Category Archives: Teaching

Bring your high school students!

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Every so often I get asked if I can host a few high school students–or even a whole class–in one of my English classes. It can be a lot of fun–if you can fit everyone in the room! I’ve had the pleasure of hosting a group of students from St. Benedict C.S.S. in Cambridge in the past; this year they visited classes taught by Jay Dolmage and Victoria Lamont. Their teacher, Denise Wittmann, composed a report for the school newspaper, and has graciously allowed us to reprint it.

Enriched English Class goes on their Annual Trip to the University of Waterloo
By Mrs. D. Wittmann

Tuesday, March 7th, the Grade 10 Enriched English Class went on their annual trip to the University of Waterloo. The day began with a Campus Tour, and despite the inclement weather, we sojourned on.

After the tour we joined a second-year Academic Writing Course with Professor Jay Dolmage. Here, the students were put in groups and received revision and editing tips from the students to improve their own essays – which the Grade 10 students had brought with them. After lunch, the class sat in on a “Literature and Pop Culture” lecture with Professor Victoria Lamont. The day’s subject was visual rhetoric. Students saw examples from numerous television programs and how they are constructed.

Award for PhD candidate Houman Mehrabian!

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English PhD candidate Houman Mehrabian, who has won the Amit and Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student (AETS). The awards committee writes:

“Houman Mehrabian, an Arts PhD student in English Language and Literature, is highly recognized for his dedication to learning and teaching. When asked about Mehrabian’s impact on student learning, one undergraduate student explained that “his teaching went [far beyond] and always incorporated [a] set of knowledge from other respected fields, such as philosophy and politics.” Another student wrote that “he enjoys what he is teaching and manages to allow that to flow over to his students. He is highly knowledgeable in what he is teaching and makes courses enjoyable. He’s a great influence.” In addition to his student support, one faculty member also highlighted that “he is the most dedicated student I have encountered in my 30 years of university teaching, and I can easily see how this commitment to excellence shines through in his teaching.” His support serves as a testament to this recognition. Mehrabian has been an instructor for ENGL 109, ENGL 309C EL, and DRAMA 387/ENGL 363 EL. He has also been a teaching assistant for ENGL 109 EL and ENGL 210F EL.”

Houman’s dissertation explores the complex relationship between emotions and the construction of character – between pathos and ethos – in Aristotle’s rhetorical, ethical, and poetical theories; William Shakespeare’s plays; and Friedrich Nietzsche’s oeuvre.

What are our Harry Potter Students doing?

This semester we ran three sections of English 108P: Popular Potter. The classes had some overlaps, and some differences. We all applied literary and cultural theory to the texts; we all mined the books for various literary archetypes and devices; we all worked on producing writing which demonstrated understanding of the Harry Potter universe and the conventions J. K. Rowling deployed in crafting it. As one of my students said today–the last class–“I don’t want it to end! This should be a full year course!”

At two points in the semester I asked my students what had been most notable thing we had discussed so far: they noted the books’ intertextuality, the effect of limited third person omniscient narration on the reader, Rowling’s use of myth and history–they had a lot to say about the French Resistance, Hitler Youth, and the Fabian Society–the applicability of Critical Race Studies, Rowling’s representation of ethics, the development of critical reading skills by the characters, and much much more. In an interesting twist, Cho emerged as a new star of the series.

If you want to see what some of our 108P students have been doing, check out this edition of the Daily Prophet, produced by Dr. Frankie Condon‘s class. Intended to commemorate “The Battle of Hogwarts: 10th Anniversary,”headlines include: “He Who Must be Named,” “Our Fallen Heroes,” and “Learning from Our Past: Ministry of Magic Reformed.” For just five galleons, this special commemorative edition can be yours!

Three Cheers for Superheroes!

The new Macleans issue ranking universities is out. It’s hard to resist leafing through it to see where we place, and who might have been mentioned. UWaterloo is holding steady in its ranking, though true to form sciences and engineering get more attention than Arts. (Co-op does get a nod of course–it seems redundant to note we have co-op in English, though I’ll do it anyways.) But wait… scroll down. There we are! Of the two offerings included under the heading “Cool Courses,” we take first place with English 108A, The Superhero.

Of course, there are any number of English courses they could have chosen from. Do you know about 108D: Digital Lives? According to the calendar, it is “An examination of how digital communication technologies create and promote online identities and social spaces, as well as interpersonal and communal interactions.” Then there’s English 208G: Gothic Monsters, “A study of monstrosity, fear, terror, and horror in the gothic mode from its origins to the present, with attention to the ways various genres (from the novel to new media) represent gothic sexualities, genders, politics, and aesthetics.” 208H covers Arthurian Legend,  218 is Mennonite Literature, and 309G is the Discourse of Dissent, “A study of the social, historical, and rhetorical dimensions of collective action. Topics may include health and welfare movements, civil rights and anti-war protests, and environmentalism.” English 325 is “A study of selected novels by Jane Austen, including Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Her letters and juvenilia may also be considered, as well as some of the films based on or inspired by her novels.” If you haven’t reviewed our course offerings recently, you might be surprised by the variety and breadth of offerings.

Image source.

Need a Medieval to Romantic credit?

Are you looking for a winter course? Do you need to fill the “Literatures Medieval to Romantic” requirement of the English Department’s “Literature” and “Literature and Rhetoric” degrees? Have you taken a class before with Dr. Kenneth Graham and can’t wait to repeat the experience? Do you like Shakespeare’s sonnets or John Donne’s lyrics? If you answered yes to any of the above, you might be interested to know about English 330A: Sixteenth-Century Literature 1, where you will survey English poetry from Thomas Wyatt to Donne, focussing on the Petrarchan influence on love poetry and the development of political and philosophical verse. Here’s your chance to discover such writers as George Gascoigne, Isabella Whitney, Fulke Greville, and Mary Sidney Herbert.

A new book on Antiracist Pedagogy from our faculty


Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Frankie Condon and Dr. Vershawn Young on the publication of their co-edited volume Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication (U of Colorado P, 2017).

As Dr. Michael A. Pemberton writes:

In Performing Antiracist Pedagogy, Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young seek to help create openings to address race and racism not only in course readings and class discussion in writing, rhetoric, and communication courses but also in wider public settings. The contributors to this collection, drawn from a wide range of disciplines, urge readers to renew their commitment to intelligently and publicly deliberate race and to counteract the effects of racism. The book is both theoretically rigorous and practical, providing readers with insightful analyses of race and racism and useful classroom suggestions and examples.

This book offers a significant expansion of Condon and Young’s special issue of Across the Disciplines, originally published in 2013, with ten chapters divided into three sections (Actionable Commitments, Identity Matters, and In the Classroom) and a foreword by Asao B. Inoue.  Published jointly by the WAC Clearinghouse and the University Press of Colorado, the book is now available as a free download (pdf and epub) in its pre-print version at .  The print version of this text should be available in a few months for those of you who would like to buy a hard copy.

Dr. Smyth answers 5 odd questions about English 322

There are all kinds of reasons to take English 322: Postcolonial Literatures of the Americas with Dr. Heather Smyth this fall. Award-winning books? Definitely, including Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Wayde Compton’s The Outer Harbour, and Dionne Brand’s What we all long for. Culturally current? Absolutely: who isn’t thinking about Black Lives Matter or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Suspenseful, dramatic page-turners? Books you can’t put down? Of course! Those are just a few of the valid reasons. But how about completely random reasons for taking the course? I sent Dr. Smyth short, odd, questions about course readings. I wasn’t disappointed with her answers.

5 (admittedly odd) questions:

1. Strangest character names? The crones of the Republic of the Graeae: cosplayers in a live-action role play game in Compton’s The Outer Harbour.

2. Most improbable plot? A very old Japanese-Canadian grandmother becomes a bull-riding star named Purple Mask.

3. Biggest cliff-hanger? Brand’s What we all long for: I can’t reveal what happens, but it involves a character’s long-lost brother Quy who was left behind when the family fled Vietnam, and in Toronto their worlds collide.

4. Best book cover? Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: the cover image is a photo of David Hammons’ art piece In the Hood–the hood of a dark sweatshirt ripped from its body and nailed to the wall. Because of its contemporary echoing of Trayvon Martin’s death (though it was created in 1993) it evokes so many visceral connections between the shootings of young black people in North America and the history of state-sanctioned lynchings in the US; the physical and emotional fragmentation of experiences of racism; and the ability of art to help us think through the complexities of things like racism and injustice.

5. Most mouth-watering description of food? “Plastic crinkles, crackers dipped in soya sauce, lightly fried, crackle crunch between teeth, and flat leather sea squid, tentacles twisted and wrinkle-dried so tough to chew until the ball, the socket of the jaw aches but the juices linger salt and sea. Tiny crocks of pickled plums, the brine so strong the mouth drenched with a passing thought.”

English 322 is scheduled Fall 2016, Wed/Fri 10-11:20 am

Image: Wayde Compton, Tumblr