Teaching Secondary English: Readings and Applications

By Daniel Sheridan | Go to book overview
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respects the student's role as a maker of meaning, the expository, analytical essay would be only one of the genres in which students would be asked to perform.

Much of the writing we ask students to do might be personal narrative, perhaps the telling of one's own stories as they are called to mind by reading. If poetry and fiction are legitimate ways of making meaning, then we should have students try their hands at them. Students of music aren't asked just to listen and appreciate; they are invited to hum a tune or pound on a drum. Literature students should similarly be asked to hum a poem once or twice during their schooling if they are to come to understand the genre as fully as they might. There are, after all, various possible ways of making meaning out of experience, literary or otherwise, and students should learn to exercise some responsibility in choosing among them. They need to know that telling their own stories is a perfectly legitimate, respectable act, as significant as explicating a text.

Our primary goal in the English curriculum is not to make literary scholars of all of our students. It is to make them readers and writers, independent and self-reliant thinkers who employ language and literature to enrich their lives. If we keep clearly in mind what we are about, it should be possible for all our toil and trouble to yield an English curriculum that accomplishes that for many of our students.


Works Cited

Bottoms, David. 1983. “Sign for My Father, Who Stressed the Bunt, in In a U-Haul North of Damascus. New York: Morrow. 22.

Burke, Kenneth. 1957. “Literature as Equipment for Living.” The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. New York: Vantage. 253–62.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. 1985. Language, Literature, and Values.” Language, Schooling, and Society. Ed. Stephen N. Tchudi. Upper Montclair. New Jersey: Boynton. 64–80.

. 1968. Literature as Exploration. 3rd ed. New York: Noble.

Scholes, Robert. 1989. Protocols of Reading. New Haven: Yale UP.


For Further Thought

1. Probst discusses the literary experience as a transaction between text and reader. In your own words, describe the nature of that transaction. Then respond to it: Is this the way you are accustomed to thinking about how meaning is created from texts?

2. Think about Probst's six goals for a literature/writing program, and then apply them to your own experience. How did your experience in secondary English classes accord with these goals? What about your college English courses? What other goals might there be for studying literature?

3. Think about Probst's six principles of instruction, and then apply them to a particular teacher. How does this teacher's work reflect (or fail to reflect) these principles? Are there other, equally valid principles of teaching literature, or do you agree with Probst that these are paramount?

4. Choose a short work of literature (perhaps a poem, short story, or essay), read it, and then apply Probst's five teaching questions to it. Write your response to each question, and then add a paragraph in which you comment on the use of questions as a guide for teaching.

5. Reconsider the reader-response position on literature, and then write a few paragraphs in which you discuss the value of this approach for the teacher of English. Consider problems as well as advantages.

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