Look out, Harry Potter. The debut of a recent book in the fifth-grade classroom of Terry Test ’73 in Penn Yan Elementary School could be poised to rival old standbys on the summer reading list. At least if Test’s students have anything to say about it.
Each of Test’s students received a copy of the book, “Who is Penn Yan?” Wednesday, hand-delivered by Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka College. Late last fall, the 17 students in Joiner’s “Literature in the Wider World” course paired up with 17 fifth-graders Test and teaching partner Rebecca Morse selected from their shared class. For three weeks, College “authors” met one-on-one with schoolchildren to craft a personal story from the child’s perspective. Each three-page story – part of the final project in Joiner’s class – was bound into the special edition keepsake for all participants. Based on the buzz around the classroom, it was quite a hit.
Most students started by flipping through the book searching for a photo of themselves with their “author.” Or they scanned the story titles until they found the one with their name, or more specifically, the name of the character they had chosen for themselves for the story project. Then it was on with the read, until –
“Did you see mine? I still have to read yours!” exclaimed “Miranda,” jumping up from her desk and crossing the room to her friend “Charlotte,” just to point out a particular page. Similar excitement bubbled up around the room as other students eagerly pored over pages, flipping and pointing their own finds to classmates seated nearby.
“It’s fun to watch them all reading so intently,” Joiner said, pausing at the desks of several girls to ask if they’d seen page 45 yet, where a stuffed monkey belonging to “Maddie” made it into the photos.
“The story is really good – he did a really good job,” “Mikie” said of his author, junior Devon Locher, who crafted his tale of an aspiring college scientist-baseball player. “I think I want to read it a million times.”
At another desk, “Allison” was raving over the zombie story written for her by freshman Sabrina Androvett, pointing out their photo together and praising Androvett’s “very graphic descriptions.”
“She even made it kind of funny, like putting in a detail about one of my dogs chewing on the corpse’s bones,” said Allison, alluding to the other-worldly aspects of the story.
Indeed, among the advice Test’s students gave Joiner for how to approach the project next fall with a new crop of college and elementary students was “use your imagination.”
According to Test, the College authors did great work capturing what each fifth-grader tried to describe and using that to guide the plot each child tried to present in his or her story.
“In reading these, I can hear the fifth-grade voice and I can also feel the Keuka author’s interpretation,” said Test. “It was valuable for the fifth-graders to see how stories are the outcome of ideas.”
By crafting a story through collaboration, the project enabled each college student to learn more about Penn Yan through the eyes or imagination of each child. But beyond that, it served to highlight how literature is the doorway to community, culture, society and more – part of the overall goals for the introductory English course itself.
Peppered with story titles including “Butch’s Greatest Adventure,” “The Amazing Annabeth,” and “Miranda Saves the Day,” the book of personal stories seems poised to be saved and cherished by each of its starring characters. Hunched over his desk, poring through the pages of the story Devon Errigo wrote about him, “Rico” had big plans to share the book with his family at home.
“I’m gonna tell my parents that a kid from Keuka College made it and he gave me details and I gave him details and we put a story together,” Rico said.
Seated nearby, “Miranda” had similar enthusiasm and praise for the story written by her author, Tiffany Scott.
“I love this!” she gushed. “I love the details she put into it, and that it’s exactly the same way I wanted it to be.”
“Butch,” a fifth-grader at Penn Yan Elementary School, didn’t like reading.
But thanks to a three-week partner project where Keuka College students met one-on-one with schoolchildren to craft a personal story from the child’s perspective, it wasn’t long before he changed his mind. So says Butch’s new buddy and personal “author,” Keuka freshman Will Staub.
“Butch told me the first day he didn’t like reading, then the next week he showed me this book he’d read,” Staub described. In truth, it was more like Butch raced to Staub’s side, book in hand, thrusting it into view and leaning forward in eager anticipation for the response.
Watching the interaction – and others like it across 17 such pairs of college and elementary students – were Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka, and fifth-grade teacher Terry Test, herself a 1973 Keuka graduate. The two teamed together, with support from elementary principal Edward Foote, to enable the collegiate “authors” to craft a three-page story from the perspective of each child selected from the joint classroom Test shares with team teacher Rebecca Morse.
The project, dubbed “Who is Penn Yan?,” was the final assignment for Joiner’s Literature in the Wider World course, a new introductory English course in Keuka’s general education curriculum. The course was designed to highlight the focus the English program is placing on literature as the doorway to culture, society, community and more. Over the course of three weeks, each college student spent time getting to know his or her child, and ultimately, learning more about Penn Yan through the child’s eyes or imagination.
The fifth-graders all chose character names for themselves and wore name tags to each session, where partners paired up, using whatever chairs, tables, floor space, gym mats, or window ledges were available to continue their conversations.
“Look at the dynamics of this,” Test said, gesturing around the room at the pairs. “The ‘I’m too cool to do this’ vibe just shattered in the first second, and my students are real, being true to themselves. The energy is here on all sides. I’m so impressed at Dr. Joiner’s scaffolding of this.”
To say the children were thrilled would be an understatement. Some brought sketches, notebooks, origami, and more to share with their college author during the second and third sessions. A handful of boys could be seen half out of their seats, leaning forward to dialogue with their authors, while other children were seated more casually, body positions mimicking the college students taking detailed notes.
Watching from a few steps away each week, Test and Joiner were almost as excited as their students at the energy generated during the interactions, and the impact it had on student learning. By the end of the first week’s session, when alerting everyone in the room that only two minutes were left on the clock, Joiner said she could tell the project was en route to success.
“Every student – big and little – turned around and went ‘awww’ in disappointment,” Joiner said. “Some of my students who are not as vocal in class totally engaged with the children. It was just a cool thing.”
Test said the impact on her fifth-graders was almost immediate. (more…)
Students who enrolled in Assistant Professor of English Jennie Joiner’s Traditions of Literature course this spring expected to delve into a collection of works set in New York state.
What they didn’t expect was an Empire State history lesson.
The running joke in class is that maps are now a regular part of Joiner’s routine, as students traverse a literary route from east to west across the state, exploring different regions of New York in works that include Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, the Erie Canal Reader, 1790-1950, and Walter Edmonds’ Rome Haul.
Joiner acknowledged that her dependence on maps has been to emphasize that New York was the only state with geography sufficient for construction of the Erie Canal, and with the canal, linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing commerce and other boons of civilization further west.
“You think the biggest thing that happened to the state was New York City, or you’d think New York City was the heart of the state, but it’s not. The Erie Canal was. I’m not from here so it’s interesting to know,” said junior Annie Smith, a New Jersey native. “I never heard of the Erie Canal, so to see how much went on during the Erie Canal [era] and now in the 21st century … We wouldn’t have Auburn, Geneva, and all those places if it wasn’t for the canal. It played a major part in what’s 20 miles north of us and east or west.”
Sophomore Marie Cozzi calls Long Island home, and said she never realized how much history was prevalent in Upstate and Western New York.
“Reading through the stuff, it’s cool to see how the history is [represented] in the novels. I never thought there would be a history of Upstate New York in the books. One thing leads to the next. They all relate to the other.” (more…)
Dr. Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English at Keuka College, is putting a new twist on some classic short stories, sonnets, plays and prose.
Joiner introduced a new course this fall, Literature in the Wider World, which serves as the new introduction to the major. It seeks to expand student horizons on books, reading, writing and all-things English and to grasp the role literature plays in everyday life.
Professor of English Doug Richards, chair of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, visited Joiner’s class and shared a real-life example of how English can play a role in careers beyond writing and teaching. According to Richards, a graduate of Keuka’s organizational communication program was on a sales call “that was going nowhere” but took a positive turn when the prospective client referenced the medieval poem, Beowulf. The Keuka graduate was able to build on the allusion in conversation, earn the client’s respect, and make the sale.
“You will know the stories of your culture and can engage in intelligent conversation and you’ll get further along,” advised Richards. “Keep working on building links and connections.”
And that is what the students did in Joiner’s class. They studied some classics, among them Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, and short stories, such as Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper. However, more than simple context and content were discussed. In addition to reading the traditional works, students also investigated digital and other media formats, and even theatrical and cinematic formats, in the case of Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles, and Fitzgerald’s classic, The Great Gatsby.
While digital technology has had a significant impact on the written word, students debate more than just print-versus-e-book preferences. One challenge Joiner gave students is to consider literature as hypertext, the embedded digital links to prior electronic postings. In the final assignment, for example, the autobiographical “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a popular treatise against slavery, students reviewed the Biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den. They then analyzed a portion of the work where Douglass describes his newfound freedom as escaping the hungry mouth of the lions.
While on its own, the reference makes literal sense, Joiner said, “it’s a hypertext without links and we have to be aware there’s a link, so how do we fill that in? We can read [literally] without understanding the allusion but what if we do? All of a sudden it takes on this whole new meaning and how does it help [Douglass] make [his] argument? His audience would have understood that [allusion] and we, today, may not.”
Douglass’s “Narrative” contains several other Biblical and secular allusions, which students further analyzed in their final class project, where they could choose their own creative medium to demonstrate the knowledge gleaned in their studies. While some students presented digital essays using literal hyperlinks and hypertext, others chose creative mediums – digital and traditional – to share what they learned.
For example, freshman Brianna Jackson of Syracuse used a multi-dimensionsal software known as Prezi, which some have compared to PowerPoint on steroids, to present a 3-D, visual display of quotes, images, colors and more. Two students, sophomore Jake Banas and junior Justin Hess wrote fictional stories, with Banas “writing a story about writing my paper,” while Hess reverted to the classic detective-reporter serial, turning the research into clues to decipher the mystery.
Meanwhile, sophomore Tyler Hixson of Shortsville created a Facebook persona for Douglass, posting photos available in the public domain, as well as links to facts and figures relative to Douglass, then “friending” the real Facebook accounts of fellow students in the class. He also created a Twitter account using the handle FreddyDouglass17.
Joiner asked students to compare and contrast pros and cons of each format or medium.
While sophomore Judy Ludwig of Rochester merged the traditional term paper with hypertext, she “came to the conclusion that you needed both – neither the hypertext nor the traditional paper did everything you needed it to do,” explained Joiner.
Similarly, Jackson’s Prezi slideshow was visually appealing, “but in terms of something that can stand on its own, this won’t work – we need you to fill in the blanks,” Joiner described.