Giselle Shohet

  • The Country Life of Highbury

    Emma, the 1996 ITV special, directed by Diarmuid Lawrence, with the screenplay by Andrew Davies, has so much to reflect on, particularly the darkness versus enlightenment […]

    • Right on: Davies’ script is plugged into Marilyn Butler’s argument (in Jane Austen and the War of Ideas) that Austen was a conservative in the tradition of Edmund Burke who believed in order and stability, with change occurring as needed to keep institutions viable. Many of the plot points you discuss feed into this thesis–especially Knightley’s speech at the Harvest Supper which directly discusses the change with underlying stability issue.

      One Davies moment that you don’t mention: when Emma is showing Frank the Crown Inn as a ballroom site, when she says that there aren’t enough young people from the gentry to hold balls with any frequency any more. But of course one reason for that is that people like Emma (and Jane and Harriet, for that matter) aren’t reproducing, and people who are reproducing madly (like Emma’s sister Isabella) are living in London. The Knightley/Woodhouse marriage will keep the direct line of Donwell Abbey running smoothly.

  • Not a Turbulent Love

    In the director and screenwriter, Douglas McGrath’s 1996 Miramax adaptation Emma, from Jane Austen’s novel, the love between Emma Woodhouse, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and George Kni […]

    • I think I’d say that McGrath kind of drew the teeth of Austen’s novel. The ending is more obvious, and the affection of Knightley for his sister-in-law is emphasized, even when he chides her for disappointing him. Emma never seems to be very interested in Frank Churchill, so there’s no real rivalry for Knightley to feel. That said, the proposal scene is genuinely romantic and beautifully played by both Paltrow and Northam (who are 11 rather than 16 years apart in age).

      Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are almost written out of the film, so little do they have to do, and their relationship seems quite obvious. Jane’s impecunious and vulnerable status has no place in the film–she’s not even on the market to be a governess here–and Polly Walker is of such sturdy physique as to be almost the opposite physical type to the way Jane is described. (Jane should look like Gwyneth Paltrow.) The result of Frank and Jane being MIA is to unbalance the end of the film. The Box Hill scene seems entirely gratuitous.

  • Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 Bride and Prejudice is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  In particular, the names of the character are mostly Indian versions of Austen’s names and the plot has a simila […]

    • I will show a few clips from a Bollywood classic today to give us an idea. Chadha’s breakout previous film, Bend It Like Beckham, had an original plot (about an English girl of Punjabi Sikh ancestry who joins a football team in opposition to her family’s notion of proper behavior), with romance elements. I’m wondering if the Jane Austen plot was a bit of a strait jacket for her and her screenwriter husband.

  • Addison and McGee in Addison, “Writing in High School/Writing in College. Research Trends and Future Directions” remind us that high stake testing is driving k-12 instruction.  (152)  This obviously transl […]

    • Hey Giselle,

      I’m glad you posted about the high school classroom, especially the standardized tests that students have to pass. Reading over the core curriculum, it seems that if students are meeting these writing goals by their senior year, they should be having no issues in freshman composition. As we have talked about throughout the entire semester, it feels like a lot of the time we are starting from scratch with teaching them how to build an argument. And, I wonder, if a lot of this discrepancy comes from the tests. While the common core is supposed to make it so that all students are receiving the same education, they aren’t taking the same state tests, which means they aren’t going to be taught how to pass the test in the same way. In my personal experience, the year I had to take the English state test, I didn’t learn how to think, or to argue, or to write. I learned how to do the work that was required to pass the test. I wasn’t allowed a space to truly expand on my writing and thinking until I started taking AP classes the following year.

      I also am glad you mention the difference between what the teachers and the students were perceiving. I feel like that is extremely applicable even now for comp classes. To us, the work we are requiring seems obvious, but they don’t always get it. It seems to start at the beginning of the semester through explaining how important comp is for their college career, and what it means for their paths if they do well in it. Even though it becomes tedious to explain why I’m making them write the draft multiple times, why they’re having these in-class exercises, why we are reading this article, why we are discussing it, why it’s important they practice analysis, why it’s important the do all these different things, I wonder if my students would have been more responsive during the first peer workshop. And I wonder, as educators, what can we do to open that line of communication with students in order for us to be on the same level of understanding?

      On a side note, reading the WPA and Queens pamphlets were extremely helpful, and I wonder if it would be beneficial to show the students these standards/expectations from the beginning.

    • Given the more theoretical discussions we’ve had about orienting students to college-level writing, I appreciate the data-driven analysis in the Addison and McGee article. Still, I had problems with the terms and categories the researchers used to gather their information, specifically the concept of “deep learning.” That seems an extremely subjective quality that may very well resist the parameters of these studies. Even as the breakdowns of student vs. teacher perspectives offer insights into what’s being communicated in the classroom, I wonder how much the questions themselves—the structure of the survey—affect these outcomes. Perhaps if there are enough participants in these studies, the information balances out—some consensus about the meaning of deep learning and the scaffolding of instruction Giselle mentions can be achieved. The data may seem tangible, but I suspect if it is to be useful, we must also examine the biases that give rise to the results. After all, the disparity between student and teacher perceptions can only begin to suggest the broad systemic discrepancies (among teachers, among students, etc.) about the nature and goals of a writing curriculum.

      I’m interested in Giselle and Kristi’s discussion about standardized testing, and its role in the gap between high school and college writing instruction. How “standardized” are these tests, considered across state and regional borders, and to what extent do these tests standardize what goes on in the classroom? Giselle’s points about the Regents exams were thought-provoking, especially in light of teaching students who have taken them. I had some difficulty interpreting the Addison and McGee because it was so technical and quantitative, so it was helpful to think about the results in terms of a specific educational context. I’m curious to discuss more ways of managing the abundance of data, and incorporating the results into an experiential consideration of pedagogy.

    • Responding primarily to Kristi and Giselle —

      I am also glad that you, Giselle, have returned to a fact you’ve previously brought up in discussion: that teaching high school in New York is necessarily geared toward the Regent’s Exam. If I, as a teacher, or my institution were evaluated based on this, then I imagine I would also teach in this direction. However, I think, and it seems that Giselle you do too, that this creates troubling habits in student writers. In thinking about these things, I am reminded of a discussion I had with an old friend, a writer, poet and academic, who matriculated and now teaches in the French university system. In Europe, the essay, from a young age is taught as thesis-antithesis-synthesis. It is a discursive rather than a persuasive format. While I think the European systems have their own set of issues (uniformity is a major one!), it’s hard for me not to see parallels between the persuasive, point by point American essay and a culture of capitalism, individualism, and teaching toward a correct answer or performance on a standardized test. I note this because it seems to be something that we all have articulated struggling with in our classes–getting students to complicate their ideas rather than prove a singular point.

      A second response, to Kristi’s musing at the end of her post, is yes, I think it could be. Transparency seems to be a recurring theme for us in Practicum. I think, even if it’s not the particular handbook, a clearer sense of the purpose of each assignment could help. Again, we operate within a culture based on use-value, and given the selfishness and arrogance of adolescence (I’m being self-honest here–I was totally arrogant and self-interested as an adolescent!), it would make sense to explain why students have to do a particular thing. I certainly think that I am going to treat my syllabus in the coming semester as a guidebook more than a list of requirements AND treat it as their first reading for class by having them respond to it and identify key themes.

    • I wanted to address the point Giselle makes regarding differing student/teacher perceptions when she says that students may not have much of an awareness of the scaffolding that is happening in the classroom. This has been a major barrier for me, even as I have tried to be as open (transparency again) about it as possible. The syllabus I’m working with is extremely scaffolded to the point that each of the formal writing assignments could be perceived as a support for one segment of the final research paper. Since the first day, I’ve tried to be explicit about how this is working, and during this final phase of research, I’ve tried to make very clear to them how each of the supporting assignments they have to turn in between now and the final paper is helping to build their end product so that they do not have to sit down and write a 10-page piece of research for the first time, all at once. However, I can tell that my students have not developed a frame of mind that allows them to see the way the work is building. Rather, many of them seem think of each task in isolation as it comes, and so do not always feel the relevance of the task when they are performing it or give it the kind of contextual consideration that would help them do well. I realize this is getting a bit far afield, but what I’m wondering is whether or not this actually is pretty directly tied to our question of being transparent about the goals of the course. For this and several other reasons, I’ve been thinking throughout the semester that I wish I had taken more time in the first week to really lay out all my expectations and for the class to come together on some common understandings of the work we undertake together, so I think that’s going to be one of the goals of my syllabus revisions.

  • The Power of Revision by Giselle

    Joseph Harris, “Revision as a Critical Practice” focuses on writing as a practice, with revision being the key (578).  Here critical reading and writing are one.  He looks for “ […]

    • The point you highlight here, Giselle, about the importance of starting totally new with a piece of writing sometimes, is an interesting and thorny one, and I want to think about it in conjunction with Sarah’s comment about her frustration with what can feel like a lack of student interest/effort. I know that I often feel the way Sarah does, and in that frame of mind, it would be very difficult for me to imagine one of my students making the move that the student you refer to does, completely starting from scratch with a new essay. It feels like between these two pictures, we have two opposite ends of a spectrum of commitment. In fact, the the level of commitment needed for the writer to say “This isn’t enough/right” and scrap the whole thing strikes me as something of a ludicrously high bar of expectation for us to have for our students because, if I’m being honest, there have been very few times in my own life when I’ve made such a move — and in the scant cases I can remember, I did so because the thing I was writing had some very real, concrete purposes it needed to accomplish (e.g. the writing I did as part of my application to this program). And yet, when I think about my comments to students, I am often making suggestions that do ask them to reimagine their drafts entirely so that they are closer to the prompt, or so that they better reflect some suddenly insightful digressive comment they make near the end. I just want to use this blog post to remind myself of how daunting and discouraging such a comment must be, no matter how kind the wording, to a new college student who is only beginning to develop the tools to tackle it. Because, actually, when I realize that my own writing needs a rethink, I rarely start from scratch because I have other, more efficient tools for making such a shift, and I realize that what I’ve written so far can probably be redeployed in some new shape. And even if I do start over, I know that I am not really starting over, but that the difficult thinking I’ve done in the first draft will be used to much more swiftly crank out the second. Since my students probably don’t have that knowledge, or at least don’t feel as confident as I do with restructuring strategies, I can imagine that my comments might sometimes seem like a demand that they start over from scratch, and I can understand why a student might reject that task. So what I’m focusing on from our readings this week is the setting of limited, concrete, and reasonable goals for revision in my comments.

    • I agree with Alison; asking students to throw something out completely is idealistic on our part. They’re never going to do it, and I feel like telling them to would overwhelm them. Because they are so new to writing, having them throw something out that they worked hard on would break their confidence in themselves. Maybe it would be more beneficial to have them try this method as an in-class excercise? Where they write out a paragraph or outline some thoughts, then have them talk about it in small groups. Once the groups are done, they put their original versions aside and write a new version of the same item. Then have them compare it. I feel like this could be beneficial to see how writing changes over time, and it would encourage them to go back and extensively edit their work (and not necessarily throw it out after the first draft).

    • Teaching creative writing, and emphasizing revision, I have also wondered what this process entails. I appreciate your anecdote, Giselle, about your recent poem, because it highlights the quality of chance involved in giving feedback—especially for assignments, as with poems, where the “criteria” is less than clear. This weekend I finally tackled the mounting pile of creative drafts on my desk. I struggled to conjure a varied enough vocabulary while striking the balance between “encouraging” and “critical.” Likewise, I had difficulty deciding just how precise I should get with my suggestions, as I’m trying to both encourage autonomy and situate the work in relation to our readings. On top of all this, the immensity of the task limited how much time I could spend with each piece.

      Which is to say, I emphasized (what seem to me to be) the essentials—theme, imagery, creative usage vs. cliché—and offered occasional subjective suggestions, hoping that some of them would click. I’m interested in this idea of, say, parallel criteria, where certain expectations are more concrete than others. I’m still trying to convey this sort of structured creativity, though it’s been difficult even situating the students within the conversation of poetry. But I hope revision will be a place for them to recognize their efforts first in the context of our workshop, and then in the limited scope of what we’ve read so far. I can’t imagine they will re-write their drafts, but I am optimistic that looking over drafts will lead to new connections—and perhaps make tangible the progress we’ve made over the past month or so.

      I’m interested in how the composition people are dealing with revision, since it seems to me self-evidently useful and potentially a tough sell. More particularly: I’d be curious to discuss the idea of “clarity”—what we mean by it, and how students (in both comp and creative writing) perceive this goal.

    • I apologize for my late comment–like Sarah I had limited time today, but unlike Sarah I did not plan ahead. I want to share my experience receiving my students’ second essay drafts today because it draws on Giselle’s focus on revision and, a little more abstractly, on writing comments. My students found the 2nd essay task tricky, and when I asked how writing their drafts went, they pretty unanimously said “terribly.” 6 or 7 students came up to say they felt like they’d failed to complete or address the assignment, and then briefly explained what they had so far in their drafts. In every case, I could certainly see why they felt their drafts were lacking–they only fulfilled half the task, they were missing a thesis statement, etc–and in almost every case, in hearing themselves describe their papers and explain what they hadn’t done, they recognized what they were missing and articulated to me how they would improve their drafts in their revisions. In the other cases, I just restated the task of the assignment and offered really general advice (“make a claim,” “don’t just summarize”) and they were then able to articulate their plan for how to improve their paper in their revision. One student even said she might scrap her draft and start over (which I wasn’t expecting, especially after reading Harris and, like Kristi, thinking that expecting this of students was idealistic). I got the sense that they felt “terrible” about their drafts because after their first papers, they’d instinctively raised their standards for their own writing and tried very hard to meet those standards, to some degree taken my comments on their first papers to heart, and started asking themselves the kinds of questions I‘d asked them on those first drafts. I also felt like almost every student expressed some degree of appreciation for the process of revision itself, like the appreciation that Giselle is expressing in this post: first drafts are unclear, ambiguous, full of gaps, and revision is the chance to clarify, refine, fill the gaps. I’d felt somewhat discouraged by the “revisions” of their first papers, as many of them looked strangely similar to their first drafts. But I think the students are rising to the occasion of revision now, and they seem to have intuited the purpose, as explained by this week’s readings, of written comments–something I’m still trying to understand and become good at.

  • Response to Kristi
    It seems that Kristi prefers a broader approach when assigning writing and reading topics. Perhaps, this is true because of the kind of person (not just teacher) that she is. From her class comments, it is understood that she includes a variety of media in her classes’ studies. Obviously, this shows her versatility. And, y…[Read more]