In order to graduate from the English literature and language program at Cal Poly Pomona, you have to take a class called Senior Symposium. In addition to reading books by one author (in this case, Italo Calvino), you’re also required to teach one class / write a research paper / and put together a portfolio exhibiting your best work over the past four years / several documents explaining your growth and how to improve the program for future students. Senior Symposium is not one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken, but I learned a lot.
Italo Calvino is pretty alright.
I’ve already done a fair amount of reading about postmodernism, so I didn’t think Calvino’s philosophies were particularly earth shattering. I do know a lot of students in the class came away with a better understanding and a new viewpoint, so I’m good with that. Calvino does have a lot of ideas, however, that are resonant in today’s “want everything instantly” kind of world. It was also really interesting to hear from a writer about what he thought the purposes of writing and reading were, and how to craft a good story. If you’re interested, I highly recommend Six Memos for the Next Millennium and Mr. Palomar.
Learning how to teach a class is an Experience.
I was lucky that I got to plan it with a partner, but trying to come up with a concept that will create a lot of discussion questions and last the full hour took a long time to formulate. Our presentation was on Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, so we decided to start with a “What is postmodernism?” discussion before moving into the text and its ideas. We decided to go the mini-lecture on the premise / small groups / reconvene into a big group route, and that worked really well. People were more comfortable to discuss in small groups than they were in a larger one, and that was quite alright. I felt quite unprepared, but we did just fine. If I had to redo it, I would have drawn stronger connections to other theorists and maybe found out if Calvino had expressly ever said anything about postmodernism.
A portfolio is a really great idea, with limits.
Getting to see just how much I’ve grown as a writer over four years was really cool, and I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to do it if not for the class. There are some assignments that I’ve done in the program that I’m really proud of and know that I did a pretty good job on. There were a few where I cringed at the construction and grammar of essays I got pretty good grades on. Save for my last set of Shakespeare commentaries and maybe my Modernism & Postmodernism term paper, I would completely redo the essays I included knowing what I know now — but coming to that realization was basically the point of the portfolio. I will say, I did so much reflection about the entire process via questionnaires and 7-page reflective essays that I started to repeat myself. My portfolio ended up being about 65 pages. Goodbye to all of those trees. It was definitely worth it.
And a side-note: no 11:45 a.m. classes ever again.
Having a class in the middle of the lunch hour sucks, and learning that in my second-to-last quarter as an undergraduate student was pretty damn rough. Heed the warning.
Have you ever had a class like this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.