Chaucer came to our Writing Center staff meeting

At our last writing assistant staff meeting (last Thursday), I had the idea to have them read a section of one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in middle English. I had noticed, when I was reading the middle English myself this quarter, that (of course) my comprehension would fade in and out, like a radio losing a distant broadcast. Of course, it’s all been very much like trying to read any language you are not fluent in. So I thought it might be a great way to help WAs understand for the first time or to be reminded of what doing academic work in English is like for the many English Language Learners they work with.

We had them read part of the Miller’s Tale. That was Dennis’ idea. Fifteen or twenty years after he’d studied Chaucer, that’s the tale that popped into his mind first. He remembered the scene in which Absolon “with his mouth he kiste hir [Alison’s] naked ers / Ful savourly, er he were war of this” (3734-35) and, later, in which Nicholas “anon leet fle a fart” (3806).  We like to have fun in our writing center meetings.

I gave them only three reading helps, basically the ones Tara Williams gave our Chaucer class: 1) ignore spelling, 2) sound words out, and 3) words that begin with “y” are often past tense.

We got into groups of two or three and each group tried to figure out what was going on enough to provide us with a summary. When the WAs reflected on their experience, I was pleased with their responses. I mean, I had worried a bit that they might not find the exercise very significant, even a bit frivolous. But they obviously experienced much of exactly what we wanted them to experience (the fading in and out of comprehension, the frustration) and their comments showed it.

So I like this exercise. It works for both sentence and solaas (teaching and entertainment).


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