Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor, summer edition

In the final weeks of the semester, as I submitted grades, prepared my summer syllabus, and bore down on some book manuscript revisions, I let this blog project slip. But since my summer course presents some challenges that fit my theme (i.e., they’re things that I, like many others, didn’t experience in grad school but did (or will) encounter as new faculty) I’ll extend through the summer — or at least through the end of June, when the course ends.

summer is finally hereThe biggest way in which why my summer course differs from fall and spring is its schedule. Because the time is short, the class is condensed. Versions of this vary by institution, and even here we have several versions: a Maymester course that meets every day for several weeks; a half-summer course that meets twice a week for 3.25 hours; and a full summer course that meets once a week (and, in December, an intersession in a similar format; I opted out this year).

I’m teaching a half-summer course, “Coming of Age Narratives” (syllabus here, iyi), which meets twice a week for 6 weeks. My first challenge was the syllabus: this is a theme that lends itself to long novels, but unless I want to devote the whole semester to one work, David Copperfield isn’t really feasible. We meet Mondays and Wednesdays, and especially for Wednesday classes I can’t really assign too much (most of my students also work full time, and/or have families). So I had to try some new things. My solutions were these:

  • I assigned only shorter novels, and more poetry. The longest work we’re reading is Huck Finn, which is manageable in a weekend (I assigned it over Memorial Day, so they really had a full week). The longest other novel is Frankenstein, certainly manageable in a weekend. I’ve also assigned more poetry (although, on a side note, I’ve been gradually increasing the amount of poetry I include on all my syllabi), short stories, and excerpts of novels than usual.
  • My syllabus includes a suggested schedule. I was clear, on the first day, that I expected about 6-8 hours of homework over the weekend, and about 2 hours for Wednesday classes. For Huck Finn and Frankenstein, I provided a schedule: which chapters to read together, and about how long it would take. A few students found it useful for Twain, some ignored it and set their own schedule (which is fine).
  • Students read more in class. In just about all my classes we read a poem the first day: I get students practicing the kind of reading I want them to do, and making notes on the text as they read. I’ve extended that idea through the shortened semester, and we’ll also read some short short fiction. One class is set aside to watch a movie (a paper is due that day, so they have that assignment rather than reading).
  • Students will write in class. This is something new for me, at least for a literature class. I’ve asked students to bring a laptop to class, and to decide which text they want to write about. They’ll start working on their paper the last hour of class, with me and each other as potential resources.

Have you taught a condensed course, in the summer or winter? How did you alter your syllabus to make it work?

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