Tag Archives: Robert Scholes

Thoughts on Having No Thoughts

I must be missing something. I haven’t enjoyed this reading as much as I think I should be (and I don’t really even know why I think I should be enjoying it). I appreciate the variety of examples of literature, but they are distracting me (in a good way) more than helping support or clarify the points the authors make. In fact, I’ve been hard pressed to collect my thoughts well enough to write something thoughtful in response to this week’s reading. Every time I finish reading a portion of the book, I wonder what I have to say about it. I just can’t think of anything. Nothing. Nada. I opened the book expecting discussions of teaching practices, but what I found was more like an anthology—but not quite. I’ve enjoyed the selections (though some of the non-fiction selections have been tedious to wade through). And I’m always pleased to come across poems or short stories I haven’t read before because there’s something exciting about discovering a good text for the first time. But thoughts? Nope. Maybe it has to do with the looooong and drawn out method of organization (if you can call it that), but I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above water with this one.

Fortunately, thanks to this course, I have a new appreciation for the merits of struggling with difficulty, so I’ll go with that.

After reading the first chapter, I realized I was more confused than anything else. I couldn’t figure out the target audience (much like the case of Salvatori and Donahue), and that ambiguity frustrated me. I can’t determine whether I’m supposed to be the student or the teacher. This uncertainty and frustration has lingered through the first two chapters. I feel much more like the student as a result of the hang-on-for-dear-life feelings I have as I plod through, but some passages seem geared more toward other audiences. I agree with Abbie that the book certainly could have been organized better (more concise chapters perhaps?) and in a more reader-friendly manner. (And let me just say, that is no small matter to a serious reader. I have very strong feelings toward authors who expect their readers to wade through an almost 100 page chapter on metaphor. That’s just not nice.)

So, in short, I don’t think I’ve worked through my feelings about Text Book yet, but I suppose that’s okay—especially as we still have half the book to go. I’m going to try to come to some better conclusions (or at least formulate intelligent thoughts) for next week because I don’t like uncertainty. It’s not a comfortable space for me to inhabit.

Finding the “Right Answer”

After only two weeks I recognize a subtle shift in my attitudes and approaches to teaching literature to high school sophomores.  My blog post last week included the type of frustrated complaint often overheard in faculty workrooms (“They just don’t know howto read!”), and although I’m willing to move away from that (simplistic) diagnosis, it’s important for me to remember that students—as novice readers—do not automatically “get” the process of reading literature.  As Sherry Linkon explains, “Active reading that examines the text itself closely draws upon the reader’s experience with and knowledge of other texts, and engages both the reader’s own perspective and historical and cultural resources to uncover complex meanings” (250).  This is not a depth of engagement and analysis that comes naturally to the average student in a high school English class.  In fact, students do not even realize they should be personally involved in the process of finding meaning, as they expect there to be a single neat and tidy “right answer” (and perhaps that is just as much the fault of teachers as students themselves).

One passage early in Linkon’s article made me recognize the shortsightedness of my previous complaints:  It is not “appropriate (though it may be tempting) to blame students for not reading well enough, not trying hard enough, or simply not being smart enough” (248).  (Tempting indeed!)  After reading this statement, I feel I’ve been unfair to my students.  Their inability to read at the expert level is not an excuse for me to throw up my hands in resignation—rather, I need to learn how better to support and encourage their process of reading.  For example, Alicia mentioned in her post that she realized her students don’t think it’s normal to re-read a passage, so she tries to model this practice to them.  Such is also true for my students, who approach a text with the belief that there is one ultimate (and seemingly random) “answer” embedded in the words and it is their job simply to locate that answer and transcribe it.

I enjoyed reading about the Inquiry Project Linkon assigns in her American Lit class because I see the merit of allowing students to pursue their own lines of investigation regarding a text—after all, we should be encouraging students to make meaning partly based on their own perspectives.  I’m not sure such an open-ended project would be a perfect fit for high school underclassmen, but I hope to use some aspects of her project in my next lit unit.  Students will work in groups to study carefully one thematic element of a novel.  Although I’ve used the framework of this project before, thanks to Linkon’s article (and our discussion last week) I have several additions.  The students’ first task as a group (before they even begin reading the novel) will be to generate a list of questions they want to address while examining their topic.  I also plan to include metacognitive reflection writings a few times along the way (after their first reading—initial impressions—and then later to revisit those first impressions).  Although I don’t have the flexibility or resources to conduct the project the way Linkon does with her undergrads, I hope that by incorporating some elements my students will be able to interact with the text on a deeper and more personal level.

I want to end with a question I’ve been considering since reading the excerpt from Scholes:   I like his descriptions of the practices of reading (text within text) and interpretation (text upon text), and I believe I can work with them in my classes; however, is what he refers to as text against text (criticism) too lofty a goal for the average high school student?