The purpose of the Chaucer Miscellany (a regular assignment) is twofold. First (Vol. 1), to invite students to research a facet of Chaucer’s life and work and, second (Vol. 2), and to read closely a passage of the Canterbury Tales, toward producing a glossed text, Modern English translation and critical-analysis of the passage. The exercise develops critical-analytical skills but its purpose is more closely aligned to an appreciation of Chaucer's achievement.
Volume Two does not involve secondary research as much as careful analysis of the text itself. Part One does involve research, however, and students must choose a topic from a pre-assembled list and carry out research in that area. Although the topics themselves are set, students have the freedom to pursue the subject in whatever way they choose. The only constraint on the exercise involves the number of words: the maximum for each topic is five hundred words, a limit that proves challenging often but helps to focus writing on the essentials. For Part Two, students choose passages of approximately thirty lines from anywhere in the Canterbury Tales and then submit that passages to a series of close readings. Each passage is reproduced as a glossed ‘edition’ and translated into Modern English by the student. Students also submit a photocopied version of their text, which must be marked up with preliminary observations and ideas. This is the first step in the process, though all of their preliminary work is meant to lead to a final, critical analysis of the text.
Ultimately, students appreciate the process and the final product. I should add that I sometimes edit the submissions or have the students do it themselves in peer review.
Here is a glimpse of the final product: