For a presentation at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) conference on February 20, 2015 in San Jose, I created a couple of very short ERWC-style modules. My goal was to demonstrate some of the basic design features of the ERWC template in a very short format. These modules are based on some short short stories by Lydia Davis, a master of minimalist storytelling.
In the first mini-mini module, which is only two pages long including the stories, the writing assignment is as follows
Lydia Davis’s stories are often about relationships between couples or between humans and their pets. In these two stories, what difficulties arise in relationships between two individuals? Do the stories offer or imply any advice about relationships? Write an essay in which you explore the problems of relationships as presented in these stories. Define the problem and the implied solution, and support your ideas with quotations from the stories and examples from your own experience.
The Reading and Postreading sections should help prepare the students for this assignment. The instruction for “Reading” says,
Read the following two short stories by Lydia Davis. As you read, think about the theme of “relationships.”
Students are already thinking about “relationships” as the read the texts for the first time.
The “postreading” section includes a quote from the author answering the question “How do you know a story’s a story?” This is an important question in the case of Lydia Davis because her “stories” are often so short that they are mistaken for prose poems or fragments. Students are asked
Look at the two stories again. What narrative elements are there? Do you agree that these are stories? If so, what makes them stories? If not, why not? Also, what do they have in common?
Answering these questions will inevitably cause the student to think beyond the texts to the implications of the texts, the story beyond the page. This kind of thinking will also cause the reader to be reminded of his or her own experiences, another part of the writing assignment.
Reading and Rereading from Different Perspectives
Another important feature of ERWC modules is repeated rereading of the texts from different perspectives. The “Prereading” section sets up expectations about the text, the “Reading” activity sets up an initial reading with a specific focus, then the “Postreading” activity shifts the focus and requires a second reading. The redesigned Assignment Template introduces the writing assignment in the “Connecting Reading to Writing” section. Once the student encounters the assignment, he or she is sent back to the texts to look for material to use in the writing,triggering yet another rereading.
I had students in my 300-level Literary Theory course, some of whom are English Education majors with some classroom experience, test drive these mini-mini modules without doing the writing assignment. They noted the backwards mapping and the multiple re-readings. They liked the modules, but cautioned that the genre-bending nature of the stories and the topics for writing might be too much for students below 11th grade. They also thought that the connection between the prewriting and the text in the second module, based on “Letter to a Funeral Parlor,” was not as strong as in the first one.