How I Managed to Do Well in this Class?

Advice for future students from former students of CPLT/GETR 345
"Critical Approaches to Young Adult and Children's Literature", Fall 2007

      This class will probably challenge your prior beliefs about books and children, so make sure you have an open mind. 
     Be aware that a good portion of your grade is participation.  Utilize class discussion and the toolkit postings to explicate your opinions, doubts or questions.  Be sure to post on toolkit regularly: it does count as part of your participation grade.  When posting, make sure you take a couple of minutes to sit and think about what others have said and your opinions, then write.  This will probably make your post more coherent, but also since you have spent some thinking, your post will also be more insightful.
     Force yourself to a step further.  We all know the plot of the book and we’re not discussing symbolism and syntax in this class.  Rather, connect your thoughts, analysis and the book to your life or studies.  You’ll find that the majority of your classmates are not English majors. You’ll quickly learn that you will not be studying the books in a vacuum, so use what you have learned elsewhere (not always in an English class) and apply it.  
     Enjoy yourself.  What other class lets you talk about Little Red Riding Hood academically?
                                                                     -- Quynh Vu, Social and Political Thought Major, 3rd year

     To do well in this class, you must not only do the readings, come to class and participate, but also immerse yourself in all factions of the course; you should ALWAYS PARTICIPATE. Prof. Bach values insight, not one opinion over another. As long as you can make a good case for your argument, you may make any point you feel strongly about without fear of criticism. In fact, you will be praised for your efforts. Take note that you will be questioned and others will find flaws in your argument, but it is always in the spirit of inquiry. We are all just trying to find some answers, if any exist.
. . . Be thoughtful, resourceful, and passionate in all the work you do for this class and you will receive a high mark. Draw from your fellow students in discussion and writing, come to class with a few thoughts on the reading or toolkit discussion, seek Dorothe out for help when needed (she really does make herself available), and approach the class with an open and receptive mind. One last thing: don’t make broad sweeping generalizations in your argumentation. Enjoy this class because it is truly rewarding.
                                                                                     -- Olivia Sealander, CLAS undeclared, 1st year

     I think what made this class such a great experience wasn't simply the fact that I was/am deeply interested in the subject matter - it was also a class I felt I could be really honest in. One way to do well, I think, would be to realize how children's lit isn't something one can be only be "academic" about. It needs to be approached taking into account how what a child gains from reading is hardly dependent on literary interpretation, but also psychological factors such as particular experiences they can relate to. I didn't (and no one should) feel the pressure to "sound smart" in this class.This made everyone's contribution to the class a lot more personal, sincere and interesting.
                                                                                         -- Shuang-Ning Ling, English Major, 3rd year

    It seems too good to be true, right?  Reading your favorite books from childhood for college credit.  However, there are some important things to keep in mind while participating in this course.  First, keep in mind that it is, in fact, a course.  Furthermore, the course covers a huge number of topics, many of them unfamiliar in an academic setting.  So, how can you succeed in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature? My advice is fairly generic, perhaps, but it served me well.
      While you may gush over Harry Potter, tearfully remember Charlotte’s Web, or glory in the gore of some classic fairy tales, remember your literary criticism skills.  Read all the texts closely.  Reflect on the text’s language, its cultural context, how characters work, its narrative voice, its intended audience, and all of those wonderful things that can enrich your reading experience and add depth to it beyond an initial guttural, emotional, reminiscent response.  Embrace both the intellectual and the emotional and furthermore, share these thoughts with your peers.
      The course offers ample opportunity to engage with your classmates on a host of sometimes controversial topics, both in class and in short writing assignments (such as Toolkit postings).  Participate in these mediums, maybe even engage in some civil and well-intentioned feuds over contentious points.  Be passionate.  Be honest.  Be real.  People have different opinions and different takes on the literature, and if you don’t share your real thoughts, you are just cheating yourself and your classmates.  If you actively participate in the class dialogue, engage with the texts, and dynamically synthesize these aspects with your own intellectual and emotional foundations, I cannot imagine that you would not do well.                
                             -- Kate Christison-Lagay, Comparative Literature/Cognitive Science Major, 4th year

"Spiritual Journeys in Young Adult Literature: Critical Approaches"
GETR 345/ REL 374, Fall 2006

     You're probably taking this class because you thought it sounded interesting and fun, which, you'll be pleased to find, is a correct assumption to be making. If you enjoy this class, and put some real thought and effort into assignments and discussions, you will gain much more than an A. The class will definitely challenge you in some way, whether by encouraging you to explore different writing styles, consider new ideas, speak up in class, or work on a team project. Do take these opportunities for personal growth, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Definitely attend every class, not for the attendance sheet, but because the discussions are fascinating! Finally, keep in mind that while participation does count, you do not need to speak at every opportunity. If you're shy, listen to your classmates closely and eventually you'll think of something that you really want to share, no matter how nervous you are. And, on the flipside, if you tend to talk a lot, don't be afraid to sit back for a moment and give others a chance. I did not have something to add to every discussion, but this did not prevent me from doing well in class. Good luck, and enjoy!
                                                                                           -- Claire Moran, Psychology Major, 4th year

How to do well and enjoy yourself:
      Do the reading. Yes, you've read Harry Potter and Narnia ten times each, but read them again, because they're new every time. Talk in class, because you have ideas and they are important. Even if you are afraid of sharing, this is the class that will be supportive of what you say. At the same time, don't talk too much in class. It's better to share your one or two ideas every week when they are meaningful to you than to try and achieve some imaginary "points" for participation by dominating conversation. Write about what you know. Your paper and journal entries are going to turn out so much better if you write about what you are passionate about rather than what you think you should care about. Attend any optional events. The option is if you want this class to be another academic class or if you want to be able to see your classmates and say hi and smile because you actually know who they are. Go to class! How often do you get to discuss books you read when you were 12 with teachers who are enthusiastic, creative, and incredibly knowledgeable? Take advantage of it.
                                                                                 -- Nikola Juris, Cognitive Science Major, 4th year

      It seems to me that success in any class is a reflection of thought. To do well in Spiritual Journeys in Young Adult Literature required thinking not only during class discussions, but throughout the day, in other classes, in interactions with friends, and while reading outside of class. The wonderful aspect of Spiritual Journeys class was that it did not require the kind of mind-numbing thought that a different type of class might necessitate; instead, it required a thorough examination of one's own opinions and a comparison of those with what the authors and what one's classmates presented. Of course, for a college student, it is not always simple to discover one's own opinions, and that is why the course necessitated a significant investment of time, so that one could think about how the ideas we discussed in class might be relevant to an individual life, to a community, and so forth. 
      I suppose to be a bit more concrete, I might say my success in the class was due to nothing more than being particularly interested in the course material. Instead of approaching the work as a burden, I took it as a welcome respite from the often dense and less engaging material for other courses. In terms of the writing assignments, I would attribute success to what I mentioned in the paragraph above -- a dedication to thinking about the course, talking about the course, from multiple angles and for significant periods of time. In part, that was an easy task because I signed up for the course with several good friends with whom I could discuss the works and ideas from class. By the time it was necessary to have something to say, I had more than enough thought stored up to express my opinion.
                                                                                                   -- Sarah Yeates, undeclared, 2nd year

     I would say one of the key things that helped me in the class was my natural inclination to compare the books I read to my own experiences and the characters in them to myself and those I know. This made it pretty easy for me to write about the books, as I often used these thoughts in my reading responses and papers. I also think that it is beneficial to not take everything in the class at face value. I tried to put my own opinions, beliefs, and understandings into the work I did, without thinking how much that would affect my grades. Lucky for me, this approach turned out to work. I guess I felt that this being a pretty unique course, an unconventional approach would fit the material the best.
                                                                                     --Brendan Burdett, History Major, 2nd year

     Like any other class, if you put forth your best effort to do the work assigned in Spiritual Journies, you will likely succeed. The professors really want to help you to do well, so if you feel like you are struggling, talk to them after class or at office hours. Reading the majority of the material, although it is a lot, will enable you to participate in the discussion, and then you will have something more interesting to write about in your reading responses and/or journal entries. I took notes on the things that I found interesting during class so that I could look at them before I did my writing. Also, the professors do not want a summary of the book that you read in the reading responses. They want original, interesting thoughts or and analysis of why you dislike or like a book. You can take one little idea that sparked an emotion in you during the class and turn it into a reading response.
                                                                                                           -- Ellen Cary, Nursing, 3rd year

     First and foremost, in order to succeed in Spiritual Journeys in Young Adult Fiction, I had to be open. I encountered myriad perspectives from peers and professors, and discovered that I must be open to my own opinions, most importantly, and be willing to add them to the class discussions (both oral and written). I tried not to censor or limit my interpretations and thoughts regarding the readings, and I was unafraid to respectfully challenge other views. This helped to create an open discourse in the class and within my own river of thoughts.
     Among my more mundane means to success: I spoke at least once per class; I was sure of myself when I spoke, knowing what I wanted to say and generally how to say it (though I was not averse to occasionally opening my mouth with only a vague idea of what was going to come out of it); I did all the readings and assignments on time; and I took the criticism from my peers and professors with equal gravity, attempting to incorporate what I could to make my points/writings better.
                                                                                             -- Charlotte Howell, undeclared, 2nd year

     My first impression of RELG374:Spiritual Journeys in Young Adult Literature was of a class broad in scope, ranging through time and space and across many disciplines. The breadth of the class proved to be both rewarding and, at times, difficult and frustrating. The course draws on anthropology, literary theory, and even physics.
     While I was initially intimidated by the wide range of disciplines and ways of thinking that this course required, the journal and assigned reading responses and afterthoughts helped me clarify my thoughts and allowed me to focus my writing as the course progressed. As with any class, a close reading of the assigned materials and class participation were important, but I found that putting time and effort into each writing assignment, no matter how small or informal, was absolutely essential. The small assignments helped me pull together class discussions, the readings, and my own thoughts, which was extremely helpful for projects and larger assignments. I feel that the consistent effort I put into them was reflected in a significant improvement in the quality of my work over the course of the class, and that it would have been nearly impossible for me to have done well without it.
                                                                                -- Michelle Unterbrink, Economics Major, 3rd year