Reading Responses

Your weekly blog posts are a written response to the assigned reading of the week and are the place for you to engage with the texts we read, the issues/ideas/themes raised by the text, and what each text teaches you about the conventions/aesthetics/textual features/challenges of autobiography.

The primary purpose of your weekly RR is to extend and go beyond our class discussions! We’ll touch on many important ideas, themes, and issues in class, but due to time constraints we won’t be able to delve into each of these deeply or to connect some ideas to other ideas in the text we’re reading. Use your weekly RR then as a space to:

  1. Continue–but extend!–some aspect of our class discussion. For example, maybe a classmate mentioned noticing the theme or use of religion and scripture in reading Frederick Douglass. You might notice there are other references to religion that we didn’t touch on! Where are these? What’s important about them?
  2. Write about an idea, theme, question that we didn‘t get to in class discussion but one that is important to you.
  3. Explore your own questions and confusions about the text. Use your writing as a means of clarifying, distilling, and figuring something out that you didn’t understand or think before you started writing.

Reading responses (RR) are not a place for mere evaluation of the given text (as in you liked it or not).  While you might start with your interest in the piece, you need to move on to what this text is doing, and to how your own reading of it is developing.  What I’m looking for is a thoughtful, sustained “reading”–  I want to see your mind at work, thinking, asking questions, musing, wondering.  Since both your classmates and I will be familiar with the text you’re responding to, please avoid summary.  Do, however, use specific textual quotes to ground your reading response. Here are things that I strongly recommend doing:

•    Read with a pen/pencil in hand (Post-Its are great too). Underline specific chunks of text that you think are important, powerful, provocative, or confusing.  As you read, make notes in the margins of your text.  Ask questions. Make observations. Seek connections to other parts of the reading, or other texts you’ve read. You’re trying to create a map of your reading so when you return to the text to write your response, or to discuss it in class, you’ll see your own conversation with the text instead of a terrifying blank page.
•    Re-read passages or sections that confuse you a second time.  I know we’re all busy, but one of the most effective strategies of a strong reader is that they return to the text to reread it. In fact, this can make a huge difference not only in your comprehension of a text, but in the quality and depth of your response as well.  Contrary to popular opinion, few of us are great “one shot” readers.

Writing (and ways to start):

  • Start with a specific chunk of text that you find interesting or difficult!  Read it closely. Pay attention to language, structure, words, syntax.  What is going on with this section?
  • Start with a question or problem that you see this text working with.
  • Start with words or ideas that you don’t understand. Write about them.  What do you know? What do you need to find out and where could you get answers?  Often we can write our way to a deeper understanding of something.
  • What important ideas or themes do you see in this passage/section of the text? What connections do you find between this passage/quote/section and others in the text?

Blog Post Conventions:

It’s difficult to read a long chunk of written text on a blog post.  The more blogs you read, the more you’ll notice that bloggers tend to rely heavily on paragraph breaks and white space to make their work more visibly accessible (and enjoyable) for readers. So as you compose your reading response, pay close attention to when and where you can break your response up into paragraphs. (Point in case: This paragraph is about as long as I’d want to read on a blog!)

Note: Each blog post needs to be a minimum of 250 words to receive credit (you’ll find a word count at the bottom left corner of the composing space), include direct quotes, and follow MLA citation conventions. (If you’re not sure what these conventions are, just be sure to put quotes around any direct language from the text and include the page number. Avoid direct quotes that are really long.) The bulk of your RR should be your own thinking and not the quote itself!