Today I graded my undergraduate students’ queer notebooks, a new assignment that I’m experimenting with. Last quarter, I had my eighteenth-century students compile a commonplace book (and my graduate students are doing that assignment this quarter), but I didn’t think that would quite work in the Lesbian & Gay Lit class.

Over the summer, I visited a colleague’s class to observe her teaching. She used a very effective notebook assignment in that class, so I asked her if I could steal it this term. So, I adapted her assignment for my class.

The goal of this assignment is to give my students a place to demonstrate that they are engaging in an ongoing process of thinking carefully, critically, and personally about issues of sexuality raised by the literary works we study, our class discussions, and the world around them.

I require them to prepare at least two substantive entries in their journal each week. I want them to show their processing of what we have read, studied, and shared. I’m interested in what speaks to them and how it speaks to them. (That conjures images of ghosts or something interrupting their studying!) I’m interesting in having them record their thoughts, feelings, and emotions—whatever it is that helps them move from inert to alive, passive to active, bored to interested. They can share their thoughts in essay or other forms, as long as they make sure to review aspects of class discussion. This journal is also a place for them to agree or disagree with their classmates’ contributions to class discussion if they don’t feel comfortable speaking up in class.

I’m trying to assign them one required entry each week. One week, for example, they had to compare two scenes in Larry Duplechan’s Blackbird. In each scene, the main character has sex with someone else. The first scene depicts his sleeping with a girl; the second shows him having sex with a boy for the first time. I specifically wanted my students to examine how Duplechan uses language to describe each event and then draw some conclusions about his attitudes towards each. This week they’ll have to write about a poem by Paul Monette and compare it to the last section of Borrowed Time that we’ll also read for Wednesday’s class.

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