Tag Archives: Blau

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!

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!

Efferent vs. Aesthetic Reading

There was definitely a lot in The Literature Workshop that I identified with and enjoyed.  The transcriptions of the workshops are great models to use in the classroom, even if I realize I will not be getting quite the same level of response/cooperation as Blau’s students.

I agree with Nikki that although I read a lot of educational theory back in college it all seemed alien to me as I did not have any real world context to place it in.  For example, I know that I read Rosenblatt in college, but I do not really remember much of what she said.  Reading the summary of her ideas about efferent and aesthetic reading in Blau’s book (145-147) now, as someone with classroom experience, I am able to relate to it, and agree that it is one of the fundamental problems I run into as an English teacher.

“Why are we reading this?” “What are we supposed to be getting out of this?”  I am inundated with these questions on a daily basis.  The question as always been so hard to answer and annoying to me because to me it seems obvious: we are reading this because it is literature and the experience is supposed to enrich your lives.  I have tried to tell students that reading literature is all about the experience, about appreciating the language, of relating to a piece of art, of connecting to humanity via shared experience, and so on.  Nope.  They are not buying it.  “What are we supposed to get out of it?” really means “What will be on the test?”

Until I read this passage it never dawned on me that English class is really the ONLY place this students are expected to read aesthetically.  They have to read in every other class, but in every other class they are being trained to read efferently.  I am the only in that classroom who primarily reads texts that are meant to be read aesthetically.  It made me realize that I should be more forgiving of my students and their need to know “what they are supposed to be getting out of it.”

However, as Blau points out, testing for aesthetic reading is remarkable difficult.  There are the state mandated tests that are more efferent that aesthetically based.  There is also a push for common curriculum and common assessments in many school districts.  In my experience common assessments lead towards a “correct reading” of a text, and therefore a more efferent reading.  There is also administrative pressure for crunchable data on assessments.

I guess I should focus on what I can change, as the I do not see the educational system moving away from collective testing anytime soon.  What I need to do in my classroom is incorporate as much of Blau’s ideas about enriching a literary experience for students while also making sure that my students are prepared for the types of assessments that are mandated for secondary students these days.