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Navigating Racism: The Profound (and Useful) "Navigational Log" of Prof Molly Appel of Nevada State College

Navigating Racism: The Profound (and Useful) "Navigational Log" of Prof Molly Appel of Nevada State College

Today, in our Progressive Pedagogy Group on, we recognize the superb classroom and institutional innovations of Professor Molly Appel, of Nevada State College, who teaches Composition, Human Rights and World Literature, Literature and Migration, and Chicano Literature.

Dr. Appel has been an educator for 12 years, first as a K-12 ESL teacher and now as a professor of Latinx and Latin American literature. Through the co-formation of her research and teaching, she examines how literature and other forms of media work as a space of pedagogical thinking and practice for human rights and social justice. She also writes a blog series for Interfolio called "Scholar at Large" that explores how to approach a career in the humanities in academia and beyond.

She writes:  "During my career as an educator, I have taught courses on composition, Video Games as Literature, Literature of Migration, Exploration, and Exile, Literature of the Americas, and creative writing for incarcerated women. I’ve also enjoyed supporting and training teachers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Teach for America: Philadelphia, and at the Bronx Expeditionary Learning High School (Bronx Collegiate Academy). I am proud to now be teaching at Nevada State College, an HSI serving predominantly first-generation and non-traditional students." 


Prof Appel continues: "I have a couple of antiracist activities/assessment methods I that use to scaffold textual analysis and the skill of listening. One is the “Navigational Log,” a double-entry journal with a close reading component. This gives students ways of practicing different kinds of literary thinking, becoming aware of and developing language for their own responses to “otherness,” and connecting those responses to the work of close reading. The other is a letter-writing activity/assessment method that I use, which I developed from studying testimonio.


I am fascinated with how students have been pivotal cultural figures of social change and the impetus for critical, feminist, and decolonial pedagogies across the Americas. (As the great Chilean folklorist and composer Violeta Parra wrote, “¡Que vivan los estudiantes, jardín de las alegrías!” or loosely translated, “Long live our students, nursery of our joys!”) I put these interests into practice by approaching the classroom as a collaborative pedagogical space between teachers and learners. To borrow from the words of Gloria Anzaldúa: learning occurs in our processes of crossing, in our travesías. The study of literature and culture helps us develop “a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity.”




Prof Appel describes and details her pedagogical exercise:

The “Navigational Log” is an account of a student’s journey with a text. Often, students will walk into my class thinking that “literary analysis” means dutifully recounting a text’s plot, reciting the supposed authoritative meaning of its symbols and metaphors, and other such blunders of the high school English classes of yore. I developed the Log as a way of helping them unlearn this training and learn to approach literary analysis in a more authentic, personal, and rigorous way.

The Navigational Log scaffolds literary analysis into two parts: a double-entry journal and a close reading, or what I call “breadth” and “depth.” In the double-entry journal section, students choose 4-5 moments from across a text (be it a novel, a poem, a film, etc) and respond to them through different modes of literary thinking. They might:

• Identify a pattern or theme

• Extrapolate on a notable image or word choice

• Provide more information on a person, place, or event that’s mentioned in the text.

• Draw a connection to something that’s happening in the world.

• Draw a connection to another text you’ve read (in our class or elsewhere).

• Draw a connection between the text and your own experience.

• Write out a question you have about a text (and provide one possible answer).


This section requires that my students slow down with a text and learn what it means for them to sit with and process their ideas. The prompts give them guidance as to how they can find entry points for developing their ideas – and in turn, launching points for forming an argument about a text through close reading. I provide additional guidance and practice for structuring the close reading section of the Log (in-class collaborative close reading sessions are especially helpful), including providing a step-by-step protocol and sentence-by-sentence example of a close reading paragraph.  

As an assessment tool, the Log provides me with insight into how students are approaching their literary thinking in a way that a “reading quiz” can’t provide. It gives me pathway to have a conversation (through my written feedback) with a student about the way I see them approaching textual analysis, and allows me to really pinpoint where they may be getting stuck. I can then address those issues in a more precise way in class with everyone, and I have great starting place for my one-on-one meetings with students. The Log has been particularly valuable for gaining insight on my quieter students who don’t rehearse their ideas aloud in class.

My students are responsible for completing four Navigational Logs over the course the semester. For each Log, they can choose between 3 or 4 of the texts we’ve covered during a certain period of time. I know that it’s not feasible for my students to carefully and deeply read every text that goes on the syllabus; this approach helps me feel assured that my students are engaging very closely with at least some of the texts because it provides a formal structure around the choices they’re already making about how they approach their assignments and manage their time. Many of my students have said that although the Logs take a lot of time, they enjoyed doing them and saw the impact their work on them was making in their comfort level with writing and talking about literature.


We are very proud to recognize this extraordinary work. There are ideas here that we can all learn from. 

For more work by Professor Appel, see:

“Writing out of the Obituary: Puerto Rican Indebtedness and Poetic Learning in the Work Pedro Pietri" in Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts, and Cultures. Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 2018, pp. 72-95.

“The Art of the Social Movement Corrective: On Redeeming the Human Rights Narrative in También la lluvia and Our Brand Is Crisis.” For the Palgrave Macmillan volume, Human Rights, Social Movements, and Activism in Contemporary Latin American Cinema, Eds. Mariana Cunha and Antonio Marcio.

And here's a link (referenced above) to Danica Savonick's "Collaborative Close Reading"  




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