Academic journal article English Journal

Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

Academic journal article English Journal

Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

Article excerpt

Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents Deborah Appleman. 3rd edition, Teachers College Press, 2015.

When asked why they chose teaching English as a future profession, most of my preservice teachers claim loving to read as the main reason. It is true: we love books and assume our students will, too. However, this is not always the case, and we have an obligation to teach our students how to read, enjoy, and talk about the books. Moreover, we must teach them to understand how books reflect the world in which they live. It is helpful to complicate classroom readings and discussions with literary theory, moving outside traditional interpretation of themes, characters, and plot development. Deborah Appleman's Critical Encounters in Secondary English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents is an important supplement to other textbooks teachers may use. The book's audience is primarily English language arts teachers; however, social studies and history teachers, instructional coaches, literacy specialists, teacher educators, and curriculum developers will find that the book is written in accessible language that allows its use for professional development seminars and workshops.

Justifying the need for introducing theory to secondary school students, Appleman emphasizes that "contemporary literary theory can help adolescent readers make meaning of literary texts" (7) because it explores the intersection of the literary text and students' social context. The 21st century is marked by ideological discord as our society goes through ecological, economic, social, and political changes. Adolescents struggle to understand this harsh reality and to find their own place in a society torn by divisive politics. As English teachers and teacher educators, we have a responsibility to teach beyond literary terms and grammar structures to help our students face these current challenges.

Reading through Literary Lenses

Throughout the book, Appleman introduces the major theoretical lenses (e.g., gender, social class, reader response) clearly and concisely. She begins by presenting how to engage students in conversations about the text from multiple perspectives, giving examples of poetry and famous children's rhymes and fairy tales. Subsequent chapters address reader response, Marxism (social class), gender, postcolonialism, new historicism, and deconstruction. One of the final two chapters argues for including literary theory in the secondary school curriculum so that it does not become privileged knowledge for only college-bound students. …

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