latest update: 01/17/2013
.... note: one outline per reading, not per day

Lorn Clement

Spring 2013

Assignment 2: Content Outlines

Critical Reading; Discussion Leadership; Supplemental Materials;


One goal of the seminar is to engage reading materials in depth by applying critical analysis skills.  In Assignment 2 students will take turns illuminating the salient ideas of the excerpts in the semester's main books: Simon Swaffield's Theory in Landscape Architecture: A Reader and Marc Treib's  Meaning in Landscape Architecture & Gardens by preparing content outlines and guiding discussion so that a full sense of the material is gained and shared in the classroom.  During the semester we will also examine several articles from Landscape Journal, some of which pertain to the field trip to Portland; and Juhani Pallasmaa's excellent little book The Eyes of the Skin.   


Individually (undergrads may do this in teams of two) you will sign up for readings in the text -- we will work out the assignments in class.   The specific task is to prepare, for each reading (chapter or excerpt), a one-two page outline (one might be better for the time available in class) with which you can lead discussion -- it is imperative that you determine the key content, that you summarize and boil the material down to a manageable amount; highlight key points, and prepare in a timely manner.  For some days of outlining readings in the Reader, this means you would have two or three outlines (one page for each reading). 

Each outline should have a proper header that includes your name, LAR 501 A or B, the date of discussion, the name of the author, the title of the source article for the excerpt. The outline should identify key points and arguments, and offer questions for discussion.  See below on critical reading and reflection.  

I would suggest the following general approach to the critical analysis of the content of each chapter (the sophistication of thought is higher at each stage):

First consider the chapter/reading overall, in general:

  1. description (identify the parts or components)
  2. analysis (identify and discuss relationships between the components)
  3. interpretation (discuss the meaning of the content, given a particular purpose and context)
  4. judgment (discuss the value of the material, to you)

In this effort you would describe the chapter in very general terms, for example three sections for three main points.  The analysis of relationships of the parts could be as simple as "they are arranged in a sequential, linear order; the first seems to be the most important."  Your interpretation of the chapter's general meaning should be stated (with references to purpose and context) and then a summary comment on the value of the chapter to you (judgment/evaluation).   Then move on to a more detailed consideration of the content. 

A second more detailed and structural approach is to outline the content using the same organization as the authors of the text.   I have found it very helpful to create an outline of the headings for each chapter after the first read; and to identify the content of paragraphs by reading the topical sentences, and the final sentences of paragraphs (which often summarize and create a transition to the next paragraph).   Look for definitions.  Contemplating the hierarchy of headings will help you get a grasp on the material.    You can build a content outline by filling in under the headings with the key ideas from sets of paragraphs and then individual paragraphs.  It is recommended that you highlight or bold the most important points for discussion, as time will pass quickly in class.  You will need to monitor the time during discussions in order to hit the most important points.  

I would be happy to assist in preparing the outlines (by a well-timed review in my office), and in identifying and locating supplemental materials that will assist you in preparing a short PowerPoint presentation for stimulating discussion (see below).

Critical reading / reflection

Reading critically generally requires more than one read.   The first read through gives an impression of the content and stirs the imagination.  The second read is the slow one, during which you analyze the content, in depth.  The third is for another chance to understand the flow and continuity of arguments or parts of the whole. 

I have it on good authority (Tim Keane, Ph.D.) that one common trait of creative individuals is the inclination to read material more than once with pencil and highlighter in hand, looking for what is there and not there, letting the following kinds of questions come to mind:

The creative, curious and critical reader will imagine that he or she is in conversation with the author while reading, and mark up the text by underlining, highlighting, starring, making notes, inserting comments and posing questions in the margins, perhaps inside the back cover and on end pages. He or she will recognize the subtext of bibliographic sources, and will check footnotes and endnotes as paths to additional insights. 

Supplemental / additional materials

I will be happy to review drafts of outlines if it is well before the day of class.  After completing the outline, you should collect and organize other material to share with the class, especially visual material that can be organized with a PowerPoint presentation. This material could be from journal articles, other books, or chapters, web pages, newspaper reports, your own image collections, etc. and would provide context with which to interpret the excerpt.   I will be happy to assist with this effort by pointing out material with which I am familiar; again this needs to occur well before the discussion date.

Discussion leadership

Here are some thoughts on the matter, in no particular order.   A good discussion leader will:


Evaluation criteria for the outlines, supplemental materials and leadership of discussion include:

Evaluation of preparation for discussion leadership will include, also:

Evaluation criteria for participation of discussants includes, but is not limited to:

Recommended reading

Sylvan Barnett (2000), A Short Guide to Writing About Art (6th ed.), Chapter two: Analysis. Although this chapter addresses writing about painting, sculpture, and architecture, the sample essays and discussion will provide insights into critical analysis of artistic or subjective material.  The other chapters in this little book offer good advice on writing, also.

Due date and copies

Please see the schedule for your assigned date. 
Please send a copy of your outline to your classmates and me at least a day before we meet, and bring other key materials to class on your assigned date.

| top of page | LAR 501 Syllabus | Lorn's homepage |