See our page on Commonplace Books at the Lyceum.
Write a commonplace log before each class meeting and submit it by Blackboard. You will also be required to keep a copy of all of your logs on the hard drive of your own computer or on floppy disks. (In either case, make sure you have several copies in different places.) Be sure to write and save your log as a word processing file before copying and pasting it onto Blackboard. This will allow you to save a copy of your commonplace log for your ongoing "book"; it will also save you from losing your log if there is a technical error.
Each log should include at least three quotations from the readings due for the class and a reflective commentary (unless other directions are given). You can write your log in the form of an informal letter or essay, or you can write it as a list. Logs must be submitted before the beginning of each class. Any log submitted up to a week late will receive reduced credit. No logs will be accepted that are more than a week late.
Each log should include at least three quotations from the readings that you find significant. If you have been assigned to read more than one text, be sure to include at least one quotation from each text. A quotation may be as short as a phrase or sentence, or as long as a paragraph.
Each log should also include your comments on the quotations you have selected. In your comments, explain why you chose each quote and what you can deduce from it. Who do you think is speaking here, and who is s/he speaking to? What is the speaker talking about, and what do you think s/he's hoping to accomplish by this? Do you have any ideas about how this quotation can help us understand the text? Do you have any thoughts about why it might-or might not-- have been persuasive to the intended audience? Is this something that you find persuasive now? Is there anything you would like to remember from this text for your own life; if so, what and why? Do you have anything you would like to say back to this author?
REMEMBER: This is a list of suggestions to help you identify the quotations for your commonplace books. You don't have to follow all of these suggestions in each log. If you did, we'd all be worn out.
Commonplace books have always been used as places where readers can explore new ideas and test old ways of thinking rather than simply as places to vent opinions. Of course, an "opinion" presented in a persuasive fashion and supported by reasoning and evidence is an argument and not an opinion. So go ahead and commuicate your thoughts in a way that persuades other people to accept them or at least give them serious consideration.
You can use an informal style as long as you write in a way that does not undermine your credibility as a commentator. (Significant grammar problems will affect your readability and your credibility.) As I recently learned from an online commonplace book, Confucius once said:
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant;
if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains
undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if
justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion.
Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above
THAT is an explanation of the way in which style and grammary are assessed. Concentrate on communicating clearly and effectively instead of worrying about avoiding mistakes.
Log into Blackboard using your "user name" (which should be the same as your Assumption email username) and your "password." (Once you have logged in the first time, you can change your settings. Just be sure to remember the user name and password you have chosen.)
Once you have logged in, you will usually be going directly to the "Discussion Board" to post your comments in a particular "Forum" and to read the other messages in the same "Thread."
So begin by punching the "Discussion Board" button and you will be able to see the "Forum" message for select the upcoming class. If you click on the underlined title of the forum message, Blackboard will give you the options of "starting a new thread" to send your response, or to follow up on a thread if someone else has already posted a message. If no previous messages have been posted (you can look to the right of theoriginal forum message and see "No Messages,") then choose "Add a New Thread. Give your comments an appropriate title, write or paste in your log, and press "submit."
If you see that there are already several messages posted, you may want to read a few of the others before adding your own, in case you would like to respond to someone else's message. If you are continuing the thread of discussion already started by someone else, post your message as a response to that thread. On the other hand, if you would like to initiate a new topic of discussion, feel free to "Add a new thread" and let us know what subject is on your mind by choosing a title that hints at your thoughts. (Get us interested in reading what you have to say.)
If you are working with a group and submitting a group report, be sure to sign the names of all the active contributors at the bottom of your message. When all else fails--and sometimes it will--bring a printed copy of your log with you to class.
If for some reason you are not able to log on to Blackboard successfully, be sure to send your message by email to email@example.com. Be sure to give it the title: "Blackboard Message."
Are some of these things confusing? Yes. Will be get some of them wrong sometimes? Sure. Just remember to save copies of your messages as a "Word" (or other kind of) document on a floppy or hard drive before trying to post. Also be sure to keep a permanent copy yourself to submit at the end of the course (or earlier, in case of problems.)
By saving key quotations from each text you read, you'll find yourself reading more closely and remembering the text more effectively. It will also allow you to keep your own record of the "conversation" you hear developing among Americans. Most importantly of all, writing in your commonplace book will give you a way of taking part in that conversation by offering your own responses to the comments that you read.
We will be using the commonplace logs in the class as the starting point for class discussion, so be sure to note anything you find particularly significant or puzzling. By sharing your questions-and even pointing out the things that confuse you-you'll be helping us get right to the important points in our class discussions so that we can work together to build a better understanding of the texts.
We will also be using the commonplace logs to generate questions for our two larger projects and both questions and answers for the final exam. Authors of previous periods--like Emerson and Thoreau--often mined their commonplace books for material they could integrate into their lectures and publications. We will be doing a similar kind of thing in our course.
Your commonplace book will count as 30% of your grade. Your logs will be evaluated according to the criteria set forth above. Missing and late logs will have a negative effect on the grrade. The ultimate way of assessing the commonplace book will be to consider the degree to which it reflected close reading, deep thinking, and intellectual growth AND the degree to which it contributed to the ongoing conversation of the course.
In addition, an important part of the final examination will be based on your commonplace book, and you will need to use your commonplace book during the final and submit it with your final.
Be careful to choose significant quotes rather than simply inserting random passages. Allso be sure to offer a thoughtful commentary rather than paraphrasing what it says or saying you liked or disliked it, or agreed or disagreed.
Here are some additional important tips that have been provided by a man who teaches other people how to construct spiritual commonplace books. His warnings and suggestions also apply to our commonplace books:
Commonplacing has, at times, had an odium attached to it. This is partly because commonplaces, when overused, have a tendency to become trite. It is partly because they have sometimes been used in ways that are inapplicable or that show insensitivity to a situation. But most of all, it is because they are frequently used in ways that violate their original literary context, reflecting a mere show of learning and not genuine erudition or care. Even today, most books of quotations perpetuate the tendency to quote out of context by failing to provide title and page number, chapter and verse, which means that readers are hampered in checking the original contexts for themselves. Some compilers even go so far as to paraphrase their sources, which makes them unfindable even for a person willing to read through hundreds or thousands of pages in order to locate a quotation in context.
Ideally no quotation should appear without sufficient citation to be found in context quickly and easily, which is not to say that this particular ideal must always outweigh all other considerations. Unfortunately even pursuit of that ideal has hardly been the custom. We have long had to tolerate the prevalence of excerpts totally disconnected from their original contexts in quotation books and at the heads of chapters in other books. Now-a-days this deficiency is expanding into new contexts, such as e-mail signatures. -- Norman Elliott Anderson, Commonplacing in the Spiritual Traditions
Choice of Quotations--A really good commonplace book allows us to benefits from the observations of a really attentive l reader who notices when there is something puzzling, or when there is a pattern, or when there is a moment of real power in a text. The reader can help the rest of us even by being willing to confess what s/he doesn't understand.
Commentaries--A really good commonplace book doesn't mention what is "boring" or "interesting" or "hard" or "easy" but instead comments on the possible meanings of texts. Instead of paraphrasing what the quotation says, a good commentary comments on how particular words, phrases, or patterns in that quotation might lead us to a deeper sense of the text's meaning. Instead of saying "I agree" or "I disagree" with the text, a good commentary might offer a more thorough explanation of the reasons for agreement or disagreement. Finally, a good commentary takes into consideration the context in which the text was originally written in order to evaluate its possible meanings and effectiveness. Instead of concluding that a text is ineffective (or just plain bad) because of confusing language or politically incorrect thinking, a good commentary will consider whether anything can help us understand how the text might have been received in its own time.
Writing--A commonplace book is serious but it is also a journal--a work in progress rather than a finished "product." Hence, it does not need to meet the writig standards for formal, completed academic projects. However, it usually is a way for the reader to practice his writing and thinking. For this reason it does need to communicate ideas clearly and persuasively. It also needs to be written in a fashion that can gain the respect of readers.
Finally, a truly great commonplace book, although made up of separate entries about separate texts, will reflect the gradual development of the reader's understanding of American literature. Logs will sometimes refer back to earlier texts in order to compare and/or contrast works or to consider the evolution of a particular way of thinking or writing. As specific kinds of questions begin to strike the reader as particularly important, the commonplace logs will begin to use those questions to explore those issues on a deeper level.