college, took ridiculously high course loads, and didn't really do much intellectual work outside of the classes that I took during a given semester. Then, in graduate school, while I heard of people organizing reading groups, I never participated. I'm kind of a "lone reader" by nature - hate the idea of being responsible to a group for my reading, and hate the idea of having to read what others are reading whether I'm in the mood for it or not.
So yeah. I don't know what made me suggest a reading group last semester, because the likelihood of students wanting to do it had to be pretty small, and I don't know crap about how to run a reading group or how to be in one because I have always shunned them on principle. But they do want to do it. A LOT of them want to do it. And so now I've got to do this thing, right? And while I'm excited about it, I'm also a bit... unsure of myself. One thing is that I don't want to be "the teacher" of this book. I'm happy to help them through the book (which I think is a good thing) but I don't want to be all Dr. Crazy Lecture-y. One reason why doing this with NDN appeals to me is that I really like the idea of giving them more ownership over this text - and if this goes well, I would consider doing one of these every year - maybe even opening it up to just regular people who aren't students at my university? While I think there's value in teaching NDN in a traditional classroom setting, I just really don't know whether it's really necessary for many students to experience it in that setting - especially if they don't plan on growing up to be literary critics. If they're going to grow up and work in HR or something, really I think they just need the experience of reading the book - not of writing on it and laboring over it as I expect students in my classes to do. So I guess as I'm considering this, part of what I want to ensure is that I allow for them not to labor even though they will have to do work to interpret the text, if that makes any sense.
So anyway, we're having our first meeting next week. And I'm actually almost giddy with excitement, even though this will mean a bit more work for me and even though it's yet another time commitment. But you know what? This feels like real service to me. I'm doing this because I want to - not because a colleague begged me to do it or because it was insinuated that it would "look good" for me to do it, or because it fills in a "gap" in my service section of my cv. No, this is entirely altruistic. I haven't even told most of my colleagues about it (which I know I should, and I will get around to that, but I don't know, it's been nice not shouting about it). So anyway, I'll post periodically about how the thing goes. But for now, if you've been in a reading group or if you've run one (esp. with undergraduates) maybe you could share any tips that you have about making the thing run smoothly?
1 year ago