I know that I helped to organize it, so these comments might seem unseemly, but the Teaching Rhetorical Criticism this past weekend at Puget Sound was among the most helpful events I have ever attended. I enjoyed nearly everything, and so I don't mean to leave people out. But a few things struck me as most useful--apart from delicious food and beautiful landscapes.
First, there was a continuing discussion, introduced by Vanessa Beasley in the opening session, on the kind of students we're likely to encounter in the next several years. In particular, we spent time, led by Vanessa, talking about the effect of No Child Left Behind on our rhetorical criticism classes. Vanessa's done a good deal of research and it's good stuff. The fact that many secondary schools have cut back on history and government to teach to the test in reading and math hit me the hardest. I'm going to have to rethink time allocation in some classes, I suspect.
Second, given my biases, the conference made me think carefully about ways to teach the text or teach to the text. On one level, Jim Jasinski, Robert Terrill and Andrew Hanson led a great discussion on analysis of a single text--Jasinski's ability to teach what might be called "rhetorical grammar" to his students was impressive. On a second level, there was lots of discussion about ways to teach beyond the traditional text but still have that focus. For instance, Susan Owen's version of descriptive analysis for film, the way she teaches students to parse those sorts of texts, was very helpful to me. Finally, there was debate about the text itself--some of that was a bit abstract for this venue, I think, but it raised useful questions. Equally important, it's led me to think more carefully about the ways in which I can introduce institutional analysis into my public address and criticism courses.
Third, the Sunday session and others offered me some good ideas for various teaching tools. So, for example, Rae Lyn Schwartz-Dupre of Western Washington has thought very carefully about how to teach journal articles to undergrads and a number of people, including Karlyn Campbell, demand way more such reading than I have of late. I'm convinced now I can dig into this more deeply. Similarly, Kristy Maddux manages to teach criticism in a mass lecture setting (120 students) and, given budgetary constraints, her strategies for larger classes may well be helpful down the road. Although not THAT big, please God!
Finally, on a personal note, I couldn't help but be impressed by some true luminaries of our discipline, Hall of Fame sorts :), who attended every session, thought carefully, questioned closely, filled small groups on Sunday, and generally acted as if they had more to learn than the newest of graduate students. I only hope I can be them.