Sunday, February 7, 2010

My opinions about the 1st half of the Spanish 365 course

My opinions of the course thus far are very mixed. I think the projects are interesting and worthwhile, but overestimated in the expectation that the students will be able to give satisfactory attention to anything. I think the students are spread very thin, and consequently their understanding of the material is merely superficial.

For myself, I originally wanted to take this course because it was required for the Spanish minor. That is it. Secondly, I would like to get off on the pure pleasure of reading some great literature. I do not want to use this opportunity to try to become a "super researcher", write articles, or work on group projects.

I think the course far overreaches what is considered to be a decent and challenging student workload. Just completing the readings I feel to be sufficient enough in getting exposure to the material.
Reading a couple hundred extra pages of didactic academic criticism is beyond tedious and somewhat circumstantial as a definitive source of interpretation.
I realize that students must learn to manage their time well and accept a heavy course load, but after 6 years as a full-time university student I can say that this course has been the heaviest. Don't forget this course is just one out of five that we're taking this semester!

However, in theory I think the objectives are worthy.

Writing weekly informal blogs forces us to quickly digest the readings and consequently we are more prepared for class discussion.
Writing comments to other's blogs gives us the chance to "tap in" to the general consensus and maybe gain insights from more astute peers.
Writing a WIKI article is an excellent way to absorb and regurgitate the material.

There are some problems with this class:

The workload is too ambitious: How are we supposed to understand deeply when we only read the material once & quickly? (because of obvious time constraints)
Class discussions are not productive when the instructor spends a very long time giving a monologue, then expects small groups to just pick it up where he left off:

What comprises a group of 4 students in our class? 1-2 people haven't even done the readings, 1-2 people are terrified to speak because of poor Spanish ability, and 1 person is a super keener who talks non-stop and intimidates the rest of the group.

I think it would be beneficial for the instructor to engage the class immediately, start eliciting general responses to the readings while guiding the questions in real time instead of during the last 15 mins. of class.

Also, because the students are juggling many different class responsibilities, I think the least amount of time is given to thoroughly reading the literature - we're compelled to worry about writing blogs & comments (700-900 words/week is ALOT) and researching secondary readings.

Why are we even given the choice to write in English? Most if not all but one WIKI group is doing their article in English - why? This is a Spanish course is it not? We should have the ability to think and express ourselves adequately in Spanish by now, but given the choice, we will choose English because it is easier. So there shouldn't be a choice.

The course is hard, but not in the ways that it should be - and yet it cops out and lets us default to English...strange...

I dread coming to this class more than going to the dentist even though Spanish is one of my strongest and favourite subjects. I feel like I'm just holding my breath and all I want is to finish this course the best I can given my current state of exhaustion and GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!


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  2. Bold post dude. I don't think many of the students in the class would really have the balls to make such, what's the word I'm looking for... open, criticisms of the course so far. I have to admit, the pace at which we are blowing through the readings doesn't really lend itself to us gaining a complete, or profound understanding of the material. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, I don't really think that's the point of the course. I'm under the impression that the prof just wants to expose us to an array of works related to magical realism and to get a flavor of the genre. With that in mind, its not surprising that we're able to get by with a superficial understanding of the material. I must also concede that the volume of reading, coupled with maintaining a weekly blog post, and making commentary on others posts can get tedious at times. I for one have fallen victim to forgetting to comment on others posts more than once. On the positive side, at least we're given a forum where we can freely express our opinions about the readings. Furthermore, our small discussion groups may not be ideal but they're better than sitting through the entire class listening to the same handful of super keeners dominating classroom discussion. I don't really see how people don't participate in those small groups though since 90% of the time the prof gives us a passage to re-read and discuss with the aid of questions posted on the board. By no means is the class perfect but, at least in my opinion, its preferable to alternatives.

  3. Heh. Points noted, Jeff. I'll respond in more detail later... but I'm not entirely sure what you want or expect. We'll see.

    Still, as someone who truly hates going to the dentist (and I have a root canal appointment on Thursday), surely it can't be as bad as all that?!?! ;)

  4. I second Pat's opinion that your post was quite bold, Jeff. But that is what these blogs are for, aren't they? I'd also like to toss my two cents in here.....In a pro/con style.

    PRO: I took SPAN 322 last year. The class was taught by Jon and it followed along a similar format. I think that we had read THREE books by the first midterm (correct me if I'm wrong) which were all as long, if not longer, than the two we just read.

    CON: I've had more than one stress attack on trying to finish these readings, but [PRO] I also see Pat's point: we are getting exposed to Magical Realism. This isn't an Asturias or a Carpentier course and so we don't dawdle. There's a lot of material to cover (as we saw in the first week of lecture) and this could probably be a double semester course, but alas, it is not, and we must use this time wisely.

    PRO: We are taking about a month to review the Marquez novel, one that you may agree deserves some extra research (and that timeline doesn't include the extra reading time during 'reading break').

    PRO: Doing the wiki article last year revealed a new world to me. I didn't understand wikipedia before, and now I'm actually contributing to it. I'm not ashamed to say that I was genuinely proud of my group when our article went to Good Article status (from not even existing at the beginning of the semester!) I came to intimately know "Woman Hollering Creek"....almost like I'd taken the book and studied it for a whole academic year.....hmmm....

    CON: Your description about the groups' aesthetic make-up is pretty dead-on. How to remedy this? I don't know. I've always figured that people who don't do the readings and don't want to contribute will do that exact thing whether they're put in a discussion group or not.

    PRO: I do enjoy the monologues. They get me thinking about the big picture. Kind of like a blog in real-time. And I mean, we're paying the guy to teach us; and what better way than sharing his knowledge, opinions, and then giving us scholarly articles to improve (via Wikipedia) based on a topic that we ourselves choose?

    Okay, so I'm an eternal optimist, but what it comes down to is that there will always be different perspectives. Knowing Jon, I'm sure that he will take your constructive criticism (very well written constructive criticism, by the way!) and make the necessary adjustments in the classroom. My perspective: I look forward to going to this class every Monday, Wednesday, and long as I'm not late.

  5. I completely disagree with you Jeff. This is a 3rd year course, there are 4th year students in this class, by this time we should be used to reading this much work. Jon's criteria in class is the best way of learning. I've had teachers that make you read things that make absolutely no sense and don't even discuss it, let alone force you to participate in spanish. It's so nice of Jon to let us have the option of writing in english that way everybody has a chance to express themselves. He mentioned before that major spanish students should write in spanish, so it's up to the student. If it weren't for the weekly blogs I would not read anything and just cram last minute.

    PS: Going to the dentist is worse :)

  6. Just throwing my opinion out there:

    I sometimes feel overwhelmed by readings, but in all honesty I don't feel like we are assigned an insane amount of readings in the class; as a double major in English Lit and Spanish, I have to read about 36-45 books each semester so I don't feel the readings assigned by Jon are outside the norm. Also, as a non-native Spanish speaker (closest I have ever gotten to a Spanish-speaking country was three hours in Madrid) I value that Jon gives us the English option. As a Spanish major I try to in Spanish as much as I can because I think it helps (or I hope it helps, often I feel bad for the profs that have to deal with my many grammar errors or translations that make no sense), but the English option is available and valuable - and it's cool that class discussion does have to be in Spanish.

    Class format is also something I like in the class - I've had profs that lecture all the time, and ones that come in, say 'good morning. let's talk about then novel' and proceed to just listen to 80 minutes of people having debates that stray off topic and have no logic, so I think having the prof introduce an idea, let us have group time to hash out any misunderstandings and develop thoughts further so we have the confidence to speak up in the larger group is the best of both worlds. I agree with you that it can be frustrating when others haven't done the reading, but not much one can do about that.

    I agree with you Shima, the dentist's is a world away and the fact that we have to read One Hundred Years of Solitude does scare me, but I think I will be very happy to have completed that as a Spanish major because it is such an iconic text, much in the same way all English majors end up taking a class on Shakespeare and read a lot of his work. :)

  7. This seems to be the blog to post on this week.

    And like everyone else, I'm coming in defense of the class.

    - Yes, it's a lot of reading, but I'm also a psychology major, and I'll take 70 pages of good literature in a small book over 50 pages of dense, dry big textbook material any day of the week.
    - I don't think the point is to gain a deep understanding of all books, but rather to get a feel for magic realism. We see where it started, the masterpiece in the genre, and some criticism to it. Yeah, maybe Asturias could have been left out.

    Class Discussions:
    - I think the monologues give us a sense of direction and then looking at one passage per class makes sense, no? If the entire class were passage analyzing, we would need more passages, which would get repetitive and boring... or we would need to analyze one passage in excrutiating detail......which would be repetitive and boring.
    - Maybe you're sitting in the wrong part of the class, because my groups have all been fairly talkative.

    - "The course is hard ... and yet it cops out". Don't you mean and yet you/we cop out? You're right: we have the choice to write in English... but you also have the choice to write in Spanish. If you really want to practice, you can... as I see it, you take responsibility for your own actions - my wiki page may be in English, but I'm blogging in Spanish!

    -Why does everyone fear them? I love the dentist! He cleans my teeth: he's my mouth's nanny.
    -Next time, when he's in your mouth, focus on rotating your feet or moving your toes around individually: get your mind on the opposite end of your body and it won't be so bad.

    Can't wait to read Cien Años in Spanish!

  8. Just to clarify, the reading in this class is minimal - that is to say, the novels in Spanish that we read, the length and quantity is perfectly reasonable.

    The issue is the subsidiary texts that I have a problem with, from almost a moral standpoint.
    I find no value in studying other people's perspective & criticisms regarding the concepts of this course. Many ideas are purely subjective, and do not require an "expert's opinion". I do not need to research other people's opinions in order to form my own.

    I am more concerned with reading the novels at least two or three times, having some class discussion, and then going off on my own to write my own opinions in an essay format. Later, the instructor (who usually is similar in age and experience to me) can evaluate my ideas based on logic, historical context, format, and maybe some spark of originality. If I feel the instructor has been short-sighted in their evaluation of me, then I contest the grade formally. Yes, I am an asshole.

    I realize that most of the other students in this class are very fresh and want to learn how to assert themselves, impress the teacher, and be hyper-proactive with their learning experience, and more power to them!
    However, any undergrad course is merely an introduction and overview of a subject, and the courseload must reflect that.

  9. I agree with you most of us are spread thin through various other courses and I myself am only reading the stuff as fast as I can without looking for a deeper meaning to any of it.

  10. I could not believe what I was reading when I read your post Jeff! I basically disagree with you on every point you made. No offense of course, everyone's opinions are valid and worth listening to. However, this is the second class I have taken with Jon. I chose to take this class purely because Jon is teaching it. I found in his Span 322 class that the format he teaches in creates a really relaxed learning atmosphere in which students feel at ease to express themselves in spanish even if they have very little experience doing so. Plus, he chooses really great books!!!

    His so called "monologues" encourage us to think about major themes in the readings in which he leads us towards valid conclusions via questions and discussion. These "monologues" rarely last longer than say 15 minutes. Classes are called lectures for a reason no? We are paying an extremely well-educated, articulate person to speak to us for a reason.

    As far as the reading assignments go, this is one of the smaller work loads I have. Try taking a poli sci class! In the class syllabus, Jon even tells us that it is better to come to class having read 20 pages and understanding 60% of the spanish than to come to class having read 2 pages and looked up every word. Something lends me to believe you have been looking up every word.

    Yay for Jon!!!!! I think he could teach a class on just about any subject and find an interesting approach to teach it to his students.

  11. so this is a popular post i see... say what you want it's only fair. My only point was in the criticism on the amount of workload and time constraints. I feel that yea there was a lot to read...but the more we read the more we understood...and if we didn't have time to read it.. someone in your group was eagger to help you out :o)