Goal Setting Essay: Conversing with the Reading, Peers, and World

Bryanna Spaulding

ENGL 439

Dr. Beth McCoy

Course epigraph:

“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” –Dionne Brand

This course emphasizes the importance of thinking about what the content in the course means. This differs from some other English courses where the importance that is emphasized is writing skills. On the very first day of class, we were welcomed with this epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” –Dionne Brand. Dr. McCoy then explains where she heard this, during a question-and-answer session after Brand’s reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto. After hearing this statement and the context in which it was said, I had a few initial thoughts.

My first interpretation was from the perspective of the teacher. I tried to see things through McCoy’s eyes and how she needs to notice the importance of our class materials. Once she’s done this, she then has to teach us the material without taking away the opportunity for us to notice the important things ourselves. Once she’s given us this opportunity she then has to evaluate if we can interpret the content in the meaningful way the course requires. Although this may be an accurate description of what the job Dr. McCoy has, it is not what the epigraph is supposed to convey.

The epigraph is meant to be more about the students as individual learners and how they work together with their peers in the classroom. The first part of the epigraph, “my job is to notice” (Dionne Brand), is about the individual learner’s job in the class. My job, and all my classmate’s job, is to read the material but go beyond doing just that. Going further than just reading means breakdown and evaluate the text. How each student does that is different of course. However, I think Dr. McCoy has a specific goal for her students when annotating her assigned readings. In every class, it is treated as a conversation. Sort of like a next-level book club. I think Dr. McCoy does this because that is how she wants us to read the text. In a way that is like we’re having a conversation with the text. To elaborate, I believe she wants us to react from our initial instinct from the reading and digger deeper. For example, in “Home” by Toni Morrison, as a class we were all surprised by Frank’s action revealed at the end of the book. Rather than just acknowledging that it was shocking McCoy encourages us to get to the root as to why we are shocked. An internal conversation each reader has with themselves, why do I feel this way? This is not the only conversation to be had with the reading. Multiple times in this class we have discussed the author’s intent. When reading “Fortune’s Bones” by Marilyn Nelson, the sentence, “Fortune was born; he died” (Marilyn, 13), was discussed at great length. Dr. McCoy present the class with questions such as why is the sentence so short yet so impactful, why would the author start this requiem in this way? When we come to class, we should have asked the author of that week’s reading a similar question. The author is not there to reply so we must use their work to try and achieve the answer they would give.

Once we have all had a long and thoughtful conversation with the reading, we must move on to having a conversation with our classmates. That is what this part of the epigraph is addressing, “… and to notice that you can notice” (Dionne Brand). After we all have made out own opinions discussing them with our peers will accomplish several productive things. The first one being, making you reflect on your initial thoughts. Many times, in class I have found myself questioning and even changing my opinions based on other student’s comments. A memorable example of this connects to Cee’s infertility. When we discussed Cee’s healing process after Dr. Beauregard Scott, one of my groupmates suggested that Miss Ethel could be equally responsible for her inability to have children. I would have never asked myself this question. Another positive result from these conversations is affirming your original reactions. Just as they can change your ideas, they can also reassure us and instill confidence when reading and forming thoughts. The final productive outcome I can recall is providing a motivation to be engaged in class. By allowing us to have so much control over class time and discussion it makes it hard not to participate. Not just for fear of failing the class but it instills a curiosity to want to know why your classmates think this way and what part of the text made them think so.

Now that I’ve broken down the epigraph, I can build my goals for this class around my interpretation of it. I have come up with three main goals to accomplish with this course. The first goal being, ask myself questions that I think will challenge my viewpoints on literature. Being a Junior, I have read and worked with a lot of different books and articles, so my annotating skills have become a little repetitive. I want this class to help me form new ways of thinking. A way that makes me question in a fresh perspective. The second goal I have set myself is, find enjoyment in what we read. Taking English for so many years has made me see reading as a bit of a chore. I want to change this mindset and look at it more like an opportunity to grow as a person and a learner. The third and major goal I have is, connecting what is learned in this course to my lesson outside of it. The purpose of so many of my classes is to prepare for a future job. I want to use this class differently. Using it to become a better listener to the people who don’t look like me. Use it to be more understanding, less judgmental, and more helpful. This course has already made me aware of things in history that I was completely unaware of. My goal is to take this and try and prevent that ignorance from being common in every school, community, and person. I plan on taking full advantage of Dr. McCoy’s teaching style and educational freedom. This class provides a comfortable environment to ask questions and that makes for a unique experience that I am very interested to see the result of.