Saturday, January 31, 2015

New "Comment Training" Strategy

Well, I have been terrible at documentation for the new semester. I get all caught up in the fun and excitement of the classes themselves, and that means I run out of time for documentation. It's not that documentation is totally un-fun and unexciting... but it's never as exciting as getting to meet all the new students and trying to make sure the class is going well for them!

Anyway, it is now the end of Week 3, and one of the new experiments for this semester is going even better than I expected, so I wanted to write it up here: My New "Comment Training" Strategy.


First, some background: 

In the past students have struggled with giving comments to other students. There was no lack of enthusiasm, and the comments were always encouraging, but they were often vague and, as a result, not very useful to the authors. When I asked the students last semester about what kinds of comments were most useful to them, the universal response was that they wanted more critical feedback, comments they could actually use. You can see some of those student responses here: Thoughts about Comments.

Ironically, the students who were frustrated by the vagueness of the comments they received were also probably guilty of leaving vague comments themselves because, overall, the comments did tend to be vague. Enthusiastic, friendly, encouraging... but vague, very generic, without a lot of detail.

The new experiment:

So, I decided to try something different this semester. In the past, there were several weeks devoted to helping students get used to using Google Sites. I decided that I could actually fold the Google Site practice into another assignment (I'll explain about that in a separate post), and thus find room for a kind of "Comment Training" series of assignments. It's a four-week sequence that works like this:

Week 2: Holistic and Analytical. In this assignment, I try to get students used to the idea that when they read a story for the purpose of leaving a detailed comment, they should read the story twice: once holistically for an overall impression and THEN analytically, focusing on specific features of the story. To practice these skills, I ask the students to leave 150-word long comments on three students' Storytelling blog posts (their choice). I was amazed at how well this went! It was a night-and-day difference compared to the kinds of comments I typically saw in past semesters.

Week 3: Format and Function. In this assignment, I provided a list of more technical features that students might want to comment on. I used the word "format" to refer to web presentation (fonts, colors, layout, etc.), and "function" to refer to web links, navigation, etc. I then asked students to leave 150-word long comments on three other students' Storytelling blog posts in which they read holistically and analytically while also checking on format and function as appropriate. So far, the results of this assignment also look excellent. (Most students will be doing this assignment tomorrow, on the Sunday of Week 3.)

Week 4: Author's Note. In addition to having trouble with comments, students also had trouble writing their Author's Notes. It's a similar problem: in the same way that they were not used to providing critical commentary on other students' writing, they were not very skilled at providing critical commentary on their own writing. I am really optimistic, based on the success of this experiment so far, that with a little training and practice I can help all the students to write better Author's Notes (and, of course, they will benefit from that as readers because they will get to enjoy better notes at other students' stories). For this assignment, I'm asking students to go back to the Author's Notes they wrote on their stories so far this semester and expand/improve them.

Week 5: Final Practice. This is the last week before students start writing comments on each other's Projects. So, this assignment actually has three parts: (1) students set up the Comment Wall at their blog for incoming comments (their Storybook Projects are separate websites, but the peer comments on those websites come in via the blogs), (2) they review the methods for keeping track of incoming comments at their blog, and (3) they write one last practice comment on another student's Storytelling blog post, practicing the skills they learned in Weeks 2, 3, and 4.

Preliminary results:

Although it is still not even half-way through this experiment, I am so excited by what I have seen. I'll update this post when I can report more confidently on the overall success of the experiment, but I am really pleased about this! I always thought it would be too difficult for me to take on the task of really "teaching" students how to do comments, and instead I relied on my comments as a kind of model for students to follow. For some students, that modeling was enough, but the majority of students needed something more. So far, it looks like this simple four-week "course" in commenting will make a big difference.

Even better: if students can learn to do a better job of commenting critically on other people's writing, it might also help them become more critical readers of their own writing.

So, there is a lot of great potential here, with lots of good indications so far. I will report back in a few weeks about the overall experiment, along with some ideas about what I will need to do differently next semester.

In order to see what's going on in the class right now, I've embedded the live comment stream below: you can see how it is going for yourself! If you browse through the stream (also available as a webpage of its own), you will see some of the detailed comments that people have left, along with the more informal weekly blog comments that are much shorter and more casual. Both kinds of comments are useful and important: the short, casual comments are the chit-chat that makes the class fun and friendly, while the longer, more detailed comments are important in helping people to revise and improve their writing. And yes, this is a class where students revise... and revise... and revise some more — hopefully based on comments from many readers, not just me! :-)




Saturday, January 24, 2015

Indian Epics UnTextbook: Table of Contents Emerging

Because I want to ask my students for feedback to help me focus and set priorities for this coming summer's work on the Indian Epics UnTextbook, I am trying to get a tentative table of contents lined up. Then, I can ask students to identify which of the options they find most attractive within each content group, and I can let those be my top priority this summer. We just finished Week 2 of class, and I promised the students extra credit for helping me with the UnTextbook starting in Week 6, so I have some serious groundwork to do to get ready. I'm in the process of setting up resource pages for each of the target books, and that in turns allows me to start building a tentative table of contents, containing both the books I have always used for this class, plus the new online options.

Because my classes are built as week-by-week modules, it makes most sense to look at the reading by weeks. Students have reading assignments for 12 weeks of the semester. Here is what the range of options will now include:
  • Total reading weeks from books-for-sale: 12 weeks
  • Total reading weeks from free books online: 60 weeks
So, that means students can choose to do some or even all of their 12 weeks of reading from books for sale in the Bookstore, but they will also be able to select their 12 weeks of reading from a wide variety of online books!

WEEKS 2-3: RAMAYANA
During the first two weeks of class, everybody will be reading a two-week long version of the Ramayana. Previously, everybody read R. K. Narayan's prose retelling of Ramayana, which is available in paperback and Kindle. As online alternatives, I'll be offering a choice between two different prose retellings.

BOOK FOR PURCHASE: Ramayana by R. K. Narayan.
171 pages (appx. 85 pages each week): Reading Guides

Rama and the Monkeys by Geraldine Hodgson (1903).
104 pages (appx. 52 pages each week)

Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914).
120 pages (appx. 60 pages each week).
Sister Nivedita's retelling of the Ramayana is this book also features some lovely illustrations, like this one of the battle between the demon king Ravana and the valiant bird Jatayu:



WEEKS 4-5: MORE RAMAYANA

After reading the Ramayana in Weeks 2 and 3, I want students to spend at least two more weeks on the Ramayana in Weeks 4 and 5. They can also choose to spend Week 6 on the Ramayana, and also Week 7; for other options during Weeks 6 and 7, see below. During these weeks, students may choose to read any of the two-week versions now that they did not read last time (see above), along with any combination of options below.

One-Two-Three-Four-Week Option:
BOOK FOR PURCHASE: Ramayana by William Buck.
432 pages (appx. 108 pages each week): Reading Guides
This is a four-week option, but students can also choose to just read one, two, or three weeks of Buck, using the Reading Guides to figure out just which weekly portion would be of greatest interest to them. This is the same model I will use with Richardson's long version of the Ramayana below.

One-Two-Three-Four-Week Option:
The Iliad of the East: The Ramayana by Frederika Richardson (1886).
310 pages (appx. 77 pages each week)
Students may choose to do one, two, three, or four weeks of reading from this book which is a faithful rendering of Valmiki's Ramayana.


One-Two-Three-Week Option:
Ramayana by Romesh Dutt (1899).
POETRY. 180 pages (appx. 60 pages each week).
Students may choose to do one, two, or three weeks of reading from this book which renders the Ramayana in rhyming English couplets. Dutt also did a verse adaptation of the Mahabharata (see below).

One-Week Option:
The Divine Archer by F. J. Gould (1911).
74 pages.
This retelling of the Ramayana uses both Valmiki and Tulsi Das as the source.

One-Week Option:
The Great Indian Epics by John Campbell Oman (1894).
74 pages. 
Oman's book contains prose retellings of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; I've included his Mahabharata version below.

One-Week Option:
Stories of Indian Gods and Heroes by W.D. Monro (1911).
60 pages.
Monro's book contains prose retellings of both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; I've included his Mahabharata version below.

One-Week Option:
Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
55 pages.
This is the short version of the Ramayana that I've included in the UnTextbook for my Myth-Folklore class, and it's gotten a positive response from the students in that class. Illustrations by Warwick Goble!


One-Week Option:
Valmiki's Ramayana by Ralph T.H. Griffith (1870-1874).
POETRY. This is an enormous book which provides a complete rendering of Valmiki's Ramayana in English verse; I need to go through and select some passages that would constitute one week's worth of reading (or more, if students end up liking this book).

One-Week Option:
Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley 
FILM. This is a full-length animated film (appx. 90 minutes), a brilliant and extremely creative retelling of the Ramayana story, and Nina has released the film into the public domain! Go, Nina!!!


(There are additional one-week Ramayana options I might look at the Ramayana retellings in Cradle Tales of Hinduism by Sister Nivedita (1907), The Indian Story Book by Richard Wilson (1914), and The Indian Heroes by C. A. Kincaid (1921); I have used those books for other purposes below. In addition, if the Griffith version of Valmiki proves a success, I could try later on to add other week-long selections that I make from English-language versions of Tulsi Das, Bhavabhuti's Vira Charita or Uttar Rama Charita, or Kalidasa's Raghuvanca.)

WEEKS 6-7: BUDDHA/KRISHNA or RAMAYANA
During Weeks 6 and 7, students can carry on reading more Ramayana materials OR they can switch to read some materials about Buddha (including jataka tales) and/or materials about Krishna.

One-Week Option:
Life of the Buddha by Andre Ferdinand Herold (1922).

One-Week Option:
Jataka Tales and More Jataka Tales by Ellen Babbitt

One-Week Option:
Eastern Stories and Legends by Marie Shedlock (1920).

These three books — Herold, Babbit, and Shedlock — form the Buddhist selections in the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, and the students have enjoyed them, so I am confident about including them in the Indian Epics UnTextbook.

One-Week Option:
Twenty Jataka Tales by Noor Inayat (1939).
I am not entirely sure just how this book entered the public domain, but it is available at Hathi Trust and I would be so excited to offer students a book by Noor Inayat. This is one I would very much like to add to the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook also.


One-Week Option:
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914).
68 pages: Krishna and Buddha.
This selection would combine two different chapters of Sister Nivedita's book: the chapter about Krishna and the chapter about Buddha.

One-Week Option:
Cradle Tales of Hinduism by Sister Nivedita (1907).
85 pages: Krishna. 
This is a different book by Sister Nivedita and contains a much more extensive chapter about the legends of Krishna.

One-Week Option:
73 pages: Krishna.
C. A. Kincaid was a prolific writer; altogether he wrote a half-dozen books that are potential candidates for the UnTextbook.

One-Week Option:
Tales of Ancient India by Edmund Charles Cox (1887).
88 pages: Krishna and the gods. 
This unit would focus on Krishna, but I would also include some of Cox's short chapters about the other gods.



Week 8 is a review week.

WEEKS 9-10: MAHABHARATA
During the first two weeks of the second half of the semester, everybody will be reading a two-week long version of the Mahabharata. Previously, everybody read R. K. Narayan's prose retelling of Mahabharata, available in paperback. As online alternatives, I'll be offering a choice between five different prose retellings.

BOOK FOR PURCHASE: Mahabharata by R. K. Narayan.
179 pages (appx. 90 pages each week): Reading Guides

Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
171 pages (appx. 86 pages each week)
See above for Mackenzie's retelling of the Ramayana.


The Pandav Princes by Wallace Gandy (1915).
136 pages (appx. 68 pages each week)

The Great Indian Epics by John Campbell Oman (1894).
128 pages (appx. 64 pages each week)

The Indian Heroes by C. A. Kincaid (1921).
102 pages (appx. 51 pages each week)

Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914).
128 pages (appx. 64 pages each week).
Includes wonderful illustrations by artists under direction of Abanindro Nath Tagore.



WEEKS 11-12: MORE MAHABHARATA

After reading the Mahabharata in Weeks 9 and 10, I want students to spend at least two more weeks on the Mahabharata in Weeks 11 and 12. They can also choose to spend Week 13 on the Mahabharata, and also Week 14; for other options during Weeks 13 and 14, see below. During these weeks, students may choose to read any of the two-week versions now that they did not read last time (see above), along with any combination of options below.

One-Two-Three-Four-Week Option:
BOOK FOR PURCHASE: Mahabharata by William Buck.
412 pages (appx. 104 pages each week): Reading Guides
This is a four-week option, but students can also choose to just read one, two, or three weeks of Buck, using the Reading Guides to figure out just which weekly portion would be of greatest interest to them. This is the same model I will use with Seeger's long version of the Mahabharata below.

One-Two-Three-Four-Week Option:
The Five Brothers: The Story of the Mahabharata by Elizabeth Seeger (1948).
300 pages (appx. 75 pages each week)
Students may choose to do one, two, three, or four weeks of reading from this adaptation of the Ganguli translation. There is a note at Internet Archive explaining that the book is indeed out of copyright.


One-Two-Three-Week Option:
Mahabharata by Romesh C. Dutt (1898).
POETRY. 173 pages (appx. 58 pages each week)
See note above for Dutt's retelling of the Ramayana in verse. Students may choose to do one, two, or three weeks of reading from this verse adaptation.

One-Two-Week Option:
Legends of India by Washburn Hopkins (1928).
POETRY. 120 pages (appx. 60 pages each week)
This is a long poem focusing on the adventures of Arjuna, "The Silver Prince."

One-Week Option:
Stories of Indian Gods and Heroes by W.D. Monro (1911).
61 pages
This is a highly condensed retelling of the Mahabharata; I am thinking it might be useful for students who want a chance to reread/refocus after their first encounter with the Mahabharata in Weeks 9-10.

One-Week Option:
The Indian Story Book by Richard Wilson (1914).
60 pages
This is also a highly condensed retelling of the Mahabharata, and it pulls out the story of Yudhishthira and the riddles at the lake as a separate story at the end.

One-Week Option:
Tales from the Indian Epics by C. A. Kincaid (1918).
87 pages
These are stories from the Mahabharata: The Churning of the Ocean, King Janamejaya's Snake Sacrifice, Nala and Damayanti, Satyavan and Savitri, and The Frog King's Daughter.

One-Week Option:
The Indian Story Book by Richard Wilson (1914).
60 pages
These are two stories from the Mahabharata: Gentle Conqueror (Savitri) and Nala the Gamester.

One-Week Option:
Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
POETRY and PROSE. 80 pages.
Mackenzie provides a prose a retelling of the Nala and Damayanti legend, and I'll supplement that with some poetry from Edwin Arnold's very long rendering in verse from Indian Idylls; I still need to select the portions from Arnold's poem to include; Mackenzie's prose version is appx. 50 pages.



WEEKS 13-14: LEGENDS or MORE MAHABHARATA
During Weeks 13 and 14, students can carry on reading more Mahabharata materials OR they can switch to read other legends, including some drama and poetry. There are also some folktale collections I would like to include here, especially Neogi's Sacred Tales but I need to do some more thinking about that, figuring out which materials lend themselves to going into the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook and which are better used here.

Two-Week Option
Kalidasa's Shakuntala by Arthur W. Ryder (1912).
108 pages
Ryder's book is simply wonderful, although I'm not sure I will be able to entice people to spend two weeks reading Shakuntala. It would be two weeks well spent though! He also includes different versions of the Shakuntala story for comparison.

One-Week Option:
Nine Ideal Indian Women by Sunity Devee (1919).
94 pages
Epic Women: Sita, Savitra, Damayanti, Uttara


One-Week Option:
Nine Ideal Indian Women by Sunity Devee (1919).
80 pages
More Legendary Women: Sati, Shakuntala, Shaibya, Promila

One-Week Option:
Cradle Tales of Hinduism by Sister Nivedita (1907).
76 pages
Tales of Shiva, His Wives, Savitri, and Damayanti


One-Week Option:
Cradle Tales of Hinduism by Sister Nivedita (1907).
87 pages
Devotees, Kings, and Snakes

One-Week Option:
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists by Sister Nivedita (1914).
68 pages
Shiva and other legends

One-Week Option:
Stories of Indian Gods and Heroes by W.D. Monro (1911).
67 pages
Visvamitra, Prahlada, Kuvalayswa

One-Week Option:
The Indian Story Book by Richard Wilson (1914).
74 pages
Sabala, Shakuntala and Rishyasringa

One-Week Option:
Tales from the Hindu Dramatists by R. N. Dutta (1912).
76 pages
These are abbreviated prose summaries of the plays, not the plays themselves.

One-Week Option:
Plays by Rabindranath Tagore
I know I want to include Chitra and Karna & Kunti, but I need to read through the others and make a selection.


ALL BOOKS ABOVE LISTED HERE:




Saturday, January 10, 2015

An UnTextbook for Indian Epics: January Update

This post will be something of a brain-dump: I need to get caught up IN WRITING to where I am with my Indian Epics UnTextbook project. I've been working on that over the break after having the amazing "eureka!" moment back in early December when I realized that it really would be possible to create like an UnTextbook for Indian Epics just as I have done for Myth-Folklore (Myth-Folklore UnTextbook here).

So, in no particular order, here are the things that are on my mind right now... and since my mind is about to get absorbed by the Spring semester starting officially on Monday, I better write these things down so I don't forget!

1. BASIC PLAN. Basic plan from earlier post still seems VERY good to me: find two-week long versions of the Ramayana (right now that is the Narayan book) and two-week long versions of the Mahabharata (right now that is also Narayan) to use as "anchors" for the two halves of the class. Spending two weeks on either epic is enough to get an overview (although, admittedly, it is harder with Mahabharata). Then, follow that with two weeks of reading related to the epics, a wide variety of stuff that people can choose to read focused on specific scenes/themes/sources that will build on what they learned about the epics in their overview weeks. Then, follow those two two-week sessions with the option of two more weeks of epic reading OR two weeks of reading in other Indian storytelling traditions (using materials from the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook + similar).

2. EVOLUTION. The current incarnation of the class with the three/four books can carry on as before; I don't have to get rid of it since it does work just fine. So, for students who want to keep on using books (they are not expensive) and/or students who want to read only epics and are not interested in the other storytelling traditions, no problem! That's something I really like, in fact, about this redesign of the class: it's kind of like building a big addition on to a house... an addition that is bigger than the house was to start with ... but with the old house still habitable.

3. STUDENT FEEDBACK. Starting in Week 6 of the semester, I've promised students that an extra credit option is coming up where I will ask them to help me evaluate the books that I am looking at as possible candidates, both for the epics and also for the collections of folktales, fairy tales, jatakas, etc. So, I don't really have to get that ready until Week 6 but some students are eagerly working ahead, so it would be good to get that ready by Week 4 or Week 5 at the latest. I'm thinking it needs to be something REALLY structured since obviously I cannot ask students for a lot of time here, so I need to start pondering this pretty soon, figuring out what good activities I can dream up over that ten-week period so that the students will be getting some real benefit while I will also be getting useful feedback!

4. FREE EBOOKS. Free public domain books. I've scoured Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Hathi Trust looking for possible books to use. The results are here: Indian Online Books Library. In rough numbers, I started with 14 folklore books used in the UnTextbook already, plus 1 epic book used in the UnTextbook already. Here is what I have accomplished so far:
Folklore Books: 32 books indexed (over 2000 stories!), plus another 15 books to possibly include
Epic Books: 79 books for me to review and ponder... LOTS of works here, but exciting!

5. EBOOKS I BOUGHT. Yes, for Christmas I bought myself a lot (yes, A LOT) of ebooks, thinking that for the student who don't mind paying five or ten dollars for a book, I could offer them those options as well, writing up Reading Guides for those books just as I have written up Reading Guides for the paperback books that are the epic reading for the class right now. In particular, I really want students to be able to read Ashwin Singh if they wan: he is the Dan Brown of Indian literature, and I think it would be so much fun as a last thing to read for the class if students looked as his Rozabal Line for two weeks and saw how much of it they could connect to thanks to the readings in this class! That's obviously a long-term project, something I might not even really start in earnest until next winter break, but I love the idea that my own interest in reading these books could end up benefiting my students. And the combination of ebooks with Reading Guides written by me is very feasible. They could even read some Amar Chitra Katha comic books for one week's reading!

6. OCEAN OF STORIES. I started a blog where I am publishing a story from India every day, either one that is already digitized (so I mostly just copy-and-paste) or else one that I am transcribing from a page image. This is fun, and it's a good way to keep me busy doing something related to this project every day. Here's the blog: Ocean of Stories. I'm sharing those with my students via Twitter (#IndiaStory) and via a Pinterest Board (the Twitter stream and Pinterest also include stories I am re-posting from the MythFolklore UnTextbook).

7. FRAMETALES. The Ocean of Stories blog is one I can also use for figuring out how to make good use of the three important nested-story collections that I want to share with my classes: Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, and Kathasaritsagara. I think I finally found a really good way to use the blog format in order to let the stories stand on their own while also letting students explore the frame too. This is something I have always wanted to do, so I am really excited about it!

8. JATAKAS. The time has finally come for me to cross-reference all the editions of the jatakas in public domain editions, starting with the monumental Cowell edition but also grabbing the other editions too, including the ones for children like Babbitt and Rouse. A giant Google spreadsheet should do the trick!


9. EPICS V. STORIES. For the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, the focus was (mostly) on individual stories, so it made sense for me to create an actual "book" of my own (blog) with each story on a page of its own. This will allow me to create mix-and-match anthologies of stories based on theme, etc. In the Indian Epics class, though, the reading does not lend itself to this kind of chunking. Instead, I need to focus on creating Reading Guides for online books, just as I have created Reading Guides for the paperback books that we use in class now.

10. EPIC PRIORITIES. There are so many possible epic books I have found that I could use, and some of them are huge, of course (like the Ganguli translation of the Mahabharata), so I'll need to prioritize as I make my way through those materials. I'll focus first on the Ramayana and Mahabharata retellings, and only afterwards branch out to see what I can find the puranas, in classical drama, etc. Realistically, this is going to be a two-summer project rather than just one... but luckily the way that this is evolving side by side with my current class means that letting it happen over time is actually just fine.