The Process of Creating the Reader's Guide

Authors of this reader's guide (students in English 2 Spring 2011) along with visiting author Kavita Ramdya (in front in white) and their professor, Grace Talusan, in red scarf in back. (We didn't get a photo w Karen during her visit so this will have to do.)
By Grace Talusan
Lecturer in English, Tufts

Early in the 2011 spring semester, I introduced students to our semester-long class assignment--writing an online reader's guide to I-Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita, a 640 page novel that was a finalist for the National Book Award. Yamashita was scheduled to visit Tufts in March as the American Studies Knaster Artist-in-Residence. This opportunity would allow students to work with the author in person as well as attend the many events related to the writer's visit. In March 2011, Yamashita visited our class at the Asian American Center, where they engaged in a discussion about parts of the book that puzzled them as well as about the historical events surrounding the book's context. At that meeting, students informed Yamashita about the online reader's guide and we promised to share it once it was finished.

The Assignment: Create an online reader's guide. 

My goals:

  1. Students will work as at team to envision, develop, and create a free and accessible document published online that may serve as a resource to future readers of the novel I-Hotel
  2. Students would decide how they wanted the document to look, what they wanted it to contain, what it's purpose was, who it's audience was--they would have agency over their document
  3. Students would create content and practice writing skills
  4. Students would edit each other's content and practice editorial skills
  5. Students would practice leadership and oral communication by leading a ten minute discussion in class on the novella they were responsible for
  6. Students would practice communicating to different audiences by writing and editing content that would be visible to each other, to their professor, to the book's author herself, and eventually to a wider audience
  7. To think about how they wanted to present themselves online. They had the choice to take credit with their full names, anonymously, or with screen names. This was to get them to think about different contexts for online identities.
  8. An overall goal was to give students the opportunity to have a writing experience that felt relevant, alive, productive, meaningful, and useful and to extend this experience beyond the classroom 

The Process
1. I created a private page through blogger where every student was also an administrator. The private page would not be made public unless everyone agreed to this (I was open to keeping it private forever) and it would not be published until everyone agreed it was done
2. We talked in class about reader's guides they had seen before, what they appreciated about those other reader's guides, and what they would improve upon them.
3. We made a list about what we wanted in our reader's guide and who would do what
4. Each week, we read one section of the book and one student led us in discussion. They also posted their notes and section of the reader's guide to this blog.
5. When we were nearing the end, I gave some lessons on revision techniques and each student was responsible for editing one of their classmates' blog entries/reader's guide entries
6. We agreed all work would be completed by the last class so it could go live.

See post where students will reflect on this process and give their feedback.
Karen posing w elephant sculpture at Cambridge restaurant during her visit to Tufts in March 2011