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Confusion Creates Clarity

February 20th, 2008 leanajensen

After reading Sheridan’s Blau’s The Literature Workshop, the very first chapter intrigued me when he stated, “confusion often represents an advanced state of understanding” (21). Soon after, I understood the genius of this principle. To me, confusion forces a person to look closer at the literature. Confusion allows a connection to the literature. In my teaching career I have taught from the highest IB levels to team taught classes and ESOL classes. Reflecting on my experiences, confusion was and hopefully will continue to be a huge part of my literature discussions and lessons.

To me, confusion essentially forces a closer reading of the text. Blau mentioned that he asks his students to read the poem three times and check and see what they notice first and note that. I feel like I do the same thing, especially in my ESOL class this year. We are currently working on poetry and I read it, then I ask them to read it twice and annotate words, phrases or identify questions they may have. Almost always they are confused by a word, phrase or highly confusing footnote. I always start by asking them what they think of the metaphor or what they see is the overall theme of the poem. Even easier, I ask them to summarize what the poem is about. This activity always brings about a lot of questions. These questions always lead to a great discussion. At this point, I offer up more information about the author. I don’t mind if they think it’s stupid, but I ask them to tell me why. I am always surprised at how well they express their feelings, even if they are negative. I love when kids are passionate about their feelings and use legitimate reasoning to express their interpretation of the text. I think this freedom is especially helpful in a high school classroom because students have a lot more personal experiences than I feel some teachers give them credit for. I’ve had students who have had a lot more life experience than me and can give me really interesting perspectives on more emotional or ambiguous poetry.

In my classes I also notice that they are fishing for me to tell them the “correct” interpretation and I’m so glad that Blau believes that each reader will derive his/her own meaning. Based on our discussion in class last week, I do believe people will relate to literature personally. I also found it interesting when Blau wrote that confidence is a major factor in how students communicate and relate to literature. I’ve sat in on classes before where the teacher just shuts down a kid completely. I’m sure I did that too when I was young. As a young teacher I was nervous and didn’t want to be questioned or asked questions outside of the teacher’s manual. After a terrible embarrassment involving Animal Farm when I was 22, I learned that I need to allow myself to be fallible. When I can show my students that I don’t necessarily have an exact answer, they will feel comfortable being confused and unsure. Hopefully they will think deeper and really explore how they learn. I no longer act like I am the end all and be all of answers in my classroom. I’m a firm believer in “you learn something new everyday” and I think that’s really relevant in my English classes because I love it when I students comment on a poem, story or novel in a way I never thought of. I think my job as a teacher is to teach them, not tell them. This book really embodied that sentiment.

Entry Filed under: Week 5

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Edith  |  February 20th, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I too look at student confusion as an opportunity dig deeper. I begin my classes by asking the students what they have questions about in the reading. After a student voices an area of misunderstanding, I ask other students to comment. Some will say that they were also confused by that section. But it isn’t long before they begin to wonder about possible explanations. These often begin as questions, but soo turn into discussions of what is probable and what is not.
    The difficult part for me as the teacher is to be quiet. It is so easy to offer an explanation or help at the beginning. If I do, this seems to shut down the discussion.


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ENGL 610:002 // Spring 2008

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