Friday, May 16, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team CHAcolate on Dictee

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the fifth batch, from Team CHAcolate, on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee:


Brian leads off:

Having now done the presentation, I definitely came to understand Cha’s work much more clearly and, in the process, came to appreciate it exponentially more than when had I read it on my own. In doing the research for my project, I read a few critical essays on Cha’s work and while they were certainly enlightening, they didn’t help my overall goal that much. This being said, I’m glad that I did read those essays because, even though my project wasn’t any better for having read them, a few of those essays really helped me to see what it was that Cha was trying to do.

The presentation was easy enough. Going through each section, figuring out what tied them to their muses; it wasn’t all that hard, sans one or two. But I got the feeling that a lot of students didn’t understand it at all, and that I was holding a torch for their journey into the first layer of Dictee. And in holding that torch, I illuminated the way not only for them, but for myself as well. Specifically, the sections on Love Poetry and on Astrology were difficult for me to decipher, but once I did, they became my two favorite sections of the book. Until I did such a close textual analysis, I had no idea that Love Poetry had these two stories, of St. Teresa and of Cha’s mother (and neither did anyone else in the class).

I wouldn’t say this is one of my favorite texts, but I’ll definitely be reading it again. Probably not for a while, since I went over it quite a few times in preparation, but some day I’ll definitely go through it again. And I think that’s what Cha wanted. She portrayed time as such a non-linear relation, that to read her book at only one point in my life seems counter-intuitive to some of the goals she was reaching for.


Next up is Anonymous Student #4:

Although Dictee presented some challenging aspects while reading it, I enjoyed its culturally unfamiliar content. Cha’s writing style was difficult to grasp but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it. Writing in a narrative of post-colonial displacement raised an interest, and as I prepared for the group presentation I tried involving these aspects into the discussion. Though Cha’s technique was difficult to follow at first, it is evident that she had a distinct pattern in her writing which helped me to understand Dictee, as well as other texts I have been introduced to.

Cha’s technique raised questions dealing with underlying themes and symbols which were a bit complex to understand. I am used to reading texts with culturally familiar content so when I was introduced to Dictee, it was a bit nerve-wracking. Once I started to recognize her approach to alienate the reader so we might know how she felt, the more I actually enjoyed reading it. Although some readers may feel as though this style can be distracting from the message, I feel as though it helped me understand her point of view, and drew my attention towards her culture.

Cha has introduced me to a new way of approaching an unfamiliar style of writing. After reading, I discovered many meaningful symbols and themes just through her technique of writing. While Cha presented readers with perplexed messages, she was very successful in giving her readers a similar perspective when trying to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.


Bryna bats next:

Cha’s form of writing and style is what I found to be most unique in the book. As a group we divided into various stations to discuss various aspects of the book. Some of us brought in outside information and related it to the text. Others delved into a deeper meaning of the book or an artistic representation.

Through our group's presentation I learned several things. Most importantly, I gained support for my non-traditional approach to teaching, which I wish to implement in my own classroom someday. Our group has already received some wonderful praise on the discussion board. I personally feel that by shifting the focus to the students we allowed them to reach their own understandings. As presenters we chose to shift the focus off of us and provide students with a more hands-on, personal and student centered approach to learning and discussing the book.

While I do feel that lecture definitely has a place in the college classroom I chose to keep my teaching style that which I would use with my elementary students. Only the content I was teaching was changed due to the need to reach students at a college level. I am happy to report that the students in our class are wonderful, open-minded individuals who accepted our somewhat unorthodox stations with open arms.

The style of Cha’s book was probably the most interesting part of my personal reading. As I am generally a more aesthetic reader, the first things I notice when reading are the emotions the book generates for me. I then shift my focus to the more efferent standpoint. Not only did I love reading about such strong, amazing reading, but I loved the way I was reading about them. Through Cha’s word order, word choice, tone, punctuation I felt as if I was in her mind, thinking about and seeing what she was seeing. Due to the strong impact the style had on my interpretation of the book I quickly decided to have my students participate in stream of consciousness writing. After all, I don’t remember the exact figures but the percentage of details one remembers is significantly higher if they participate in it then if they hear it (incidentally it is even higher if they are forced to teach it--nice job, Prof. Simon).

So, back to my point, to begin I read a selection from the book itself (page 82, second paragraph). I feel that this paragraph is an excellent example of her style of writing. While, the events she is depicting are very dramatic she writes in a way that make you feel like you are seeing it. The students and I then discussed this reading and her specific phrasing and style. I then asked them to spend the next three minutes doing stream of consciousness writing. They were then free to share these if they chose to.

I really enjoyed Cha’s inclusion of poetry in her book. I felt it made it a far more interesting read. I decided to include poetry in my station. I chose poems by Maya Angelou (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) Langston Hughes (“Dream Deferred”), Lucille Clifton (“I am accused of tending to the past”), and Shel Silverstein (“Forgotten Language”). I chose these poems specifically because I felt they could tie into the book. I asked the students to read their poem and consider the style, if they liked it and how it tied into the book.

To wrap up our presentation we did a found poem. We did this idea because that way even students who did not read could participate. I feel it is important that students realize how difficult the crafting of a style and a piece of literature can be. I hope this helped them appreciate even more how much Cha put into her work.

Overall, I have enjoyed this book more than any other. I enjoyed reading about such strong women. I feel that it is amazing how these women became leaders in a sense and still are today. I truly enjoyed the way Cha dealt with the suppressed language section of this text. I also enjoyed the way she discussed history. I feel the way she depicted several events was very vivid yet raw. She managed to produce a text about history that is both factual and artistic.


Madeline takes the baton next:

I loved Cha’s style from the first page. It was different and caught my attention right away. I read the first page multiple times, not out of misunderstanding but out of curiosity. Throughout the novel Cha is constantly making you think and apply your own experiences to hers. So far, this course I have been extremely interested in the barriers we come across. Cha places random symbols of what we can only assume is her original language. I thought it was important for our class to understand the suffering she felt from that barrier, whether they read the novel or not. I chose this theme for my station because although it was important to me, you could tell it was important to her with home many times she emphasized it and repeated it throughout the novel.

For my station, I tried to use elements that were important to her and her culture. I set up the station best I could with candles and flowers from Korea, such as orchids. I brought in magnolias as well which I have never thought was specific to Asian culture. I soon realized magnolias were on my Kimono and called my parents to ask if they did that on purpose knowing it was my favorite flower. Simple connections like these made me feel extremely close to Cha and her story and I tried to give the same blessing to our class. Ink is very messy so I came up with the idea of tea to draw with. I have actually had the privilege to attend a tea ceremony with a friend’s family. The idea of sacred family and tradition would be something Cha would value and appreciate when teaching her story. She also had an overwhelming theme of white, which gave my decision for paper (rather than traditional rice paper). “You remain dismembered with the belief that magnolia blooms white even on seemingly dead branches and you wait. You remain apart from the congregation.” (Cha 155). The theme of white is littered throughout the novel subtly through spacing and context. I threw that in to draw our class more closely into the book.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with how my station went. The class seemed to feel exactly what Cha was feeling and almost blinded by language in their own element: our English classroom. One of the wonderful things about this book I feel that even though it is short, I think I could do dozens of lessons on it picking it apart and never get bored. There are few books that I think share that quality.


And last but not least is Anonymous Student #5:

While reading Cha I found it to be very difficult to understand. More so because much of it was poetry and I dislike poetry. I have trouble understanding and following any poetry and Cha was even more broken and confusing than normal for me. Even though it was a frustrating and confusing read the first couple times I read it, I still enjoyed it. I found it interesting the way it was broken up in the sections then broken up again within the respective section.

I felt that this sense of brokenness was playing on the idea of a broken memory. Where a person has their own memories, but also stories of other people’s memory when suddenly something drastic happens and their life is up heaved. They may move so their memories will change or their lives may change drastically and once again change their memories. Until eventually the memories become intertwined. They become mixed and confusing at times--with occasional bouts of clarity.

Which is how I read Cha as on my second and third read-thoughs. The book became clearer each time I read it again. Much like someone carefully sorting through their broken memories to make them become clearer, I was reading the book carefully over and over again. The book may never be fully clear and understanding to me, but then again, neither will a semi-lost memory be fully understood.

I think Cha wanted to reading to feel this sense of brokenness. To feel what it’s like to suddenly be displaced; much like she was during the war. She had been happy where she was, living in Korea where she had been born, when suddenly she had to leave her home and start a new life. This book reads much like someone whose life has suddenly undergone a large change and had to pick up the dropped pieces and try to put them back together.

This idea of putting the pieces where they belong is represented well in the section Erato; the love poetry section. There are about two stories going on at the same time, and they are mixed together. The pieces are sometimes near the top of the page, the middle of the page, or more towards the bottom. It’s like trying to put the puzzle back together, but are unsure as to where each piece of the puzzle should go. The further you read the more you understand the puzzle and able to see the bigger picture. Then you are able to understand the pieces together and put them in their proper place.

So our group I felt focused more on this aspect of the book. Each having a different project and way of explaining the book--each a separate piece of a puzzle. Then we were able to bring each station together and together the pieces made a complete. While each part was good on its own, nothing was fully complete on its own. We needed each part to make everything whole again.

Much like Cha’s novel Dictee. While it may be confusing and difficult to read, it needs to be read as a whole. No piece can be removed or skipped over without thought or the bigger picture is lost. No puzzle can fully be completed until each and ever piece and placed in it.

So while Cha was a difficult read, it is also a very important read. To have a small understanding on what it means to be so drastically replaced. To feel that confusion within yourself and your memories. It is also an important read to understand how even the smallest piece of information or smallest memory is important for without it you lose who you are. You need each piece to be a whole person.


Next up: Team Shortstack on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place and two stories from Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps....

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