From the category archives:

British Literature

Diaper Changing 1612

by Dr Davis on December 4, 2013

I found a quotation online about how to diaper a baby from 1612. I think it might make an odd addition to the Brit Lit 1 class.


The Language of Chaucer

by Dr Davis on December 3, 2013

NPR has an article on “Why Chaucer Said ‘Ax’ Instead of ‘Ask.’”

Jesse Sheidlower, the president of the American Dialect Society, says “ax” has been used for a thousand years. “It is not a new thing; it is not a mistake,” he says. “It is a regular feature of English.”

Sheidlower says you can trace “ax” back to the eighth century. The pronunciation derives from the Old English verb “acsian.” Chaucer used “ax.” It’s in the first complete English translation of the Bible (the Coverdale Bible): ” ‘Axe and it shall be given.’

NOTE: Use this for my Brit Lit I class and for linguistics.


Literary Analyses

by Dr Davis on November 21, 2013

A literary analysis, or LA, is basically the outline for an essay. It has five main parts:
title and author of the work
a paragraph first response to the reading
a thesis or claim in answer to a specific broad thematic question
quotes and analyses saying how those quotes support the thesis
a conclusion paragraph in which the students talk about the literature and some aspect of modern life or their own knowledge

To earn an A:
all parts must be present
the first response paragraph needs at least four sentences
the thesis must be specific, answer the question they were assigned (I had four for each reading.), and be supportable
a minimum of four relevant quotes and analyses which specifically stated how the quotes related to the thesis
a concluding paragraph of at least four sentences which did, in fact, compare/contrast the reading with some other aspect of a student’s life or knowledge

I had 7 required LAs and 2 optional LAs this semester, for a total of 9 possible LAs.


Student Control of the Classroom

by Dr Davis on November 19, 2013

This is a preliminary retrospective on my British literature course.

group of students smilingThis semester, just before school started, I talked to a long-time instructor at the university about what she was doing in her early British literature survey course. After having that discussion, the very first day of class I presented three different formats for the classroom that the students could vote on. (That book on designing for how students learn said the more student control, the more engaged and motivated they are, so I thought it was worth a try.)

I presented three different models for the classroom that semester.

The first is what I was told (though I no longer recall by whom) the course should have:
regular reading quizzes
a sixteen-page research paper with 10 scholarly sources
a mid-term
a final

The second is what I have previously taught the course with:
regular reading quizzes
reading questions for homework
an eight-page research paper with 5 scholarly sources
two four-page papers (based on the readings but without research requirements)
two exams (one was a cumulative final)

The third is what I came up with based on SR’s course plan:
regular reading quizzes
a literature analysis for each major reading (All but the Renaissance poetry and the King James Bible readings)
three exams (Old English, Middle English, Renaissance and Neoclassical)

I included a digital presentation, adapted from an assignment called Hrothgar’s Playlist created by another colleague (KD), in each iteration of the choices.

The students voted overwhelmingly for the third option.

What I liked about the third option was:
The students told me what issues they had with each reading, what they thought about it, and made a claim/thesis about the work that they supported with quotes and textual analysis.

Multiple exams made it easier for students to study for the tests, because basically (except for the last exam–as scheduled) they were given every month.

Even if the students could find help for the LAs online, the quizzes meant they had to at least know what the readings were about.

The students wrote about every piece of literature, not just the longest ones.

students reading in libraryWhat was more difficult than I expected about the third option was:
The first LA, which I gave LOTS of feedback on, was due on a Tuesday. I needed to mark it and comment on it at length, and still return it to the students by Thursday–because the next LA was due the following Tuesday. That took a long time. I have 50 students in those two classes and I spent about 16 hours on Tuesday evening and Wednesday grading the LAs.

Having an LA due every Tuesday meant I regularly had a lot of grading. (By the end of the semester, though, I could grade them all very quickly because the format was so strict and the grading rubric was so specific.)

I missed having the students compare the sonnets to the poetry of the music they listen to (one of option two’s 4-page papers). In fact, I figured out I was going to miss it, so I added it as an extra credit assignment. I think only five people took advantage of the opportunity, but that was enough for me to not be sad that the paper wasn’t a requirement.

What didn’t happen like I expected it to:
The students overall did not do as well as my spring class did on their quizzes. Partially this is because I did not require the reading questions (which act as a guide for ensuring the students understand the reading) and partially it is because my spring students taking the survey course were almost all advanced freshmen, who were taking a sophomore course their second semester at school.

Reading Questions
I ended up giving out the reading questions as study guides for the exams. The first time I gave them out just before the exam. Most folks didn’t use them. The best students, of course, did. The second time, I put them in the folders to start with. Some of the good students used them as study guides and did better on the next exam. For the last section (Neoclassical), I actually pulled questions off the reading questions to use as quiz questions. And I told the students I was going to do that. More students (though nowhere near half) did the questions after that.

I will change my questions up next time I teach the course to make sure I use the reading questions on the quizzes.

Finally, the students as a whole were concerned about their exam grades and the timing of the final. One of my classes has their final on Friday–which is not a popular day for finals. We discussed different options and I took the writing day off the calendar and scheduled the third exam for that day.

Having the third exam early did two things that the students considered helpful:
1. If they are happy with their grades, they will not have to attend the final exam.
2. If they are not happy with their grades, they can take a cumulative final that will replace the lowest exam grade.

Having the third exam early did two things that I consider helpful:
1. It allowed for a cumulative final, which increases the level of learning students have within the classroom, based on significant research studies.
2. It gives students a clear understanding of their grades as well as a way to “make up” some of the shortfall, should they experience that.

One thing I scheduled that was a good idea:
The last readings were of Gulliver’s Travels books 1 and 2. For these readings I did not have assigned LAs but, instead, offered a single extra credit LA.

The extra credit LA meant that students who had really blown an LA (at least 5 students) or those who had skipped an LA (probably 10 students) or those who had really good grades and wanted to insure they didn’t have to take the cumulative final (about 5 students) wrote the LA.

Note on extra credit:
While some professors do not approve of extra credit assignments, both of the EC mentioned in this blog post required MORE work than any of the assignments they might be replacing or making up for. A single LA for 160 pages of reading meant a lot of work to synthesize. The other paper, a 4-page essay, was the only out-of-class essay I required the students to write.

I will write on the LA assignments and the rubric I borrowed as well as the rubric I actually used soon.


What I Learned Using a Graphic Novel

by Dr Davis on November 17, 2013

characters 4 id tempest 1I used the graphic novel The Tempest: American English, Original Text in my early British literature survey this past spring and this semester.

This semester I received written feedback from the students about each of the readings (because I switched to a colleague’s practice of having the students write LAs–more about that later).

While, as I mentioned in the blog post two days ago, the students overall enjoyed the reading, there were some difficulties that I could have easily overcome.

char 4 id Tempest 2First, I assumed that all students had previously read a graphic novel and would not need any introduction to the reading of a graphic novel. This turned out to be a mistake.

I could have presented a short lecture, using such online sources as GetGraphic’s.

Or I could have used Jessica Abel’s strip on the topic of graphic novels. Downloads of high resolution images of the strip are here. It is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 unported license.

Second, I assumed that having the characters presented as pictures would make remembering who each one was (even Alonso and Antonio) easier. However, at least one student mentioned having difficulty with that and having to refer back to the character page to keep straight which character was which.

I think to help with that next time I will have students fill out page 28, the “Family Tree” for the play, from the Classical Comics Teaching Resource Pack, written by Kornel Kossuth, which was created to go along with the graphic novel.

By printing it out ahead of time and having the students fill it out before they begin reading, they will have a resource that shows them the picture of the character, their name, and their primary relationships.

As a note on that resource, let me say that while it says “suitable for teaching ages 10-17,” I have used the fill in the blank pages (with the answers at the bottom of each Act!) as quizzes and students have still had trouble telling me what was happening in the play. Either they hadn’t read it (possible) or they “just read the words without understanding it” as one student mentioned in a comment on why the graphic novel was better.



by Dr Davis on November 16, 2013

A post on digital humanities, mapping books, and the dispersal of the medieval libraries of England. Good graphics and simple language (that means I think I understood it).

One thing: The author said 93% of the books are in England. However, we know for a fact that some of the books that are now in England were purchased from or found in Italy at some point (for example, the Vercelli Manuscript).


Using a Graphic Novel in an Early Brit Lit Survey

by Dr Davis on November 15, 2013

tempest-graphic-novel-quick-text-jon-haward-paperback-cover-artThis year (both in the spring and this semester) I adopted a graphic novel version of The Tempest, with the original text but with American spellings, for our play reading. (The book is available from Amazon.)

I have often found it difficult to follow a play in written form and, honestly, they weren’t written to be read that way. Since I don’t have time to show a whole play during a class period, I don’t usually do that either. And since I am not in a large city, with a play happening somewhere regularly, I can’t assign the students to attend a play either.

I think that the graphic novel is a good “transition” reading.

This is what some students who were happy with the reading (even if they found the language difficult) said:

A graphic novel makes it easy to understand. I think that if I was reading just the play without the pictures it would have been very hard to understand.

Reading The Tempest with the pictures made the story easier to understand.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the comic book. I have never sat down to read a comic book before so this was a great experience. It helped me understand the story because I could visualize it better.

The version with comic book pictures made the reading simpler.

I loved the fact that there were pictures to look at. The pictures made it easier to understand. Usually when I am reading Shakespeare’s plays I am just reading the words and not understanding what is going on. This time I could understand what was happening…. Even though it was kind of embarrassing to read in the library because everyone thought I was being a nerd reading a comic book, I am glad we got to read this version.

Having the students read the original text (with Americanized spelling) was a good choice. I think that the graphic novel helped make it even better.


Introduction to Shakespearean English

by Dr Davis on November 13, 2013

As we were reading through early British literature in my sophomore survey class, I wanted a good way to introduce Shakespearean English.

Shakespeare_Portrait_Comparisons WC pdSo I went to YouTube and showed my students the comedian John Branyan’s Three Little Pigs in Shakespearean English. It is an amazing introduction and gives students a taste for the difficulties without making them feel totally inept.

I found a transcript of the work at WritingDeviant. While it is not completely correct, the minor emendations required are significantly less than the level of work it would require to transcribe the video personally.

Overall this video was successful in several ways:
1. It broke up the class (in terms of changing topics easily).
2. The video made the students laugh.
3. They understood that someone else had difficulty with the language, but still was able to “get” it.
4. They heard the language spoken, so they knew it was something they should be able to comprehend when reading it.


Technology Changes in Brit Lit: Quote and Thoughts

by Dr Davis on October 11, 2013


The four ages in English

In English literature the different ages also have been marked by major changes in the English language itself. Old English, Middle English and Modern English broadly correspond to the Age of Memory, Age of Manuscripts and Age of Books.

The Old English Beowulf, a bardic song, is the most complete remaining example of the first age. Courtier Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle English story collection, The Canterbury Tales, is the most complete (and wonderful) example of the second. The Age of Books in England began at the dawn of the Renaissance, only about 100 years before Shakespeare (a transitional figure), and is represented by thoroughly bookish neo-classical writers like John Milton and John Dryden (17th century AD) and almost everybody since their time through the twentieth century. There’s at least rough correlation in history among the Age of Books, the British Empire, and the spread of the English language around the earth.

The Beowulf-poet, Chaucer and Milton, if they could meet somehow, would not be able to communicate with one another very well because of the great changes in the language over the centuries. English teachers, of course, will have you understanding all of these people, and very many more besides…

But what about the fourth Age? Are we entering a time when the English language will change again into something strange and new? Perhaps machine language will play some role in transforming not only the technical processing of literature but also the form of English? Will people in the new age have trouble reading our “modern” English of 2000 AD, much as we have trouble reading Middle English? What shortcomings of books can be fixed by the new electronic medium?

That particular post also has some VERY interesting additional related readings sections.


Aemelia Lanyer: Elizabethan/Jacobean Poet

by Dr Davis on September 15, 2013

I am adding Aemelia Lanyer to the readings we are doing in Brit lit. I was introduced to this author last semester during a presentation on women and spirituality, so I am a newcomer to her work.

If you haven’t heard of her, she published an entire book of poetry in 1611. One critic says the book “is a vigorous apologia for women’s equality or superiority to men in spiritual and moral matters” (Lewalski 203). The poems I have read are certainly along that vein.

This Rough Magic has an article by Kristiane Stapleton “Teaching Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum:
Aemilia Lanyer and Early Modern Authorship” that seems to provide a good introduction to Lanyer’s ideas.