What does it mean to teach literature?
Goals for teaching literature:
1. Keeping a Journal
As you read through this book, we suggest that you keep a journal to record your responses, thoughts, criticisms, and implications for teaching. And, you can also respond in your journal to the literature read in your course, describing your reactions, interpretations, connections, and ideas for teaching a text.
In writing your entries, treat them as informal, spontaneous writing in which you are not concerned about writing formal prose, but are simply pouring out your thoughts onto the page. This involves being subjective, self-contradictory, and exploratory as opposed to objective, distanced, definitive, and logically organized; you may continually pose questions about what you don’t understand or need to explore, only to then answer your own questions.
In your class, you may also be exchanging journal entries with a partner by emailing them. In your exchange you can react to your partner’s entries with questions, comments, reactions, suggestions, etc., creating a dialogue-journal exchange. As we note in Chapter 6, through this exchange you learn to anticipate your partner’s potential reaction, which generates further thinking on your part.
One of the benefits of keeping a journal is that when you have your own students write journals, you can use your journal entries to model ways of using a journal. And, if you are conducting dialogue-journal exchanges, you can show your students examples of your own exchanges with peers.
2. The influence of your previous instruction.
In your journal: write open-ended, free-association responses to a poem or short text. Then stand back and describe how you were responding—the thought processes or interpretive strategies you were employing in responding to the text, as well as how your own previous experiences, knowledge of the world and of literature, attitudes, needs, sense of purpose for responding, and perception of the context influenced your responses to the text.
Then, list some of the literature courses you have taken in college and high school. Describe the particular methods or critical approaches employed in these courses. The, reflect back over your responses to the poem or text and describe how your previous instruction in these courses may have influenced your responses and how you approach or interpret a text. Which of these courses had the most significant impact on your responses and why?
Then, in small groups, share your responses with peers and compare differences in your responses and your previous instruction in literature. Discuss the ways in which different instructional and/or critical methods has influenced your responses. Which kinds of responses do you value the most versus least and what are the implications for teaching literature in terms of fostering response that you value?
3. A literature-instruction autobiography.
Recall some of your own specific experiences as student in your high school literature classes. Try to recall:
– The texts that were taught.
– The general teaching practices employed: lecture, discussion, small-groups, drama, etc.
– The specific interpretive strategies or critical approaches employed in the course(s).
– The teacher’s goals and assumptions about teaching literature.
– What you learned or didn’t learn in the course(s).
Now recall a literature class that you might have taken in college. In what ways did it differ from the secondary school class?
How was reading literature for your high school classes different from reading literature outside of high school or for reading literature for your college literature courses? Make a list of those differences. What do these differences suggest about how you’ve developed as a reader?
What are some reasons that you enjoy reading literature? In what ways have your previous literature courses contributed or not contributed to that enjoyment?
4. Why teach literature?
Address the question: Why teach literature in secondary schools? List different reasons for teaching literature, including reasons that you may not believe are valid. Consider different audiences for your reasons: your students, parents, administrators, and/or community members.
Then, have the instructor put these different reasons on the whiteboard, clustering and combining reasons into different groups; assign a summary category or name to these different groups, for example, “to foster literary appreciation.” Then, rank orders these different groups according to what is most important (“1”) versus least important for the school curriculum. Share your rankings in small groups and then in the large group. Discuss reasons for differences in your rankings and what forces are shaping those rankings. Discuss differences in reasons given differences in your audiences.
5. Justifying literature instruction in a job interview.
You are being interviewed for a secondary English position in which literature is a major focus of the courses to be taught. In the interview, you are asked, “If you were to walk into a high school literature class tomorrow, what would you do and why?” What would be your answer to this question?