We continue with "Issues in Pedagogy" from our Teaching Seminar with a focus on issues in teaching literature effectively, using handouts, and incorporating creative assignment design. As noted in our previous post, this session was open to issues and themes that our participants wanted to cover.
One of the themes on our minds was what techniques to use when teaching literature. How do you keep it interesting and accessible? Do you focus on larger themes or close readings of specific passages? How do you attend to the balance between writing about literature and talking/thinking about literature? These are just a few of the questions we tossed around in this session.
1) Verbal v. Textual - you may find that it is easier for your students to answer critical questions verbally than in writing, and often it is easier for them to talk about larger themes or ideas than to deal with text directly. It may be intimidating to ask a student to "show" his or her analysis with a passage, but we explored the idea of group work as a good way to allow students to gather textual evidence. In-class or pre-class writing assignments are another way to accomplish this. One teacher creates quote clusters for her students and asks them to use those quotes to build an argument about the text. Whatever approach you take, it is important to keep these issues in mind when designing your literature class.
2) Using Handouts - we discussed this tool as well in our conversation about teaching literature, especially in how to incorporate a writing component into a literature class. Handouts can be helpful in striking that balance between themes and textual evidence, but also in clarifying literary concepts for students. They can also be useful in adapting to different learning styles - for some students, visuals are more useful than lectures. And of course we discussed handouts in the context of writing assignments and rubrics (see this post for Gayle's thoughts on using rubrics). Finally, check with your peers - sometimes they come up with great handouts that can change the way your students learn.
3) Creative Projects - I know that this was one of the questions I had for the round table: Do you use creative assignments in a literature class, and, if so, how? And what are the merits of using creative projects? Well many of the participants use creative projects in their classes, and most of them had decisive opinions on the utility of creative projects. It is one way to make the text accessible and interesting to students - it can also be a unique way to get students engaged closely with the text. If you ask students to finish an unfinished poem, they need to consider the poem itself carefully for the assignment. If they have to gather and comment on modern adaptations (or create one of their own) they are honing research skills as well as analysis and comprehension. Consider pursuing some of these ideas in your course design even if you are nervous about their potential success.
4) Consult the Net - as teachers, we always think carefully about how to approach a text - both which passages to analyze and what themes to discuss. We decide what kind of biographical/historical details to include as well as publication information and anecdotes to share. One thing that we should be thinking about is what students will find when they type our reading assignments into Google - you know they do it. Even if they read the entire text on their own, most students will still look it up online. It might be useful to do this as well. Additionally, there are some great opportunities in this pre-lecture research for cultural references, artwork, and adaptations which your students may find helpful and fun in engaging with the text.
These are just some of the issues we discussed in this session, and we know that we have many more. If you have questions or suggestions, please email us or leave a comment below. The next post will wrap up our "Issues in Pedagogy" session by exploring some advice for graduate students who are also teaching.
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