Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Conversations in Literature
Conversations in Literature — Workshop

Individual Program

1. Responding
as Readers

2. Envisioning

3. Stepping In

4. Moving Through

5. Rethinking

6. Objectifying
the Text

7. The Stances
in Action

8. Returning to the

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Re: [Channel-talklitconversations] Workshop 2 Video Discussion

From: <bawbfree@earthlink.net>
Date: Thu Jul 07 2005 - 22:37:29 EDT
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It's so interesting to consider how I was taught in high school now that I'm a high school teacher myself. I, like Janie, don't remember much personal response to text in class discussions. However, I think that my experiences stem somewhat from where I'm from-- a small town with a high poverty level. I suspect that so many of my teachers didn't want to frustrate students by leading higher level discussions, and their misguided sense of concern led to boring plot summary discussions. I realize now that I practiced the two types of reading described in the workshop-- the envisionment style of reading was something that I did on my own time with books that I wanted to read. The other expository style reading was ironically used in my English classes. I wish that my teachers had used a different approach, particularly when we discussed texts like Huck Finn, a book which encourages so much personal response. As a high school student, I would have liked to examine other students' response to how our societ
y treats those who are "different" as well as the traditional racial issues in the book.

In my own classroom, I have had some very positive experiences with envisionment style discussions. What I find most amazing about such discussions is that I'm able to act as a participant (and at times a facillitator) rather than the person grading students' performances. Last fall, I was teaching The Old Man and the Sea in a 10th grade Pre AP class. The book is traditionally not a favorite among high school students who tend to remark "The book's about a guy that catches a fish, loses it to sharks and then goes home. What's the point?" The reason that I love teaching OMS is precisely because there is so little emphasis on plot; students actually have to consider why it was written. Another plus to this novella is that my students tend to address each others' "issues." Students who dislike the book are adressed by students who like the book. The students who like the book are the ones who have sought deeper meanings and found truth in the book. The students who dislike the book are normally those w
hose sense of fair play is wounded by the novella's events: why work so hard only to lose everything? This question leads to an amazing discussion that connects to both the novella and students' personal lives. In discussion, students consider Hemingway's notion that it's the struggle that defines us, not the outcome. For my athletes, this notion is often bizare, as they've been trained that winning is the ultimate outcome. For students in the midst of a personal crisis, the work becomes an important representation of life. My Christian students find connection between the novella and their faith (which works nicely, given the crucifixion allusions in the text). In short, students may walk away from the book loving or hating it, but their reasons for loving/hating it stem from their personal interaction with the text.

I do have some questions when it comes to this type of approach to teaching. When students read older works (such as Beowulf or Voltaire) they often have a great difficulty with the text itself. Many students limit their reading to just "getting the facts" and don't interact with the difficult text. Essentially, these works take much longer to read (which we've all discovered) because the reader must first "translate" and then react. I've found that many students aren't willing to put in this amount of time in a text, and simply decide to "wait for class" to hear what the piece is about. I want to stop this cycle in discussion, because I'm finding that 2-3 really sharp students are carrying the discussion and telling other students how they should interpret the text. Then, on an essay test, I get 30 responses all based on those 2-3 students' interpretation. I have a feeling that this is frustrating for all students in the class-- the sharp kids don't have anyone to question/respond to their ideas and
the other kids who struggled with text haven't given themselves a chance to share their thoughts. Hopefully future workshops will address this issue-- English classes don't always cover just the works that students enjoy.


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Received on Fri Jul 8 09:45:48 2005


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