John Cisternino

Aug 2005

I had John for second semester (spring 2005)... He's a nice guy. Very intelligent... He comes to class with some points to hit on, but also entertains our own thoughts and ideas... Class can seem a bit boring at times. But I feel like that also really depends on students and their participation. You've got write a journal entry for each class, but they require little effort and can be as short as 1/3 page hand-written. A lot of the journals people were poorly written and showed little thought. Do write a few good ones though... Bottom-line: I guess try if you have the time, but otherwise just write something down. Papers: He's a tough grader for papers, especially the first one, but he gives out topics, like 5 or 6, for every book. You usually have 7 to 10 days to turn in a paper once the topics are posted. You have to write a total of three papers for the semester, one for each group of books (he breaks up the works into three groups)... You can write as many papers as you want and he'll just count the best grades. I suggest you write at least two in the first section so the first can be practice. As I said, he can be a harsh grader on papers. We had no midterm for our class. The final is the usual standardized LitHum final. Throughout the class, you may feel like you're not doing so hot or whatever, but he's VERY lenient with final grades. People that like hated his class all semester and were not happy with their paper grades or whatever as well everyone else were very pleased wtih their final grades. I got a C+ on my first paper. An A-/B+ on my second. Never got back my 3rd (as it was due after the final). And don't know what my final grade was. I got a A- in the class though... and that's without reading not a single book. I spent a day (the day before) studying for a final. Which basically meant reading SparkNotes and going over the main themes of each book. Overall... despite what you feel about John, the class, your performance, your classmates, or the texts... You'll at least be happy with your grade :-)

Jul 2005

i thought john was a very hard teacher, with little respect for the efforts of his students. i tried my hardest in his class, met with him approx. 10 times, rewrote my papers, emailed him outlines and ideas, and went to every optional class. nonetheless, i still did not receive an a. john is a philosopher. i think that it is difficult for himto understand students who are not particularly philosophy-inclined. the class was pretty cut and dry. i had a different professor first semester, who was prone to tangents, but was still much moreinteresting and made class much more fun. overall: if you are not a great philospher (who can take everything to the "next level," as john likes to say), try to switch classes.

May 2005

Ok, I actually did the opposite of what it seems everyone else did--I got an A- on my first paper of the first section, a B on my second paper (in the second third of the section), a B+ on my third paper (of the last third of the section), and then wrote a paper on To the Lighthouse (as a second paper in the last third) in hopes of boosting my grade. So paper average got worse...not that it mattered. I'm pretty sure I did really well on the final. My journals for the class were usually philosophy-based, perhaps boosting my grade/his opinion of me, as he's in the philosophy department (though this is just speculation). I must have done pretty well on the final and my last paper, because I ended up with an A in the class... He basically grades you based on what you did well on, and perhaps completely ignores the papers on which you messed up (which is a BLESSING). I worked way harder in a much more challenging (though of comparable interest-level) Lit Hum class first semester and ended up with a B+ then. I actually didn't pick up Crime and Punishment or the Inferno, nor did I finish most of the books on the syllabus, and I still did very well with Cisternino. Basically, he wants "in depth" analysis of the writing-look at symbolism, do "close-passage" reading, etc.--basically AP Lang & Comp essays for those who are familiar with that exam/course. Also, I found that he graded very similarly to how my other philosophy classes did (which I believe really helped me in the end, once I realized that his reading of my papers was the same)--if you state something, even an esoteric comment that you perhaps put in as fluff or didn't really think about because it seemed generally accepted or whatever--you better be able to lucidly explain it and back it up. Be careful with specific wording; he definitely likes concise papers with an argument and original conclusion. All in all, I learned a fairly decent amount in the class and thought that it was much better in comparison to my first semester professor. I'd recommend him.

May 2005

John, his class can be a bit dry, but if you're one of those people that needs likes to be able to take notes in a discussion class then he's perfect. There's a good mix of lecture and discussion. The amount of discussion is of course dependent on how actively those in your class choose to participate. I like that he doesn't just leave everything up for us to discover. He comes to class with key points he wants us to touch upon, but always considers our own ideas as well. He assigns like five paper topics for each work, which is great. It gives you the opportunity to write about whatever you like. He splits the class into three sections, and you have to write at least one paper within each section. Papers are usually 3 to 5 pages. You can write as many as you want. He takes the best grade from each section. You have a 7 to 10 days from when the topics are posted to hand them in. I *strongly* recommend that you write a "practice" paper... like on the first work or something. John is a very difficult grader when it comes to papers. If you do poorly on the first paper, then a you have a second chance before that first term ends to write another and get a better grade. Another benefit of his paper system... but I only wrote three papers on the lastwork of each section, and I did fine. That said, grades turn out well in the end. He grades papers harshly at first, but it really helps you become a better writer. And if you don't do well on the first paper or whatever, but you do well on the later ones, he kind of ignores that first one. I spoke maybe twice all semester, got a C+ on my first paper. I only wrote one paper for each of the three sections. The final was pretty easy. My journals were decent but certainly not very astute... anyway, I ended up with A- in the class. During the semester class might not seem so great. It had it's ups and downs. Some days were quite boring. Others were okay. First paper grades kind of made people not like the class so much, but grades got significantly better with the next one. (I went from C+ to A-). Many thought they were gonna get mediocre to not-so-good grades in the class, but from what I could tell... most people were VERY PLEASED WITH FINAL COURSE grades. It might seems like you're not doing so hot in the class, but he surprises you in the end. Very cool about final grades.

Sep 2004

I thought John was an excellent instructor. He has a genuine interest in the texts and offers a huge amount of insight into their subtleties. Above all things, you'll learn how to <i>really</i> analyze literature and thus glimpse how beautifully the texts are structured in conveying their themes, criticisms, and other ideas that aren't always obvious without a close look. I wouldn't say he's a hard grader, exactly-- he holds papers up to very high standards, but if you get the hang of them, you'll benefit enormously in writing focused papers in just about any course that examines literature (CC, UW, etc.). Given this, you're allowed to write as many papers as you want (he emails paper topics before each reading), grades the midterm and final much more lieniently than the papers, and reflects how much effort you put into the course at the end. Overall I highly recommend him as an instructor. He's great to correspond with via email or office hours, is an extremely kind individual, and while class discussions are generally very focused, he promotes a friendly and light-hearted environment if you're willing to participate (though he doesn't mind lecturing if it's 9 AM and everyone is still asleep).

Dec 2003

john is a nice, intelligent guy, but don't take his class. he is very apathetic towards his students and only bothered to learn a few names. his teaching style is hit or miss depending on the book. he is a big fan of sexual double entendres, so something like lysistrata comes off a lot more interesting than anything else. john also seems very shy while standing in front of the class, which isn't exactly conducive to class discussion. don't expect to have a good handle of the books by just going to class. john only touches on a few different sections exclusively, so you really do have to read for the whole story.

Apr 2002

John has taken a crash course and taught people how to read in ways that really teach them about themselves. He takes our books and shows us how there are subtlies in the text that we really need to get in order to fully understand. I've heard other kids simplify plots, with good and bad guys neatly demarcated, but justice isn't always one-way, and our books show us that. It's difficult and hard to explain how it also affects how we look at our lives, and something I've never thought lit hum is able to do. Plus, he's really into all the sexual metaphors that lit hum has in a funny, titillating way, never perverted.

Nov 2001

If you get this guy, switch out of the section! He's a smart guy but cannot teach literature. He's in the philosophy department, so he doesn't grade your paper like a lit. paper, but is looking for answers that coincide with his own knowledge of the text. Very hard grader and apathetic towards his students - didn't even bother to learn names. When class discussion goes nowhere he just lectures. This is the worst class i've ever taken.

Jan 2000

John Cisternino is an intelligent guy who tries real hard to make his students discuss the books they read. Unfortunately, he comes off as incredibly shy. (I'm not sure if he actually IS that shy or he just SEEMS that way). Shyness isn't conducive toward making students comfortable during discussions, so class discussions often stagnated. John often tries to pep up the discussion by fishing for answers, which rarely has the desired effect. His office hours are great -- he's very insightful and quite helpful with essays -- and the optional-essay system he uses is really great. There's a lot of freedom to schedule essay-writing to whenever you have time, so you don't have to face nights where you have to study for two back-to-back midterms and simultaneously write a Lit Hum paper.