Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Literary theory and English teaching

The new iteration of Literature circles is going well. The students have had two meetings discussing their novels. The novels they chose were: Guitar Highway Rose by Brigid Lowry, Stalker by Hazel Edwards, Mandragora by David McRobbie, Borrowed Light by Anna Fienberg, and Holes by Louis Sachar. Each week they get into their groups and discuss what they have read. The discussions are very interesting, especially in the light of John Howard’s criticism of English teaching last week. The gist of his displeasure is that English teaching is being “dumbed down” by teachers focussing on literary theory in the English classroom. The literary theory that Literature Circles is based on is sometimes called Reader Response theory, in which the primary focus is on the reader and the process of reading rather than on the author or the text. It sees students as active agents in the making of meaning and that interpretation and knowledge production is largely a social act. It fits well into the curriculum at adolescence as, in my experience, the students are supremely social beings on the whole. If the alternative that Howard is proposing is a return to a diet of only whole class text study where the teacher is seen as the fount of all knowledge and student choice is not encouraged then I for one would see that as an impoverishment of English curriculum. Literary theory has enriched my teaching of English, and the discussion coming out of Literature Circles is just one example of this.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I'm a secondary school teacher in New York, US. We started using Lit Circles and tiered novels in our classes a few years ago thanks to some support from AUSSIE consultants Noel Ridge and Alan Wright. After being, admittedly, a bit skeptical about the whole validity of letting the kids choose the novels they felt they were right for, I must say that the themed novel units are great! I have started tiering some short stories by author, theme, or literary term/lesson. Since we are in a middle school though, we have the flexibility that they do not currently have in the high school. If we can help them increase their comprehension rates in the lower grades though, they could then handle class texts like Shakespeare, Lee, Joyce, etc. when they reached the upper ones.
    I've been enjoying the blog. This is a new world for me too.