Applying the Concentric Circles Idea

Sample’s series of posts are timely for me: I feel connected to the example of designing a new Lit Course, not because I often have the feeling, but because I am now, for the first time, designing my 201 Lit Course at GMU.  I’ve been struggling with just the notion Sample points to: the question of developing a reading list based on what I think the kids should read, versus the idea of organizing the texts around the concepts I’d like the students to learn.

I do think this backwards scaffolding is a good idea: I do it in my comp classes and have found it a really successful way of not only organizing my course, but of explaining and demonstrating to students how these skills transcend the classroom. But my struggle with designing this 201 Literature Survey, is that I’ve only taken survey courses what work to cover, rather than uncover—courses that focus on the texts, rather than the concepts (this is true both at the undergrad, and at the graduate level).  So bear with me while I think aloud. I’m going to try and, right now, backwards scaffold  (using the concentric circle idea presented in Sample’s post, along with some implicit consideration of Fink’s ideas) my 201 course.

I’m going to start with the institutional expectations. Mason sets forth these guidelines:

Literature courses must meet at least three of the five following outcomes.

1. Students will be able to read for comprehension, detail, and nuance.

2. Identify the specific literary qualities of language as employed in the texts they read.

3. Analyze the ways specific literary devices contribute to the meaning of a text.

4. Identify and evaluate the contribution of the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts in which a literary text is produced.

  1. (<– can’t get rid of that) 5. Evaluate a critical argument in others’ writing as well as one’s own.”

So if I had to categorize these prescribed learning goals into the 3 concentric circles Wiggins and McTighe present (“worth being familiar with,” “important to know and do,” and “enduring understanding”), I’d put reading with comprehension, detail and nuance at the “enduring understanding” level, and I’d also group “ways literary devices contribute to the meaning of the text” in that category. In terms of “important to know and do,” I’d like to see them “identify and evaluate the contribution of the…contexts in which a literary text is produced.” Finally, in the “worth being familiar with” I’d put the “identify specific literary qualities of language…” piece. Still though, there are more things I’d like them to accomplish: I’d like them to get a taste of what contemporary, classic, and experimental fiction, nonfiction, and poetry look like. I’d like them to think about the medium of the novel, the short story, the poem, the essay, and how those things reach different parts of the human experience than other interesting mediums (movies, tv, stage drama, video games, visual art, etc).

I guess I’m kind of thinking aloud here—and I know quite a few of these goals can be folded together and accomplished as such. I do think, that in writing all of this down, I have a clearer idea of what I think is important in the study of literature.  But this exercise does little to help me refine my reading list. Any number of books could achieve these goals, depending on how I teach them, right? Isn’t this idea of backwards scaffolding more about the exercises we do in class than the texts I choose?

So back to the original plan? Find a set of texts that are contemporary/canonized/anti-canonical/interesting/that I like and go from there? I feel like I’m back at square one!