March 13th, 2008 Sara
As I digested this week’s readings, I noticed a common thread running through each chapter of When Writing Teachers Teach Literature: the writing. I’m not trying to be facetious here. It was immediately apparent from the first paragraph of each chapter that these professors taught writing. Their essays were some of the most lucid and engaging readings we’ve tackled this semester. Even Glenn’s journal-style essay held my interest and engaged me in a way that Scholes (even at his most coherent) did not.
Apart from style, the chapters also had another element in element. Each addresses the difficulties of engaging students. How to draw them in, how to hold their interest, how to get them to care (in some way) about the assigned material. But, as many of us know, it is not always enough to engage students. Students may enjoy or connect with a text and still flounder when it comes to an activity that requires original thought. From a teacher’s perspective, the other “half” of engaging students, is providing them with the tools or some method to respond to the text analytically.
But how to strike this balance? Though the teachers featured in When Writing Teachers Teach Literature vary in their approaches, they all grapple with this basic question. IMHO, the best summation this problem is articulated by Brenda M. Greene in her essay “Reinventing the Literary Work.” She wonders “how to help [students] connect with a text and yet create enough distance from it to discuss the text analytically” (178).
Because these texts are linked by this basic question, I often found myself flipping back and forth between essays as I read. For instance, Glenn’s discussion of her student Dan’s refusal to change his basic “controlling idea” (is “thesis” a bad word these days?) struck me as an example of what might happen when a student is engaged in a text, but not removed enough to apply analytical tools and craft a “valid” response to the material at hand. If a student did not really care about the text, would he not simply rework his essay to reflect his teacher’s comments?
Likewise, Lovitt’s frustration with the “missed” potential of student journals struck me as the flipside of the coin. Students, especially dedicated students, often have a hard time recording their personal reactions, questions, and revelations in journal entries. They don’t fully engage with the text—instead they read for theme or “hidden meanings” (230). Such lackluster journal entries convinced Lovitt that students simply viewed the journal entries as nothing more than “another onerous academic observation” (230).
Lovitt, Glenn, Greene, et al each offer their own solutions to this problem of balance in literary study. Because they are writing teachers, they use writing assignments to get students engaged and thinking critically.
The most appealing approach, from my perspective (as a student and an eventual teacher), would undoubtedly be Greene’s (and Bloom’s) emphasis on creative writing or “reseeing” literary texts. Because criticism and analysis can be daunting, creative writing assignments in which the writer captures the voice of a “silenced” character provide an opportunity to analyze and critique without the pressure of producing a “typical” essay. Such assignments give new (and arguably real) meaning to Scholes’s semantic-laden phrase “text against the text.”
Entry Filed under: Week 9