Responses 2 Crumb & Thoreau & why I do this

Friday, September 25, 2009.

This week, my research and writing class has been responding to a piece by R. Crumb and excerpts from Thoreau’s journals in one of our course texts, American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau



 I am continually impressed by their imaginative responses that demonstrate their engagement with the reading assignments.  See some nice drawings below.

& why I do this

I should probably explain more about how these reading response visuals contribute to my teaching and my students’ learning.  College teachers face a common pedagogical issue: “How do we know that students are actually reading and engaging the ideas contained in the assigned homework?”  This is a particularly important question if the faculty member wants to talk with students about what they read–that is, actually engage students in thinking about what the author is proposing, about the characters in the narrative, about the imagery in the poem, about the version of history being portrayed.

Some faculty respond to this issue by giving pop quizzes.  Some have students lead class discussions on the assigned text.  Some have students bring questions about the reading written on index cards and collect them as students enter the class.  Others have students write a brief response in a journal or in a more formal typed response.  Some have students represent their responses or the argument of the text visually.



 In my classes, I have students either write or draw their responses, and I designate which texts I want them to write about and for which texts I want them to create a visual response.  In either case, I then ask students to share those responses in groups of 3 or 4. 

 small groups

I then assign these small groups another task, frequently a task that they will share with the entire class, such as “Identify together what you take to be the author’s main claim and a question that you have about that claim.  Then select a member of your group to write that question on the board.”

These questions then serve as the roadmap for whole class discussion.  During this discussion, I help students learn to interrogate the questions, connect them back to the text, and then prompt them to consider how these and other related questions might serve as effective starting points for their research projects.

This is the basic agenda for every one of my class sessions.   They read, they respond, they share their responses in small groups, I assigned a small group task related to the reading and their responses, they share the outcome of the task with the whole class, we discuss those outcomes, and that discussion leads to further research and reading.

And that’s why creating a successful strategy for getting students to read and respond to the daily assigned reading is so important to me.  Otherwise, students aren’t actively engaged in what the course has to offer them: continual practice in reading, responding (in text or images or both), sharing, talking, listening, connecting ideas, and developing questions for further reading and writing.

OK, back to the drawings

The piece by Crumb called “A Short History of America” is reproduced in black and white in our text, but here is a color version of original image from R. Crumb’s website











And here are some sample responses from my class.  Some have tried to imagine what the next image in the sequence might be.  Some have responded with other kinds of images.

Responses to Crumb in AE
Responses to Crumb in AE 001

Responses to Crumb in AE 003

Responses to Crumb in AE 005
——————————————————————————————–Responses to Crumb in AE 002

Responses to Crumb in AE 008

Responses to Crumb in AE 006


The responses to the excerpts from Thoreau’s journals are here:

Responses to Thoreau's Journals

Responses to Thoreau's Journals 001

Responses to Thoreau's Journals 003

Responses to Thoreau's Journals 004

If you click on any of these last 4 images, you will be internetically transported to my flickr site where you’ll find the text citations that correspond to each.