Monday, November 22, 2010

A sneak peek into Douglas classes: English 1101 – Canadian Literature

By Tamara Letkeman

When I took first-year English at university the class was held in a theatre. There were well over 100 students and it was impossible to get the professor’s attention, let alone have any sort of discussion. If someone in the back raised a question, the students in the front would crane their necks to hear what he or she was saying and vice versa, to little effect. It was not until second year that classes got small enough to be called “seminars.”

But second year brought its own problems. In my Canadian Literature class, the professor would sometimes arrive wearing a forest-green velvet suit with matching bowtie. While he prattled on about Dorothy Livesay and Sinclair Ross, my classmates and I were biting the insides of our cheeks to keep from laughing.

The first-year English class I attended at Douglas, English 1101 – Canadian Literature, posed no such problems. For one thing, Diane Stiles, the instructor, did not wear anything remotely similar to a green velvet suit.

And although the classroom was full, it was small enough to be manageable. On the day I was there, two groups were presenting on two different poems, Al Purdy’s “The Cariboo Horses” and Earle Birney’s “Bushed.” After each presentation, Stiles split the class into several small groups to discuss the poems.

It makes a huge difference when a class can be divided into small groups to discuss a piece of writing. Even more so when the instructor is able to spend a few minutes with each group to answer questions and help them better understand what they’re reading. It just seems that the students get a lot more out of the experience.

In my own first year class a lot of the material sailed right over my head. But I was never comfortable raising my hand to ask a question, as too many people would witness my “ignorance.”

So if you’d really like to gain an appreciation (and comprehension) of Canadian lit, the small classes at Douglas are definitely for you.

As for comic relief, it can be got elsewhere than from a green velvet suit.

Tamara Letkeman has not been in a classroom for a number of years. She is braving the waves to give readers a glimpse into some of the awesome classes that Douglas offers.