Students will come in having written a single-draft narrative of an experience based on one of the stand-up statements used last week as a way of addressing gender stereotypes. They really seem to enjoy sharing their work, so I will dedicate the first twenty minutes or so to a silent sharing activity, this time splitting the class into two groups of six (usually I don’t like groups this big, but today this will provide them with a slightly larger audience for their work, and I’ll keep these groups for the next activity). The students will simply hand their pieces to their left, read the pieces, then continue to send the pieces around until they get their own back (this also lets me see who didn’t do it—while I will also see that when I collect them, this puts more pressure on the students who didn’t do the assignment for next time, since they are more exposed. In this class there is rarely a student who doesn’t do the assignment, but in the event there is one missing, I will still have them all participate because they only take a couple minutes to read. It is okay for a person to not have something to do for two minutes, and it may be that the student who didn’t do it didn’t understand, and can learn from their peers’ models). As with the nature metaphor writing, I will collect these and read them as a formative assessment to determine the best course of action for teaching how to write memoir as argument.
After they’ve shared their narratives, we will turn to a rhetorical analysis of “Add Cake, Subtract Self Esteem” by Carol Knapp, anthologized in the book Acting Out Culture edited by James S. Miller. Students were asked to write one rhetorical analysis question based on a passage, and they will use these as the basis for discussion. To get a common context, the group will have five minutes to share general responses to the piece before addressing the rhetorical devices. Then, one student in their group of six (the bigger groups provides opportunity for more diverse discussion) will read their question out loud. The person on the reader’s left will answer the question, then the next person will add to the answer, etc., (the reader will facilitate, asking each person if they want to add anything to the conversation). Then a new student will read their question and follow the same procedure (I’m using this structure so each student has to answer one question first).
They will spend about fifteen or twenty minutes doing this, and then each group will share some of their discussion with the class. My goals with this assignment are to hear what kinds of questions they ask as formative assessment of how closely they are reading and considering rhetorical devices, and also to provide another example of a text that uses a series of personal experiences to develop a central idea. So, I will address these issues with the class if they are not naturally addressed through the students’ responses. Additionally, because the subject of this piece is so personal in nature, it is a good example of how a personal experience can be used to address bigger cultural ideas--to make a more wide-ranging argument, since she uses her story to explore the cultural pressures for women around eating.
I wanted to share some of the organic discussion that happened in this class so you can be prepared for the possibility.
In this piece, Carol Knapp recounts her struggles with anorexia, and also provides an astute analysis of women and their complex cultural relationship with food. When I’ve taught this piece in the past, the girls in the class have generally dismissed her assertions, saying that they “eat what they want” (they weren’t ready to address the issues, or perhaps felt uncomfortable talking about with boys present). This was not the case today. Neither group addressed their rhetorical analysis questions. Instead, the girls talked about and related their own experiences to Knapp’s analysis, particularly this section where she talks about going out to eat:
"I go to a restaurant with a group of women and pray that we can order lunch without falling into the semi-covert business of collective monitoring, in which levels of intake and restraint are aired, compared, noticed: what are you getting? Is that all you’re having? A salad? Oh, please. There’s a persistent awareness of self in relation to others behind this kind of behavior, and also a tacit nod to the idea that there are codes to adhere to, and self-effacing apologies to be made if those codes are broken. I’m a hog, says the woman who breaks rank, ordering a cheeseburger when everyone else has a salad.”
This excerpt is part of the section they particularly reacted to, which continued to discuss how every dessert is followed by guilt and some math regarding weight, calories, etc. The boys in each group were respectful and asked questions, too. This was one of those moments that the discussion going on was much more important than the main lesson goal, so I let it go on (I eventually brought it back to a full group discussion, which I discuss more in the reflection). I guess the my point in sharing this is to be aware of a possible outcome!
Next Steps: Students will address Virginia Woolf tomorrow.