Midsummer Preparations for Fall

In the old, pre-blogging days, prepping for a new course meant, primarily, doing a lot of reading and then thinking about sequencing assignments for students to develop their writing and thinking. I used to think in units, weeks—time and length. I used to hang out at the photocopier quite a bit. Pretty straight forward process.

last light

Now, as I dive headlong into prepping a new first-year seminar, “The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Exploring the Far Reaches of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction” I realize that I go about designing a course by taking it myself during the summer.


I spend a lot more time considering the opening couple of weeks. If I want my students to learn deeply, one of my most important tasks is figuring out how to create an environment in which they risk making mistakes, looking foolish, reaching out to others while relying on themselves. I frequently blog about the crucial first weeks of a course, how I am convinced that if you want your students to go beyond themselves, you have to focus on the class environment first.

bowling shoes

But I also spend time trying to put myself in their shoes. I spend a lot of time writing, playing, moving along promising threads of ideas and forms and outcomes, backing up, rejecting, flailing, and fumbling. I have to consider elements of visual design, explore a range of media for producing as well as consuming the course, and envision how a group of sixteen students might take the initial sparks I throw out and turn them into something far more interesting than I could possibly anticipate.

I’ve had to get a whole lot more creative.

With that in mind, one reason I have set up the new bgexperiments blog–-a blog far more intimidating for me than this one—is to push myself in ways that aren’t altogether comfortable, just as I will expect my students to do. And so I posted a personal narrative text/image exploration a couple of days ago, and wow, I haven’t felt so exposed and vulnerable in a long long time. I read it several times online, seeing the typo, the ways I would revise certain image-text combos, the ways the piece fails, the ways my skills and gifts fall short. And until some of my most valued cyberspace mentors had read and responded so kindly, well, I just felt completely out of sorts.


How many times do we put ourselves squarely in our students’ shoes? Admit to yearning for feedback? To fearing failure?

sunrise through clouds

It’s harrowing, but as I move into this rainy Sunday morning, I find I can’t wait to get back to my experiments and to my course planning: I am as excited and engaged and nervous and exhilarated as I was the summer before my first teaching job back in the 80s. That’s one of the marvels of teaching in all times, but especially in this time—feeling like an explorer in a new land, remembering that “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” (Sir Edmund Hillary)


8 Responses

  1. I just came here from Geeky Mom. This is really exciting to me! You sound like a great teacher. I am always trying to keep myself in the beginner’s mindset. I am looking forward to reading more…

  2. Welcome, cloudsome, to bgblogging. I am delighted to have you join the conversation here and on flickr… It’s an honor to have readers venturing over here from Geeky Mom — she is one of the best!

  3. Hello Barbara!
    I have been attending Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference. Wow. It is amazing how much I have learned, yet how new this all remains. Thank you for introducing us to blogs and digital stories last summer. The UVTI interns will now all have electronic portfolios this coming year. We shall see how it evolves. Your new blog is an inspiration. The convergence of word and image provide the reader opportunities to reflect, to pause while reading, to think while looking. Thank you!

  4. I’ve been following along via Ewan McIntosh’s et al’s blogs–great people there–I’m glad you’re taking it all in, and I look forward to catching up with your doings at UVTI! Great work this year!

    And thanks for the kind words about my new blog. I am having fun playing with a convergence of image and word. It’s tempting to spend all my time on such things!

  5. Very exciting to read about new… semester, thoughts, project. Blogging your new one over at Infocult now.

  6. I hope you will post more about the content of the course you create on the far-reaches of creative non-fiction. I’ve been thinking a lot about the non-fiction form, particularly spurred by reading some work by John D’Agata… I love the work that spans between fictional structures, the prose poem, and “traditional” essay techniques.

  7. Hey Barbara,

    This course sounds amazing. I would love to be apart of it or help out in any way. I look forward to this up coming year and my thesis, and no doubt the many “mad dog” ideas, criticisms, and encouragements. What kind of projects do you expect for this course? Any digital storytelling?

    Kwaheri from Kenya,
    Eli Menaker

  8. Awaiting stories and photos from the Canadian Rockies.

    To waste your time even more, I am tagging you for a stupid meme, as silly as the old chain letters.

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