Saturday, September 24, 2011

ENG 101: Blogs Connecting Plato and Personal Philosophy

Learning Objectives:
  • students will apply Plato's philosophy to personal experience (applying)
  • students will choose topic with most potential for an essay (evaluating)
  • students will examine personal philosophy and how it has evolved (analyzing)
  • students will write a blog connecting past experience to future possibilities (creating)
How did it go? 

As preparation for the activity, students had learned and practiced invention techniques such as brainstorming, freewriting, and clustering, all focused on the issue of "previously held beliefs no longer deemed real." Furthermore, once they had enough material, students also practiced a technique for deciding what is a fruitful and original topic vs a common place one that everyone resorts to and ends up being generic. Then they had to develop an essay based on the following prompt

For this blog, we will explore how we have come to form the reality in which we believe. Earlier you made a list of ideas and facts you thought were true at some point in the past but you no longer do; choose one of these, the one you think has more potential, and write a short essay where you 1) discuss what the previous belief was 2) explain how/what caused the change in your beliefs and the consequences of the change and 3) discuss another possible area in your life where you suspect you are "in a cave."

As expected, the degree to which students had comprehended Plato's allegory of the cave affected the degree of success in the blog essay, combined with the degree to which they had incorporated in their thinking the lesson about choosing the topic that has most potential. While all students in their original lists had the tooth fairy, santa claus, etc as examples of illusions, a very limited number chose these for their essay, demonstrating that they knew there would be no significant opportunity for standing out in such a topic. 


Because the activity is not a stand alone one, discerning how well it went depends on examining the previous activities as well. A few essays had very short entries, indicating that these students need to practice invention techniques more; furthermore some entries demonstrated limited potential for  reflection into personal experience and philosophy. The activity will provide these students with some successful models of reflection and topic development, and I will invite them to analyze and evaluate representative entries from a range of performances. As their first activity with blogs, it serves as a good benchmark for assessing current strengths and weaknesses. In essence I use this as a diagnostic, because I do not find value in students writing a context-free, non-specific to the classroom essay, so while it happens a little later in the term than diagnostics traditionally take place, it serves these purposes well. The majority of the students met all four objectives, and the next step to undertake with them is to help them move  from minimal achievement to the next plateau. 


  1. We really need to reconsider our "diagnostic" essay as a department. Seriously.

  2. Like the assignment - great groundwork for encouraging critical thinking and challenging one's own and others' assumptions.

  3. Also, nice clear connection with Bloom's taxonomy. Would be interested to hear whether you find it useful as a framework, either for designing or evaluating learning activities, or both?

  4. Thanks Priscilla. I find this format and the reference to Bloom useful for me right now as I am preparing for two conferences (NCTE and CCCC) on which I present on Composition and Community 2.0, and the format acts as good preparation for my presentations.