[DWJ] long, long delayed discussion of teaching Hexwood

Nic W eawil3 at email.wm.edu
Wed Jul 6 16:45:33 EDT 2016

That seems really neat! I'm glad a lot of teachers and professors now
factor in student interest when they choose their books. My teachers were
pretty much all about the dead white guy classics: Shakespeare and Dickens
and Faulkner. (I love Dickens! No thanks to that class!) Your students are
lucky to have such an interesting course.

I read *Hexwood* for the first time over the course of one day when I was
flying from the East Coast to the West Coast (of America). Six hours of
flying, a couple of layovers, and traversing three time zones while reading
it made for a surreal day, I can tell you that!

On Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 3:50 PM, Stallcup, Jackie E <jackie.stallcup at csun.edu
> wrote:

> I love teaching!  It's so much fun to get to stand up in front of a class
> and yak about books that I would yak about for free.
> I don't know how well this class would translate to a high school class
> though.  It's hard enough with graduate students!
> But maybe that's your point, Amy--if high school teachers taught books
> like this, maybe the students would be more invested and interested...
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dwj [mailto:dwj-bounces at suberic.net] On Behalf Of Amy Harlib
> Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2016 8:32 AM
> To: Diana Wynne Jones discussion <dwj at suberic.net>
> Subject: Re: [DWJ] long, long delayed discussion of teaching Hexwood
> aharlib at earthlink.net
> Wow – I wish my English/Lit classes in high school were as interesting as
> yours!
> Cheers!
> Amy
> In NYC, life long lover of all things SF & F and DWJ.
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.reverbnation.com_amazingamycontortionistuniqueyogadancer&d=CwIGaQ&c=Oo8bPJf7k7r_cPTz1JF7vEiFxvFRfQtp-j14fFwh71U&r=ChQZV9av_IvNDkzIpngwUsKJilpddbhq0EMuEXqohmY&m=BVeirbaEq8OyFO0Cpq0REpHcTpKC2xZ_Ow0yuJuLrUM&s=P2nOgsnbxftYdoS8VzpGZdVM93DrYguFpqfZvjv4Vsg&e=
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stallcup, Jackie E
> Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2016 6:16 PM
> To: dwj at suberic.net
> Subject: [DWJ] long, long delayed discussion of teaching Hexwood
> Hmm.  I wonder if the attachments made this post get rejected.  Here it is
> without the attachments.   If you want the syllabus, I'll be happy to send
> it to you...
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stallcup, Jackie E
> Sent: Tuesday, July 05, 2016 3:10 PM
> To: Diana Wynne Jones discussion <dwj at suberic.net>
> Subject: long, long delayed discussion of teaching Hexwood
> My goodness DWJ-ers,
> First, the list has been very quiet.  I switched over to my school email
> account because my juno account got hacked and is no more (sigh).  Then I
> didn't get anything at all for a long time so I thought I hadn't made the
> switch properly.  But then I did get a little spate of emails that trailed
> off again.  Where are you all???
> Anyway, second, I am also now in a new position.  The last time I posted
> anything, I was English department chair, DROWNING in email and work.  I
> honestly don't know how I managed to survive.  Now, I'm "special assistant"
> to the Dean of Humanities, which means interim associate dean. While one
> might think that that is a harder job than being chair, it isn't, by a long
> shot.  I actually have my life back, sort of.  One result is getting to go
> back to the very bottom of my email pile and finally FINISHING things.
> One of the things at the bottom of the email pile follows.  I believe that
> I started writing it in August 2013.  How time goes by...  I was delayed
> from sending it by wanting to incorporate some notes from a couple of
> students regarding their notes from the discussion.  I now finally have
> time to do that, on another hot afternoon, albeit one that is in July 2016
> rather than August 2013.
> Enjoy!
> Jackie
> Hi everyone,
> I have been so overwhelmed that I haven't had a chance to fill you in on
> how our class discussion of Hexwood went last year.  Martha has now prodded
> me twice (thanks Martha--much needed!) I am going to take a few minutes on
> this hot Friday afternoon to write up some notes about it.
> To start with, as long time dwj listers may recall, I have tried teaching
> several of Jones' novels with mixed results.  Dark Lord of Derkholm in
> particular required a lot of refining of my lesson plans to teach
> effectively, but I learned some really interesting things in the course of
> doing so.  (did I tell you guys about that already?  I don't know... I know
> that I talked about the disaster that was the first time I taught it...
> but perhaps not the later experiences).
> Last fall, I got to teach a graduate class called Childhood and the
> Fantastic.   I can't remember why I decided to do Hexwood this time instead
> of Dark Lord (now that I had finally figured out how to do Dark Lord!), and
> as Martha said when she heard:  "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???"  Yes indeed!  I
> think it was because I knocked the Hobbit off the reading list, which
> paired up so well with Dark Lord.  In its place I put The Hunger Games and
> that just seemed to go nicely with Hexwood, if I remember correctly.  I've
> attached my syllabus in case you are interested in looking at it.  As you
> can see, the last three weeks of the class were Hunger Games, Ender's Game
> and Hexwood, thought of as sort of linked in various ways.
> One thing that I did to set up the discussion was prepare them for Hexwood
> to be a tricky read.  Both Hunger Games and Ender's Game are far more
> straightforward and conventional (as I'm sure you all know!)  They are both
> compelling reads that make you forget that you are reading.  So I had to
> make sure that they knew that Hexwood was going to be a little bit
> different experience.  So, two weeks out, I told them to be sure to leave
> time to read it twice--that that was an absolute MUST.  Then the week
> before our discussion I told them that they HAD to come to class prepared
> to discuss Hexwood cheerfully (even if they were puzzled).  No complaining,
> no whining!  And I gave them the carrot of not having to meet during finals
> week if we had a great, in-depth discussion of Hexwood.  I think this
> intrigued them and it also warned them not to enter the reading with slack
> minds.
> One of the interesting things that always happens in a class is that
> discussions tend to gravitate toward certain themes and ideas.  Students
> seem to pull out particular themes, so that while I might teach mostly the
> same texts, the conversations and the "through-lines" for the course are
> always different.  Around week 12, I had the students get into small groups
> and identify the main ideas that they saw cropping up throughout the
> course.  Then they got onto
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__wordle.net&d=CwIGaQ&c=Oo8bPJf7k7r_cPTz1JF7vEiFxvFRfQtp-j14fFwh71U&r=ChQZV9av_IvNDkzIpngwUsKJilpddbhq0EMuEXqohmY&m=BVeirbaEq8OyFO0Cpq0REpHcTpKC2xZ_Ow0yuJuLrUM&s=wqQjvHD_rdDwWRs9nxqz-XOJsgvGlxUy9HgfFmKsFik&e=
> and made word clouds that showed what ideas were most prevalent.  We talked
> about these in class and then I used these to structure the last few weeks
> of the course.
> With all of that in mind, I thought you might find it useful to see how I
> introduced the discussion of Hexwood on the last day of the semester (see
> below).
> From that intro, I (as usual) turned it over to the students to come up
> with the main elements in the text that we would talk about for the day.
> Much to my relief, they had plenty of things to talk about and were
> cheerful and eager to put stuff on the board.  From there, I put them into
> small groups to talk over the issues they had identified and off we went.
> Now, here's one of the reasons I've taken so long to write this up for you
> all. Of course now you probably want to know WHAT we talked about, right?
> Agh! I don't know!  I don't take notes in class so once the discussion is
> done, it's gone.  I can tell you a few things that I remember:
> Among the things that I was very interested in examining is how Jones
> disrupts our narrative expectations with her characters.  My favorite
> example of this is Orm.  I find it incredibly, horrifyingly creepy the way
> that his eyes twinkle.  For most writers, that's simply a narrative
> shortcut that says "hey, this is a good guy." (Dumbledore's usual
> descriptions are a good example of this kind of... well, I don't want to
> just call it narrative laziness, but perhaps narrative conventionality).
>  I wanted them to think about how Jones develops our sense of who
> characters are and what they are capable of in unconventional ways.
> Given that violence loomed so large in many of the texts that we read, we
> discussed how it functioned here in ways similar to and different from the
> other texts that we had looked at (particularly Ender's Game and The Hunger
> Games)
> And here are some notes from students that, while unformed, give you a
> sense of what we talked about:
> Student one:
> Conformity/freedom
> Control/power authority
> Morphing identities
> Agency/free will
> Possibility/potential
> Performative nature of existence
> Bannus as a fiction maker
> Own your past/pain and use it
> Our experiences pile up/create a schema
> Looking back at a path to look forward; many things impinge upon us and we
> have to look back to understand Destiny vs performativity
> Student two:
> Novel questions reality
> Dismantles the assumptions of fantasy; dismantles the conceptions of
> narrative.
> Images of disease
> Clothing acts in the same way that names do:  creating new/different
> characters, creating confusion and disrupting the narrative Ending is not
> neat and tidy; it assumes a harmony, but does not give satisfying closure
> Most students in small group who didn't like the book had problems with the
> ending, not the plot twists
> Student three:
> Anti-essentialist depiction of existence and the performative nature of
> the self Post-modern, nonlinear narrative structure, with considerable
> temporal shifting and alternate realities depending on dominant point of
> view Expanded boundary of self-consciousness Bannus attempts to tie up
> loose ends but the forest itself rebels, wanting to create its own new
> mythology in order to continue playacting
> ******************************************
> Intro to Hexwood discussion:
> Put on board and discuss:  "Every new beginning comes from some other
> beginning's end."  (semisonic).
> So, our class is coming to an end, but you are already looking forward to
> next semester's classes.  As I was thinking about Hexwood, and the other
> books that we've read this semester, and this being the last class, I was
> thinking about cycles and circularity.   One thing that I've learned is
> that I can teach the same course many many times, and every time it is a
> different course.  The texts may be the same, and you all may be students
> that have taken classes with me before, but every class becomes its own
> entity.  Every set of students make up their own course from the given
> texts.
> We started to talk about this two weeks ago as we made our wordles and
> thought about the discussion topics that stood out in looking back.  And
> last week, with Ender's Game, I thought in particular about how violence
> seems to one topic or thematic thread that this particular course and this
> particular set of books has highlighted.
> So, as we conclude today, we are doing so with a book that is famously
> ambiguous-in MANY ways, of course, but particularly in relation to
> beginnings and endings.  So I want to start there with our discussion of
> Hexwood.  And I would like to segue eventually into considering openings
> and closing of all of the texts we have been looking at.
> Finally, and it may or may not end up being related, I want to consider
> what we have identified as "big picture" questions or ideas.  One that
> occurs to me as particularly fruitful (and I want to tell you now so you
> see what I mean and can have it at the back of your mind as we talk) is one
> that we identified last week:
> "What price victory?"
> When I mulled that over in relation to Ender's Game, I realized that at
> some level, it really applied to Hunger Games as well.  And then I realized
> that in a modified form, it applied to a lot of the texts:
> What price.... [fill in the blank].
> So, as we talk, let's think about this particular idea, or other big
> picture ideas that you can identify.
> ****************************
> Oh and here's the email that I sent off to the students prior to our
> discussion:
> Hi everyone,
> Two things:
> First, this is just to confirm what we discussed last night:  Since we are
> all caught up with the reading and we have already started the "wrapping
> up" discussion, we can go ahead and NOT meet on December 17 on TWO
> conditions:
> 1.  you come to class on December 10 prepared to discuss Hexwood
> cheerfully (even if with puzzlement).
> 2.  you come to class on December 10 prepared to branch out from Hexwood
> so that our discussion touches upon other reading from the semester and
> comes to some kind of graceful conclusion.  Come to think of it, that's a
> very appropriate way to use Hexwood.  We'll just pretend that we have a
> Bannus whose theta-field has grown to encompass all of the semester.
> If we have a good, rousing fun discussion on the 10th, we'll call it a
> semester.
> Second, Professor Wightman just sent me this link, which is an Amazon
> review of a book written by an old college classmate of hers.  The review
> is ... well, apropos of this course.  I thought you should see it.  First,
> here's a link to the book itself:
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.amazon.com_Unbored-2DEssential-2DField-2DGuide-2DSerious_dp_1608196410_ref-3Dcm-5Fcr-5Fpr-5Fproduct-5Ftop&d=CwIGaQ&c=Oo8bPJf7k7r_cPTz1JF7vEiFxvFRfQtp-j14fFwh71U&r=ChQZV9av_IvNDkzIpngwUsKJilpddbhq0EMuEXqohmY&m=BVeirbaEq8OyFO0Cpq0REpHcTpKC2xZ_Ow0yuJuLrUM&s=vUd4-6-iWPZcXo1iVVauSIjnoZKPH0rOkIp2z2ttwFk&e=
> And here is a link to the review:  Enjoy!
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.amazon.com_Unbored-2DEssential-2DField-2DGuide-2DSerious_product-2Dreviews_1608196410_ref-3Dcm-5Fcr-5Fpr-5Fhist-5F1-3Fie-3DUTF8-26filterBy-3DaddOneStar-26showViewpoints-3D0&d=CwIGaQ&c=Oo8bPJf7k7r_cPTz1JF7vEiFxvFRfQtp-j14fFwh71U&r=ChQZV9av_IvNDkzIpngwUsKJilpddbhq0EMuEXqohmY&m=BVeirbaEq8OyFO0Cpq0REpHcTpKC2xZ_Ow0yuJuLrUM&s=FoXJYUC14MDUpJIsY0eUxQi6D2EmR6aW2TyBPEETBdQ&e=
> Dr. S
> P.S.  Goodness, I'm going to miss our class after next week!
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