A Sequence on Sequencing: How? (Part II)

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Last time I talk about forming a sequence around a particular reading, but one of the things I love most about this approach to my teaching is that it allows me to respond to things going on in the world right now.  And so a second approach to sequencing is to start with a current event or topic and then build a sequence that explores that issue.  Not only does this method help students to see how what we do in the classroom connects to the world around them but it also offers me the chance to bring in any number of small supplemental texts from the media. I’m writing this soon after the Oscars.  I was struck by racial discussions around the awards ceremony as well as racially inflected comments about Zendaya’s hair on the red carpet.  If I were assembling a sequence right now, I might choose something on this topic.  I think I would title it “Hollywhite: Race and Media.” Having a topic in mind, I use many of the same steps I use when starting with a reading.  I start by locating all the readings that relate to the topic, including readings that are near to the topic and readings that are “universal.”  Emerging offers a number of tools to help in this process: quick annotations of the readings, tags in the table of contents, questions accompanying the reading, thematic table of contents, existing sequences, and the Instructor’s Manual.  When I’m done I would end up with something like this:
  • Alvarez (ethnic identities and economics)
  • Appiah (mechanism of social change)
  • Fukuyama (what makes us human)
  • Gilbert (determining happiness)
  • Muñoz (assimilation)
  • Nathan (education and diversity)
  • Olson (the persistence of race)
  • Pozner (race and media)
  • Savan (race and advertising)
  • Yang (racial stereotypes)
  • Yoshino (civil rights and assimilation pressures)
Last time I went for really obvious pairings.  This time, however, I think I want students to think about this issue from a few different angles.  I would want to use Yoshino because he mentions the ways in which Hollywood stars have changed their names to “cover” their ethnicity.  Muñoz would be a good pairing since his whole essay is about Anglicization of names.  Pozner talks explicitly about race and television so I would want that.  And then I think Appiah so that students could think about how to make changes to the situation. Of course, I could also see Savan / Olson / Yang / Alvarez or Fukyama / Olson / Nathan / Gilbert or Pozner / Savan / Yang / Yoshino.  The essays I select are determined by my sense of where I want the sequence to go, as well as some sense of which offer ideas that students can work with. Having selected my readings, I would then spend some time thinking out the order of the assignments.  For me, this is almost an exercise in narrativity.  That is, I am assembling a series of causes and effects in order to locate a central “story” about race and media.  This central narrative then offers a spine upon which students can build their own structures relating to the topic, based on their interests and their critical thinking. In this instance, my central narrative would revolve around pressures to conform, the power of negative stereotypes, and the possibility of change.  Having determined that, then it’s a matter of writing out the assignments, leaving some room for adjustments along the way and perhaps building in assignments that allow students to bring in current events. I like both approaches.  I’m not sure which I tend to use the most since I feel like both offer me good advantages.  I will say, if you’ve not written your own sequences before, I hope you will consider giving it a try.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.