How do we as teachers read literature? How do our students read literature? What is the difference between the two? And how can we teach our students the process of interpretation—of transforming a naïve reading of a literary work into a critical reading? This course addresses these questions by considering theoretical approaches to the teaching of literature as well as practical techniques and tools that teachers and students alike can use. Among the strategies we will emphasize is the role of writing as a means to deepen students’ understanding of what they read. ENGL 610 is designed for current teachers, those considering careers in teaching, and anyone drawn to the experience of reading and analyzing literature. Most of our course readings are relevant to high school and college English classrooms, but many ideas we consider may be adapted for the teaching of younger readers.



The required work for ENGL 610 takes several forms, detailed below: (1) participation, (2) weekly blogging, (3) a “think aloud” analysis, (4) a literary interpretation and reflection essay, and (5) a teaching presentation.

This course places a high premium on participation. Most of our class time will be given over to discussion, both as a class and in small groups, and it is essential that everyone has carefully considered the week’s material, attends class, and participates. If you cannot attend ENGL 610 regularly, staying until each session ends at 7:10 pm, please reconsider your decision to enroll. A portion of your participation will take place virtually, using Twitter as what is called a “backchannel,” streaming real-time comments about the course both in and outside of the classroom. In the first days of class everyone will sign up for Twitter and begin using it for class with the hashtag #ENGL610. Aim for posting to Twitter at least once every other day. Participation will be worth 15% of your final grade.

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 300-500 word response to the week’s readings. Sometimes I will provide specific prompts for you to consider in your post. Other times your blog entry may be more open-ended. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to your own experience as a teacher or reader of literature; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it. In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance. To ensure that everyone has a chance to read the blog before class, post your response by 5pm the evening before class. Blogging will be worth 25% of your final grade.

The “think aloud” analysis will be an entirely new experience for most students. I will provide more details in due course, but here is a brief sketch of the assignment. On February 3, I will present an unfamiliar poem to several groups of three students each. I will ask each group to formulate an interpretation of their poem, verbalizing every thought that occurs to them while they figure out the poem—the “think aloud” part of this exercise. I will videotape this session, which should last about ten minutes. The next step involves every student in the class watching the video and analyzing the think aloud, outlining its core parts, annotating moments of confusion, negotiation, or understanding, and devising a rubric that accounts for the different reading strategies the group members used. The analysis is due in class on February 10. The think aloud analysis will be worth 20% of your final grade.

The literary interpretation and essay reflection is a chance to formally analyze a work of literature using the strategies we discuss throughout the semester. You may use almost any commonly anthologized poem or short story. Your analysis should be 5 pages long, and it should draw upon appropriate and relevant literary theory and practices that we’ve encountered in the class. The reflection component of this assignment is a 2-3 page essay on your experience of interpretation. What problems did you encounter in analyzing your text and how did you solve them? What theories, processes, terms, or concepts did you use? Where did they especially help or hinder you? The interpretation and reflection are due in class on March 24 and will be worth 20% of your final grade.

The presentation is a kind of mini-lesson, in which you “teach” (or rather, walk through the teaching of) the poem or short story that you analyzed in your literary interpretation. Before your presentation, design a teaching plan, which considers the following questions: the group of students whom you imagine teaching; your learning objectives and why they are important; and a concrete and specific description of what you would ask students to do with this text, including all reading and writing activities you would introduce in class or assign as homework. Be clear about how these activities are connected to your learning objectives, and situate the activities you describe in the context of the pedagogical approaches we’ve read this semester. This 4-5 page paper is due the evening you present your plan to the class. The presentations will take place on the nights of April 14, April 21, and April 28. The presentation will be worth 20% of your final grade.


I give every assignment a letter grade, except for individual blog posts, which are graded on a scale ranging from 0 to 4. In order to calculate your final grade, I convert the letter grades into a percentage. I weight the grades according to the chart above, and then convert the average back into a letter grade. I use the following standard grading scale:

A+ = 100% / A = 95% / A- = 90%
B+ = 88% / B = 85% / B- = 80%
C+ = 78% / C = 75% / C- = 70%
D = 65% / F = below 60%

Attendance is mandatory (excepting medical emergencies or observation of religious holidays), and more than two unexcused classes will dramatically reduce your class participation grade, effectively lowering your final grade by one step. From the 2008-2009 University Catalog:

Students are expected to attend the class periods of the courses for which they register. In-class participation is important not only to the individual student, but to the class as a whole. Because class participation may be a factor in grading, instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of nonparticipation.

Students are responsible for verifying their enrollment in this class. The last day to add this course is February 2, 2010. The last day to drop this course is February 19, 2010. After the last day to drop a class, withdrawal from ENGL 610 requires the approval of the dean and is only allowed for nonacademic reasons.


Remember that all written assignments must follow MLA research guidelines. Never take credit for someone else’s ideas or words and always document your sources. George Mason University has an Honor Code, which requires all members of this community to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity. Cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing are all prohibited. All violations of the Honor Code will be reported to the Honor Committee. See for more detailed information.

If you do not own a style guide that covers MLA format, I recommend getting one. I also encourage you to begin using Zotero, a freely available open source reference manager for Windows and Mac, which runs as a Firefox extension. See for more information.


Laptops may be used in class but only for classroom activities such as note-taking or Twittering. Text messaging unrelated to class is not acceptable. Late arrivals and early departures from class are disruptive and should be avoided as well.


If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 993-2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through the DRC.


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