Tracing Activity Processing + Nat Turner on the 2nd Read

First, I want to do some quick processing of the tracing activity we did in class last week. Then, I’ll get to my second reading of Nat Turner and how it differed from the first.


I think, in theory at least, the tracing activity is really cool. Forces students to slow down, think carefully about what they’re looking at, maybe observe things about the page or illustration they hadn’t noticed previously. But for me (and I’m not sure if it was the page I chose), it didn’t work. I got so focused on the tracing (YES! A TIME FOR ME TO DO SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T NECESSARILY REQUIRE THINKING!), that I really didn’t end up making any observations about the way the page was illustrated. Instead, I spent time thinking about how I could make the page more beautiful—shading the corners of each box neatly, blurring the edges with my fingers.


I think where this activity became interesting for me as a teacher was in the textual intervention part. Again, the page I chose might not have been the best—the text I ended up adding to the page did little to further my understanding of the novel. My annotations merely reflected what I’d already observed about the page. But for some reason, even though it didn’t work for me in the student’s chair, I’d still consider using it in my classroom. I often argue with myself about stuff like this, about what’s good in theory and what’s good in practice. It’s a fine line, as we all know, in the classroom. And in the college classroom, the best intentions don’t get you far (your freshman don’t care if it was great in theory, it should interest them and further their knowledge now, so that they can get on with their lives and feel as though they’ve learned something). But still, I’m intrigued by the premise, and wonder if my experience says less about the activity itself, and more about my inability to choose a useful page or my interest in zoning out. What would happen if we directed groups of students to trace particular pages? Then compare annotations? Might that deepen the discussion in a different way? We saw this a bit in our own classroom, when more than one student annotated the same page…


In terms of my second NT reading, I started thinking quite a bit about how this thing is put together artistically.  I’m interested in the fact that Baker includes blocks of source material, along side this image-narrative, and that he never really changes that model. I can imagine some of the source material spread out along pages, and wonder why he chose to keep the source material together. My theories: he wants to emphasize that the material is a primary source (rather than his own text), he wants the source material to have its own space (un-interrupted by images, or other artistic interpretations), the source material together in one block slows the reader, asking them to dwell on the page.


The other major take-away from my second read is the difference in illustrations from page to page. Some illustrations have a sketch feel, while others seem more polished, almost water-colored, and hyper-detailed. I can’t figure out if there’s a pattern (sketched pictures show up in certain scenarios, and more detailed images show up in others?) or not, but it is definitely something I paid attention to this time, that I hadn’t considered in my first go-round, perhaps BECAUSE of the tracing activity we completed in class?