Author Archives: jkathrynfulton

Reflecting on teaching “Sleepy”

Overall, I feel that my teaching presentation this past week went fairly well. Thank you all for being such good students. 🙂 And thank you for bringing “Sleepy” to class and staying awake during my presentation. (Lame joke, I know.)

I’m embarrassed about how nervous I get when I give a presentation in front of my peers in grad classes. I’m fine in front of my students. I’m fine in front of my colleagues at school. I’m fine in front of strangers (for the most part). I’m not quite sure what happens when I present for a class, though. I’m still working on those nerves.

I wanted to start my presentation similarly to how I might start a class period with my own students. I hoped to then give a solid  but concise overview of the background and context of the lesson on “Sleepy.” I hope that that contextual information was conveyed as I was fighting back those nerves during those first few minutes. As I mentioned, I chose to work with “Sleepy” since Chekhov short stories is a new selection in our IB English I curriculum. I’ve never taught Chekhov before, so I really used this teaching presentation assignment to help me prepare to teach Chekhov. I started with my lesson plans for “Sleepy,” and then built other Chekhov lessons around that lesson–the short story review assignment, the Chekhov research assignment, and the group presenation on a selected short story. Then I also incorporated a focus on critical reading lenses into these lessons on Chekhov short stories. So, what started as one lesson created for the teaching presentation for class ended up as a unit ready to teach this school year! I was very excited to work with incorporating different activities that we had worked with over the course of the semester (especially Blau’s ideas/activities), and I was thrilled to have a ready-to-use unit created by the time I was done. However, the lesson-turned-unit presented some difficulties when it came to a 30-minute presentation.

After introducing the background for my focus lesson on “Sleepy” and I shifted from “presenter” to “teacher,” I felt much more comfortable! I was in my element, I guess you could say. I truly love teaching, and even though teaching is in some ways like acting or putting on a show/presentation, as Professor Sample said (sorry–I don’t remember the exact wording), I feel I am truly myself when I am teaching. So when I shifted from talking about my lesson to actually leading the class in the activities, I felt much more comfortable. Looking back, I wish I would have structured my presentation better so that we could have spent more time with the activities. I wanted to be sure to explain how the lesson was situated within the unit I ended up creating, and I guess I figured that providing the handouts on the critical lenses and the critical essay would help save time for actual activities. However, I feel that I probably spent too much time with explanations and short-changed the actual activities. I really loved hearing what others thought of the story and would have liked to have had even more discussion.

The teaching presentation is a unique assignment. I enjoyed working on my presentation, and I have definitely been enjoying all the other presentations! I’m enjoying the works that everyone is selecting, and I love that we’re sharing ideas and activities through these presentations. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks!

“Do we have to analyze this?”—Adding graphic novels to the mix

                My students often try to tell me that they hate analyzing. When we start reading a new work, they’ll ask, “Do we have to analyze this one?” I try to point out, as we have discussed in class, that they are constantly analyzing everything around them!  In everyday interactions, they analyze text messages, status updates, facial expressions, and tone of voice, just to name a few. They also analyze movies, music, and, yes, literature. And most of this analysis comes as second nature. (Of course, we work to get them to really tease out their thoughts and go even deeper with their analysis.) Why not add graphic novels to the mix? It’s the perfect combination of text and visuals for “literary analysis.”

                In the past, particularly when teaching plays, I have had students create comic strips depicting the most important scenes in the drama. Now by no means am I having them create graphic novels, but I am having them consider how they would depict the scenes. They make choices as to which scenes to show and which to leave out. They have to consider how the characters look and interact. All of these choices are worthy of discussion when considering a graphic novel.

                While I would really like to have a graphic novel on my reading list, I have been stumped as to how exactly I would go about “teaching” such a work. Then I had the thought that if we are arguing that graphic novels are literature, then we could really do many of the same activities we would do with “regular” literary texts. They would need to be modified a bit, but things such as creating a scene left out of the original text, or telling the story from another point of view could work nicely with a graphic novel. Not only do such activities require them students to analyze the existing text, but they require further analysis, creativity, and justification for the choices made.

                Like Susanna, I would like to use excerpts from McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud says a lot about analysis in general, not just about comics (or, comix). I think his explanations, along with the format, would be helpful for students. (And they would have to analyze as they read about analysis!) Also, I’d like to use excerpts from a graphic novel or two in an activity that I use in the beginning of the year. Many of my IB students struggle with the concept of really examining the choices made in a literary work and the effect of those choices. During the first week or two of school I do an activity in which they look at the choices/techniques and their effects in art work, music, and film before we move on to our focus on literature. The point is that literary analysis is not completely unique and on its own island of thought somewhere. I think I’ll add graphic novel excerpts to the mix.

Nat Turner—disturbing, but in a good way

When Professor Sample asked those of us who had already read Nat Turner to describe it, I said I thought it was disturbing. I say this not because of the format or genre of the narrative, but because of the story itself. I became absorbed in the book right away and read it in one sitting. However, I was shocked and appalled when reading (and seeing) how Nat Turner carried out his rebellion and justified his actions. Yes, I have learned of slave rebellions, but I honestly had never heard of Nat Turner until picking up this graphic novel. Sad, I guess, but true. Unlike Kyle Baker, I don’t recall seeing even a one paragraph blurb about him in any history textbook. I doubt that I am alone, though, as Baker points out that someone would be lucky to find one book on Nat Turner.

                After reading Baker’s Preface, I guess I was expecting the story of a great, heroic man. After all, Baker says “Many of history’s greatest people, including Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and Malcolm X all cite Nat Turner as an inspiration” (6). Baker praises Turner’s will power and the fact that he overcame the system, found access to books, taught himself to read, and educated himself. Yes, for these reasons he is admirable. But, despite the fact that Kyle Baker references killing, I guess I was expecting more from this man who overcame the odds. I guess I expecting to hear of more of an intellectual revolution as opposed to a bloodbath. Yes, slavery is indeed awful, horrific, extreme, and disturbing. But I was shocked by Turner’s extreme measures. While I can praise the idea and act of rebelling against slavery and creating a revolution, I am not comfortable saying that what Turner did was right. And I seriously question his grasping of the Scriptures and what he believed he was being called to do.

                Okay—whew—I got it out there. I’m sure that, in light of the fact that Nat Turner is hailed as a hero, some people are probably thinking that I’m horrible.

                I realize I’ve been expressing my views on the subject of Baker’s graphic novel and haven’t really analyzed the novel. Graphic novels of this nature open up this sort of discourse, though. It allows the discussion of, even debate over, the events of history. In his Preface, Baker says that “comic books/graphic novels are a visual medium, so it’s most important for an artist to choose a subject with opportunities for compelling graphics” (6). Nat Turner’s story definitely provides opportunity for compelling graphics! Graphic novels offer an effective way to present history. (I sure won’t forget Nat Turner now!) Similar to films about historical events, since the graphic novel is a “visual medium,” readers are note solely reading a story, a history, but they see it play out beyond the images in their minds. This medium is by far more effective than text alone, particularly when it comes to historical narratives! It’s too easy to skim over text or maintain a safe distance from the events. It’s far harder to ignore the visuals.

                I feel that graphic novels have much to offer and, to my surprise, I’ve enjoyed by experiences with the genre thus far. I was first exposed to graphic novels in American Postmodernism last spring and was intrigued by Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers and Lappe and Goldman’s Shooting War. I worked with graphic novels again this past fall semester in 701 as we studied Satrapi’s Persepolis and McCloud’s Understanding Comics. Much like a film, graphic novels have layers of analysis—not only can you explore the text, but there are also the visuals and the relationship between the graphics and the text, I love the complexity of what appears to be a “simple” form! I would love to teach a graphic novel (Persepolis, in particular), and I look forward to our class discussions on the form and how to teach it.

Playing Ivanhoe

I introduced Ivanhoe to my IB English I students this past Thursday, and we played the game as a final activity for our study of The Great Gatsby. I gave directions almost identical to those that Professor Sample posted on the screen for us in class, and I modeled the roles after those we used for “The Story of an Hour.” In addition to including Fitzgerald, a literary critic, Dr. Phil, and Baz Luhrmann (as the film director), I included a few characters from the novel, as well as a couple of characters from other works they’ve read so far this year. At first, my students were very unsure about this “game.” They were looking at me as if I was speaking in another language, but I kept going, insisting they would ‘get it” once they started playing. And they did! Overall, the game was a success! Here are some of my observations:

  • Students loved the creative license…once they realized how much they actual had!
  • The majority of students got into the game! One of my classes has lunch in the middle of our class and students were asking, “Are we going to keep playing after lunch? This is awesome!” Another student described the activity as “tight.”
  • Students were very honest and free with their responses. Some responses became R-rated and students got uncomfortable when I was walking around. I stopped listening in on some groups—they weren’t being horribly inappropriate and they were really getting into it, so I figured it was okay.
  • Many groups had a lot of fun seeing how their collaborative narrative came together. A couple of groups had disconnected narratives throughout the game.
  • The students who really got into the game the most are students who aren’t really the strongest writers or analytical thinkers. And, yet, their responses clearly required analytical thinking.
  • Some students were concerned about how they were going to “win.” I tried to explain that it’s not that type of game, but they kept asking if their group was winning, how many points they had, etc. (Finally, I started fibbing and telling the persistent groups that they were winning the game. J)
  • Some students were asking questions about the objective or purpose of the game. Sadly, we didn’t get to have good discussion after the game because we really got into playing and ran out of time at the end of class. I did have students fill out a response about the game. I asked them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they see as benefits of playing the game, if they think it would be more effective played in a blog format, etc. I plan to discuss these responses when we return from break. (A bit of a side note…When I mentioned that the game is typically played online, I saw a lot of smiles and nods. J)
  • In the future, when I first introduce the game, I don’t think I’ll actually introduce the game. Meaning, I think I’ll assign roles without the game context. I’ll have them write their first “move” for homework (as a POV writing assignment), and then I’ll put them into groups the following class. I think it might help with the initial confusion that they had and it would allow us to get right into the activity a little better.

commentary and criticism on Text Book

I miss Blau. I realize that I’m not saying anything new here, but I’m not very inspired by Text Book. Since we had read a piece by Scholes earlier in the semester and I found myself referring to it often when discussing other readings, I was looking forward to reading Text Book. Sigh. I’m hoping I’ll have more warm fuzzies towards the book as we continue discussing and reading. Here are some of my thoughts on Text Book…

• As a couple others have mentioned, the formatting of the book has been a hurdle for me. I’m very OCD, and the format of the book with the headings, subheadings, etc, is really messing with me! Some of the headings seem to be in the wrong place, and sometimes it is unclear what text is part of an excerpt, and what text is the commentary of the authors!

• While the readings are interesting, I keep thinking I’m reading a study of linguistics and semiotics. Granted, these areas of study play into literature, but I keep expecting more.

• Are the authors really accomplishing their goal of teaching that we “[learn] literary theory by emulating literary practice” (v)? Yes, they include various writing activities after the reading selections, but are these activities really new and different? They often require the reader/student to examine the writers use of language, as mentioned in the point above, and many activities are creative (such as POV responses), but I’m still questioning “writing through literature.” Am I missing something?

• I do like how the book focuses on studying how writers use language. The authors also ask their readers (students) to consider the effect of this use of language. These are two big key words we use in IB English—HOW (technique, choices) and EFFECT (why? So what?)

 • Another positive…Text Book speaks to and reaffirms the notion that we are constantly interpreting! I think it’s important to remind our more reluctant students of this very true fact. My regular-level students complain that “we always have to look for a deeper meaning.” In reality, they’re always looking for deeper meanings, and they pick up on these deeper meanings—in TV shows, movies, advertisements, text messages (as someone in class pointed out a few weeks back), etc. I like how the authors of Text Book discuss the interpretation of things such as advertisements and dreams, not just literary works.

The Critical Blogger

As much as I like the idea of blogs, I’ve always struggled with my own blogging. I stress over my blog post entirely too much, and I struggle with narrowing my focus. In a way I feel that I should be thinking of a blog like a paper, but papers and blogs are also two different formats. (These are some of the observations I’m making while reflecting on my blogging that won’t necessarily show up in my actual posts.)

This week’s task of analyzing our own blogs has been insightful. Here is what I’ve discovered about my blogs:

  • I’m very critical. I seem to read the texts with a “prove it to me” approach, as if the author needs to “sell” me on their points and theories. I don’t think that this is a bad approach, though. The points and issues I bring up in my blog posts are supported, either with examples from my classroom or passages from the texts. Don’t we teach our students to prove (support) their thoughts and ideas?
  • I think I’m also defensive in my responses. (Here’s where my critical, “prove it to me” approach can be bad.) Several times throughout my posts I give teachers more credit than I feel that the author(s) are giving us in their books. For instance, when discussing Salvatori and Donahue’s ideas, I pointed out that I would like to think that most English teachers are already implementing the approaches and strategies presented in the text. I mention this again when discussing Gee and his lack of specific references/examples for an English classroom.
  • In addition to pointing out that most teachers are probably already implementing some of the approaches presented, I point out that we may just be using different jargon. For instance, I have several activities that are quite similar to Salvatori and Donahue’s  formal “Difficulty Paper.”
  • I make connections to my own teaching experiences, and I often use some of my own class activities as examples. I share activities that I think are successful, as well as learning experiences and areas in which I need to grow and improve.
  • I also make connections between the texts that we are reading. In particular, I make a lot of connections to Scholes and the expert/novice learner article we read for the first class.
  • Although I am critical, I think that I try to stay positive in my posts. (I really do love the class and the texts we are reading!) I do find that I end each post with my “issue” with (or question about) the text. For instance, “Although I understand and agree with Gee’s principles, I am concerned about…” Or, Along with the praise for Blau’s work […] I do have some questions.” I seem to structure my responses by first discussing what I agree with, and then discussing the issues/questions.

Finally, my blogs are very lengthy. I’m almost always well beyond the suggested word count. I worked on it—here’s 501! 🙂

Inspired by Blau, but sensing some contradiction

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Blau’s work, and I know that I will continue to refer to his book and work to implement his workshop ideas and writing assignments in my classes. I would love to know about even more of his writing assignment ideas!

Although it seems to be very time-consuming, Blau’s Reading Log assignment sounds very beneficial. My students have “Writer’s Notebooks,” but I give them prompts, and the entries are not nearly as regular as Blau’s Reading Log entries. While I see benefits to the Writer’s Notebook entries (and my students have acknowledged benefits in their end-of-the-year course evaluations), I’m interested in trying Blau’s approach. I am also a fan of his Interpretation Project because it touches on so many skills, and I would love to be able to incorporate his grading and portfolio ideas into my classes! (Any thoughts on how to adapt the portfolio assignment for high school classes?)

I’m also interested in trying his Reading Process Research Report. At the beginning of each school year, my IB students have a “Processes of Reading and Writing” assignment in which they reflect on how they approach texts and writing about those texts. Blau’s assignment is much more authentic, though, since students are actually working through an analysis of a text while reflecting on their process. I plan to revise my assignment and adapt Blau’s. I do not think I will adopt his “twist” on the assignment, though, where he has students share their writings and then allows them to revise their papers (171-2). It seems that the purpose of the assignment is to see where students are in their analytical process at the beginning of the school year. I don’t want to see their “tainted”/influenced interpretations or approaches—I want to see theirs!

On this note, I sense a bit of a contradiction in Blau’s ideas and assignments. At some points he seems to encourage students to use outside sources (collaborating with colleagues on the Reading Process Research Report, stating that research is not prohibited for “The Interpretation Project,” etc), but then he is also critical of students using Cliffs Notes or similar resources as it can result in borrowed, “unearned” interpretations, which Rosenblatt says is “like having someone else eat your dinner for you” (187-8). Am I missing something? Obviously, students should be able to enter the conversation of literary interpretation and respond to other interpretations in a “they say/I say” way (term borrowed from Graff). But I feel that Blau is sending mixed messages. Shouldn’t we start with students’ “untainted,” uninspired-by-outside-source interpretations? How do we balance?

What about style and technique? What about the author’s craft?

Blau’s The Literature Workshop should be required reading in every English teacher’s undergraduate program. He provides such great insight with extensive rationales for his workshops. In the reading thus far, there have been many connections to the need for (and “pleasures” of) encountering and working through difficulty. Blau’s work definitely speaks to the differences between expert and novice learners and thinkers, and he speaks to the importance of practice. It seems that the greatest difference between expert and novices learners comes down to the issue of experience—expert learners have more practice and experience than novice learners. Thus, it is important for us to provide our students with plenty of practice.  Blau also repeatedly stresses the importance of modeling for our students. Additionally, he stresses the importance of recursive readings. (Although, I would like to know how he stresses/handles recursive readings of full novels.) I feel that Blau presents great reasoning and workshops to illustrate, among other things, the intentionally fallacy and the importance of evidentiary reasoning. I am really enjoying The Literature Workshop, and I feel that Blau has articulated many things that I have thought about the teaching of literature. I look forward to incorporating Blau’s workshops and activities in my classes!

Along with all the praise for Blau’s work, though, I do have some questions. My biggest question at this point is what about style and technique?? What about the author’s craft? Blau refers to Scholes when he says that we should help “students see how [literature] speaks to them as human beings rather than as test takers and technical analysts” (102). Agreed. Blau continues (referring to and quoting Scholes) by saying that “[b]y asking students as they read to look for and analyze such elements as irony, theme, symbol, tone, and so on, […] we erect a screen or alternate text ‘that stands between the literature students read and their own humanity’.” Hmmm… I think Blau’s (and Scholes’) point is valid, but I’m not sure that I completely agree. Isn’t examining and analyzing the author’s craft—their use of the language, their tone, their use of symbolism, etc—part of analysis? Isn’t it another way to approach the text? Granted, we don’t want our students solely reading a work on the look-out for literary devices. But can’t an exploration and consideration of technique lead to further understanding? I’m guessing that Blau isn’t a fan of the IB English program. Two big questions of IB English, as I explain it to my students, are: How does the work make you FEEL? (What is the effect of the work?—We’re not talking touchy/feely feel here.) and HOW does the work make you feel? (How is that effect achieved?) (They are also working with the greater “So What” question, too.) So, my IB students definitely explore (“dissect”?) literary works. But I don’t believe that this means that they aren’t seeing and discussing “how it speaks to them as human beings” because they do so at great length in class and in their writing!

More on teaching textual codes…and some thoughts on student motivation

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed Gee’s book. I particularly enjoyed his introduction and first few chapters as I felt that he became repetitive, essentially saying the same principles in a different way, as the book went on. (I also found some of his examples to be rather long-winded and, at times, redundant.) What struck me most about Gee’s points were the connections to other works we’ve read thus far in the course. I noticed some strong similarities between Gee’s work and the article on expert/novice learners that we read for our second class. I also noticed connections to Scholes’s points about textual power and “codes.”

Like Scholes, Gee speaks to the idea of expanded literacy. Gee says that “print literacy is not enough” (20). It’s not enough to be able to “read and write.” Rather, what matters is how successfully an individual can communicate in any given domain. In chapter two of Textual Power, Scholes states that “our job […] is to show [students] the codes upon which all textual production depends and to encourage their own textual practice” (24-5). Similarly, chapter two of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School stresses the importance of learning concepts rather than facts. Really, we should be helping our students to further develop their skills so that they can read and send “signals”/codes in any situation. Yes, we love it when our students truly analyze and discuss the novel we’re studying, but we should also want them to be able to apply those skills outside of the text, observing and analyzing the world around them.

Gee argues that “a great deal more is at stake than ‘content’” when it comes to video games (38). The same applies to literature studies, too. While our students may think English is just about reading and analyzing certain texts, we need to be teaching our students to think critically about the texts and the world around them. (Hopefully we’re already doing this and the students just don’t realize it—like the gamer who told Gee he never thought of playing video games as learning.) Gee repeatedly references science and math classrooms, and his book truly lacks significant references and direct application to English classrooms. I’d like to think this “lack” is because we, as English teachers, are already applying many of the principles Gee mentions. Gee’s point seems to be (if I really simplify his arguments and principles) that learning needs to be meaningful and relevant. In order to really learn, the learner must really care. We (naturally?) work to make literature studies meaningful and relevant by making connections between the texts we study and the world around us. We’re making “bridges” between identities (57). This being said, though, it’s important to reflect on our practices. I’m sure we could be doing more to apply Gee’s principles.

Although I understand and agree with Gee’s principles, I am concerned about the “fun and games” mentality. Gee states that if “learning is not compelling to the learner, at some level, then little deep learning is liable to occur” (59). In terms of our classrooms, then, is Gee suggesting that we need to do “tricks” to make everything compelling?? Doesn’t it, at some point/level, come back to the individual and his/her motivation? Gee also states that “children must be motivated to engage in a good deal of practice if they are to master what is to be learned. However, if this practice is boring, they will resist it” (65). Gee acknowledges that we can’t guarantee or make students think actively and critically, but we can set up learning in such a way to encourage deep learning. We can plan lessons and activities in such a way that they are meaningful and relevant. On the flip side, though, life isn’t all fun and games, and I don’t believe that learning is, or needs to be, either, at least not at all times.

Gee somewhat acknowledges that, at some level, it does come back to the individual students’ motivation and learning style.  He points out that students with an identity as someone who dislikes school are at a disadvantage when it comes to meaningful learning (45), acknowledging that some students simply dislike school. (We all know what a challenge it is to try to “entice” that student!) Gee also acknowledges that “video games are particularly good […], at least for some types of learners” (58). Some students may be engaged with a video game, or a novel of study, and some may not. Yes, we should strive to make our lessons meaningful and engaging, striving to make literature studies relevant and meaningful, but I believe there is something to be said for personal motivation and dedication on the part of the student.

(I really don’t mean to sound negative as I end this post. I really believe in the principles Gee shares, and I believe they can be applied effectively in our English classrooms. I guess I’m just commenting on some of the realities I see, too, and I’m always concerned when student accountability is potentially downplayed in some way. One more thing—sorry for such a long post! I always have so much to say about our readings!)

Linkon & Scholes—Teaching Textual Codes with the Process in Mind

As Scholes points out, we, as teachers, must realize and be reminded that very few, if any, of our students will go on to study literature at length or depth in college or in their careers. The question then becomes, how do we reach the average/typical English student? Scholes speaks of teaching students “textual power”—“how to use it and how to protect themselves from its abuses” (21). He also states that “it is not so much a matter of generating meanings out of a text as it is a matter of making connections between a particular verbal text and a larger cultural text” (33). Scholes is speaking of what I call the “larger ‘So What?’” of a text. (In his discussion and analysis of Hemingway’s “Interchapter VII,” Scholes expands to this larger “So What,” making statements about war.) Similarly, Linkon comments that “We should be just as concerned about what students are learning about how to read critically and culturally” as we are about their knowledge of specific concepts or terms (257-8).

The point that both authors emphasize here, and throughout their works, is that we need to give students the “tools,” not the answers. This role is key! As Scholes states, “our job is not to intimidate students with our own superior textual production; it is to show them the codes upon which all textual production depends and to encourage their own textual practice” (24-5). As I mentioned in my posting last week, we need to be careful with how much we influence our students and their interpretations. Activities and discussions need to be student-centered and student-led. Scholes discusses how he uses questions to guide close reading and understanding of the textual “codes,” which is something I do in my own classroom. For instance, when students complete the POV writing assignment, Scholes has them consider why they made changes (if they did). Although Scholes doesn’t state it directly,  we need to ask these same questions of the original text. “Why did Hemingway do      ?” Why didn’t he do                 ?” To put it in IB English lingo: What is the effect of the piece, and how is that effect achieved? And, “So What?”

Linkon also emphasizes the importance of continuing the conversation(s) about a text. She makes the point that analysis is never really “done” (252)—it’s an ongoing conversation that students enter into at various points and levels, and from various backgrounds and experiences. I saw echoes of Salvatori and Donahue when Linkon discusses expert vs. novice approaches to encountering and dealing with “difficulty” (251). She points out that “experts” ask questions. My IB students question and dig deeper while my regular 10’s give up or complain. My regular students are not aware that deeper understanding rests in figuring out and working through difficulty. As their teacher, I need to do more to teach these strategies and give them the tools!

On that note, I feel that both authors emphasize the importance of modeling. Many of my students have shared that they don’t really understand how to analyze a text, mark-up (annotate) a text, etc. Students need to see and hear us grabble with a text! Modeling is not only beneficial for our students, though—modeling can help us remember the process. I appreciated Linkon’s observations and ideas, her reminders about the process. We skip steps when we teach, forgetting the process. As teachers, it is critical that we don’t lose touch with the process.

Finally, I think both authors acknowledge the idea of expanded literacy. It’s not just about reading and responding to the text in class, but it’s important to learn to go beyond that text and enter the conversation. This expanding notion of literacy also encompasses different forms of communication, and both the expanded notion of literacy and the various forms of communication rely on understanding textual “codes.”

Yes, we need to encourage students in THEIR processes of analysis

I was really intrigued by all of the readings for this week’s class and found myself having lengthy “conversations” with each text…especially The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty. I was initially turned-off but what I perceived as Salvatori and Donahue’s haughty tone. I feel that the tone of the book is that of someone who has achieved enlightenment as opposed to someone who has gained knowledge but recognizes that they, too, are still learning. I also found the work extremely repetitive, as others have noted on Twitter and in their posts.

Although I am highly critical of the book. I do feel that Salvatori and Donahue had some valid, important points, and there were some intriguing parts sprinkled throughout the work. Salvatori and Donahue focus on the fact that students tend “to ignore what [does] not make sense, focusing on what [is] clear and presenting their knowledge in the form of carefully crafted and supported arguments” (103). How true! Students are not excited about the idea of confronting the difficulties they experience with the text. Salvatori and Donahue’s whole argument rests on the idea that these moments of difficulty must be tackled because they lead to greater understanding. I agree. However, the authors suggest that they are giving various ways of approaching a text when, really, it’s all the same approach—identify moments of difficulty and work through them to reach greater understanding. I would like to think that most English teachers do this already and encourage this practice of their students, although they might not use the same jargon that Salvatori and Donahue do. We encourage students to confront difficulty when we have class discussions and ask what students have questions about, what they’ve noticed, etc. These are great springboards to class discussion about a text! We work through the questions and observations together and begin to work our way to a greater understanding of the work. I have my students do Reader’s Logs for various works. Students write about their questions and observations to an assigned reading and they must support these questions/observations, forcing them to think out the “difficulties” in writing and work towards a deeper understanding of the work. (My Reader’s Logs seem to be a less-abstract version of “The Difficulty Paper.”)

I agree that students need to be encouraged to tackle their difficulties. I also agree that students tend to be easily deceived by a “difficult” text disguised as an “easy” one and fall into what I call the “plot trap,” feeling as if, and deciding, that there’s nothing else to say. As teachers, we need to push students to ask questions and make observations, and then encourage them to run with those thoughts and questions a bit, exploring them and making connections. I think that, as teachers, we also need to be careful that we start with what our students observe and question rather than presenting our own thoughts and ideas. I really like what Salvatori and Donahue pointed out about “interpretive communities.” The authors point out that “communities of readers […] learn to read in similar ways, to value certain textual elements and to disregard others” (8). Our classrooms are interpretative communities. Teachers have certain preferred approaches and interests, things we gravitate to in a text and then point out and ask. Students pick up on these tendencies and we need to be really carefully! Two things I really “get into” are narrative structure and color symbolism. Before I knew it, without my really being aware that I was focusing on these two elements so heavily in “discussions,” I felt like this was all my students were talking about. At one point, a student submitted a thesis proposal and, in response to “why do you want to write about this topic?”(a question my students answer along with each thesis proposal), he very honestly stated he wanted to write about narrative structure because he knew I really like to analyze the structure of works and, therefore, he thought he would do well on the paper. Yikes! Now, I always start with student questions and observations—moments of “difficulty”—and we go from there. We need to check ourselves and make sure we’re mixing it up and letting students work through their process of reading and analysis, not ours.