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  • Analyzing Student Annotations towards Understanding Application of Theory (draft)

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    Assignment Overview: Personal Identity Narratives

    In my gender theory course (see course overview here ), which I am now teaching for the third time, students encounter some of the key ideas in gender/sexuality/body studies and practice applying those ideas to personal narratives and cultural texts.  After the assignment overview below, I try to explain how students work with theorists in this assignment.  I have also tried to explain this ‘core concept’ here.

    In the course, students first write personal identity narratives outlining their own identities along the axis of gender/sexuality/body. (It should be noted that we are very careful in this process, with students vowing to keep information about one another confidential. I also make it clear that I don’t need salacious details and that people should only talk about what they are comfortable talking about. I believe—as scary as this assignment is to me every time—that this first assignment creates a kind of intimacy and community among us that helps to make the course a success.)

    In the first two iterations of the course, students then responded to a small group from the course suggesting insights and ideas for the narrative using theorists we had read in class since the first version was written. Students then returned to rewriting their own stories, another round of comments, and then they rewrote their own narratives a third time.

    In the latest iteration of the course, I have stopped having students do a general response to one others work and also stopped the complete re-writing of the narratives. Now, students use the comment feature of Microsoft Word to create “annotations” at specific moments in one another’s text, where they are supposed to offer insights and ideas from theorists we have been reading in class. Then each student was to annotate their own narrative incorporating those insights (and any they had on re-reading their own text). Finally, each student did a second round of annotations on their group partner’s text.

    What do you see students doing in these comments and annotations? [note that I will not be quoting from student work due to our strict policy of confidentiality]

    Narrative draft built from categories below:

    In these identity narratives and annotations, the most interesting intellectual work is when students are able to move behind simple explanatory applications (Foucault’s ideas of power explain how your family helped form your identity) to posing questions which push the student outward (Foucault as applied to families say this about power, but how do you see power operating in various areas of your life?) [that doesn’t quite capture the distinction. . .but]

    The categories at work in student work here are:

    –comments on writing (not interesting)

    –responses to some idea or fact in the pin without reference to a theorist or using a key vocabulary point (“I write a lot about my body, but you don’t”)

    –drawing on certain key vocabulary as an explanatory device for how a fellow student’s identity was structured (“this vignette is a good example of what Foucault meant when he wrote about disciplinary power”)

    –drawing on key vocabulary to open up a new question or direction for the fellow student (‘Realizing what Foucault said about disciplinary power, is this vignette really about that, or is there something deeper at work here?

    –drawing out a moment in the text and then applying an appropriate but not necessarily obvious theoretical concept to it (‘your fascination with ‘non-normative’ gender behavior seems important. How might you think about this within the larger Foucauldian conception power & resistance also existing together?’)

    How does this assignment build into other assignments?

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