Reading Journals

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Weekly Reading Journals

Each week, you should submit a 500+ word journal entry engaging the readings for that week. Before Spring Break, these will be due on Wednesdays; after, on Mondays. These journal entries should represent your engagement with and above all your struggle with the reading. It should not be a mini-paper, a book report, or a summary of the readings; the intention is not to demonstrate to me your “mastery of the material”—in fact, I am not the main audience for the journal. You can write about what you are trying to understand or what you half-understand but are unsure of. Focus on what is perplexing, provocative, challenging, or exciting, and try to dig deeper into that point. You can write about how this week’s reading connects with the previous readings or with ideas from previous discussions, journals, or responses. You can problematize, question, critique, or extend, as long as you do so with empathy and the attempt to understand.

The journal entries should be formal in style but informal in structure. That is, it should be grammatically correct and considered, but it should not have a formal essay structure with an introduction, argument, conclusion. Try not to use slang. Each journal entry might focus on a single point, or take up several points, but explain your points fully. Bring in a couple of lines from the text you are discussing if it helps to support your claim or if the wording is particularly tricky or significant, but don’t quote just to quote. You might ask questions that you don’t ultimately answer, but do not to write just a list of questions. Dig into each question. Work each question over.

Focus on deep rather than superficial struggles. If you are unsure how to interpret a passage, work out possible interpretations, and connect pieces of textual evidence. If you find an unfamiliar term, concept, name, or reference, look it up, and only write about it if what you learn leads to some genuine insight. Points of confusion should not be barriers but invitations to further thinking.

The purpose of these journals is to encourage you to engage thoughtfully with the reading, to incorporate writing into the thinking and learning process, and to create an intellectual community inquiring together into these issues, ideas, and texts. As such, I am not the main audience for these journal entries. I will put you in groups, with whom you will exchange journal entries and write responses (see below). I will not provide traditional grades or feedback on individual journal entries. What you can learn from me that way is limited; what you can learn from each other through reading, responding, and open exchange of ideas can be invaluable, if you engage earnestly. Of course, I will be reading all of these as we go, and they will give me important information about your progress in the course.

Satisfactory reading journals will:

  1. Show a genuine attempt to engage and struggle with the material.
  2. Be at least 500 words (roughly two full pages).
  3. Be substantially free of significant spelling and grammar errors.
  4. Be turned in on time (the beginning of class on the relevant day)
  5. Have reasonable font, size, margins so as to be readable.
  6. The first page must have your name, the due date, the number journal entry for you, and an accurate word count.

Each journal entry will be examined in terms of these criteria, but they will also be read in the context of your entire set of journal entries, the evolution of the course and of your work as a writer and thinker.

Weekly Peer Responses

The class period immediate after a reading journal is due, you should submit a 500+ word response for at least two of the journals you received. Before Spring Break, these will be due on Mondays; after, on Wednesdays. If there are more than 3 people in your group, you should switch up who you respond to each week to be fair to everyone. You should attempt to engage in a genuine intellectual dialogue about the reading materials. Do not attempt to imitate the condescending comments you imagine an instructor would make. Avoid the third-person — speak to your reader directly.

Your goal is not to praise (but probably you should do just a little bit of that), and it is definitely not to critique or judge. You should grab on to the points raised by your colleague and attempt to carry the discussion even further. Again, the purpose is to engage and to struggle, to work together to inquire into these ideas and texts. And again, this should be formal in style, informal in structure.

It is particularly important in this assignment to be respectful. Remember that your words do not have the support of your facial expression to allay someone’s confusion about your intention. Be extra polite and clear. Recognize and respect that other people may come from different backgrounds or have more or less experience in this area. Sometimes, we have to discuss difficult, sensitive, or controversial topics. Do your best to speak respectfully, tactfully, and not to attack anyone. Criticism should target texts and ideas, not persons or groups, with the aim of understanding, not scoring points. Be sensitive to how what you say can be heard. Assume that everyone else is doing their best. Be generous with others’ honest mistakes. We all make them occasionally. Assume that all contributions are made in good faith, and do your best to gently suggest ways of improvement.

Satisfactory peer responses will:

  1. Show a earnest attempt at empathetically engaging with the journal being responded to and carry the discussion further.
  2. Be at least 500 words (roughly two full pages).
  3. Be substantially free of significant spelling and grammar errors.
  4. Be turned in on time (the beginning of class on the relevant day)
  5. Have reasonable font, size, margins so as to be readable.
  6. The first page must have your name, the due date, name of the journalist and journal number that your are responding to, and an accurate word count.

Journal Progress Self-Assessment

At the end of the semester, you read through all the journals and peer responses that you have made throughout the semester. Take note of how your writing, understanding, attitudes, and ideas have changed. Note changes that have taken place in the tone and nature of the conversation in your responses, and any interesting connections that were made through them.

Write a 750+ word assessment of the progress you have made through these journals throughout the semester. This should be formal in both style and structure, evaluating in detail the quality and trajectory of your work. End by connecting your self-assessment to the course content as a whole.

Satisfactory self-assessments will:

  1. Be honest and not hold back.
  2. Show a nuanced reflection on and evaluation of your course materials.
  3. Be at least 750 words (roughly three full pages).
  4. Be substantially free of significant spelling and grammar errors.
  5. Be turned in on time (deadline will be posted)
  6. Have reasonable font, size, margins so as to be readable.
  7. The first page must have your name, the due date, an accurate word count, and a title representing your experience in the course.