It’s strange to think that I attended and presented at my first conference two years ago to date; I have fond memories of that WMU Medical Humanities Conference as being one of my best presentations yet. This year, I was excited to return to talk about my illness narrative class, Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative, and to discuss the role of illness narratives in pre-health education.
I love medical school, don’t get me wrong, but I miss this. It was so refreshing to have a conversation with humanities enthusiasts about the great educational impact of illness narratives, both from literary and medical perspectives and when considered at various stages in one’s career. It’s been a while since I’ve been so immersed in dialogue about illness narratives, so I enjoyed delving back into it and reflecting on how they’ve got me to where I am today.
It was nice to see some familiar faces in the crowd and to have a diverse group of people, most from humanities backgrounds but everyone with some interest in illness narratives and/or medical education. I decided to structure the session as an interactive discussion since I had more time, which was a bit unconventional at this lecture-based conference. But I think that as a group, we were able to further develop many of our personal thoughts and ideas regarding illness narratives as well as engage and interact with each other more, which I know that I found to be a rewarding and illuminating experience.
WMU lesson plan-Introducing Illness Narratives in Pre-Health Education
WMU Medical Humanities- Grand Rounds
To mark the halfway point of my mini-course, I gave the students the opportunity to provide feedback. In particular, I was curious about what they were enjoying in the course and what changes they would like to see made in the time we had remaining. Were the readings too long or too short? Did they find class discussions to be productive and thought-provoking? Was the class meeting their hopes and expectations and, if not, were there constructive ways that it could be improved?
I was pleasantly surprised to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Students seemed to be content with the structure of the course- the readings were manageable, blog post assignments straightforward, class discussions stimulating. Many found the blog posts to be a great way to kickstart our class discussions and to get them thinking about the readings. A number of students expressed their appreciation for the multiple media we explored and particularly enjoyed watching film and video clips in class.
The only concern that was voiced by one or two students was that there was unequal participation in class discussions. As with any discussion class, I’ve observed that some individuals participate more than others, but I have also been content with the fact that each individual contributes to each class session. To some extent, disparity in engagement may be inevitable, but I’m hoping to incorporate even more small group activities and more consciously make an effort to get everyone talking.
Lesson Plan Week 4
As our discussion about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and mental illness more broadly was beginning to wrap up, I asked the class if anyone had any last ideas or thoughts that they wanted to discuss pertaining to the novel. One student raised her hand and said that she just wanted to share a favorite line from the novel. We turned to the page and talked about it, and then I realized that there were a number of places in the text that these students just wanted to share. Our discussion continued as we marveled at Plath’s grasp of language.
Sometimes, I think, discussions can work better when they escape the confinements of preparation.
Lesson Plan Week 3
Powerpoint: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar- Background
It’s one thing to be sitting in a classroom discussion as a student– its something entirely different to be leading the discussion as an instructor. I’ve enjoyed teaching scientific facts and promoting inquiry-based learning in science, but it’s a new experience for me to be leading discussions rooted in my literary interests.
It really makes a difference to have an enthusiastic group of students and a classroom where we can sit in a circle. I taught about the history of illness narratives, which I’m simultaneously writing about for my thesis. It was a strange experience to be crafting leading questions by voice that I have also been trying to ask in my writing.
I think one of my teaching goals for the semester is to get better at tackling silences. There’s an art to teaching in silence, to allowing quiet to linger for just long enough for thought generation, without letting this surpass into daydreams and uncomfortable, awkward silences. I’m working on it.
It was a thought-provoking first discussion class, and I’m looking forward to keeping the conversations going. Up next: excerpts from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and her poems Lady Lazarus and Tulips.
Lesson Plan Week 2: Diagnosing Illness Narratives
Presentation: Illness Narratives — A Brief History
Worksheet: Diagnosing Illness Narrative with Frank’s Illness Narrative Types
One week ago was the first day of my Honors 135 course, Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative. It was exciting to start and to meet all my students, and I’m really looking forward to an interesting and enlightening semester.
I’ve been struggling to decide exactly how I would like to showcase my course and my thoughts about teaching on this blog. For the time being, I’ve decided to focus on my own instruction materials. I might discuss new ideas that arise in class, but to honor the sanctity of our classroom discussion, I might withhold these thoughts until the end of the semester and reflect on the course as a whole at that time.
And so, here are the openly licensed materials from our first day of class:
Honors 135 Syllabus
Lesson Plan Week 1
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