I was supposed to skim ahead to the writing sections; however, I couldn’t help slowing down to read Chapter 5: Where Do Interpretations Come From?
I found this section fascinating because I am trying to rework the Sophomore Comp. and Lit. curriculum at our school (thanks to the willingness of our English department). Very much like the process of writing, I am in the brainstorming phase. I’ve been collecting ideas, research, insights, strategies, wishes, and passions to somehow craft a challenging, enlightening, perception-shifting course. One of my ideas for reading relates to a quotation: “You should be a different person when you finish a book.” That is an approximation because I cannot remember where I saw/heard/found it. In any case, I want students to think of all of the roles they play in life, what they are, what they love, what they are experts in, what they want more about. As we read books, I will explain to them that who I am influences what I get out of a book. If I read a book multiple times during my life, it might change the trajectory of my life in very different ways during each reading. While reading, I’ll expect students to pay attention to how this book might change their lives and write about this change.
What about symbolism or allusions or theme? you might ask. Well, Blau’s work with literature circles supports my demotion of those. Blau quotes Robert Scholes: “By asking students as they read to look for and analyze such elements as irony, theme, symbol, tone, and so on, [Scholes] says we erect a screen or alternate text ‘that stands between the literature students read and their own humanity'” (102). I really want students to experience and share that sense of change to their humanity as they read.
Now, I still have to teach various literary terms; however, that will be a follow-up assignment or alternate assignment. The literature terms assignments might be the icing on the cake that says, “Look! You found so many of these elements when you were searching for your humanity! You recognize them because they help to make an impact that leaves you changed!” (Um…I don’t think icing talks…but that is what it would say if it did.)
I have several ideas for ways to help tap into looking for interpretations (or the evocative meaning) and realizing that multiple interpretations will arise in any text. So much to think about! Thanks, Sheridan Blau!
The Literature Workshop by Sheridan Blau
The first two chapters of The Literature Workshop use activities and scenarios in order to demonstrate the handicapping that occurs in the traditional model of literature instruction and the possibility of a new model. Often in college, the literature professor is importing knowledge onto his/her students. Students learn that they cannot understand literature on their own, without the aid of their professors. However, a literature workshop model puts the effort of understanding back on the students. It allows them to struggle with difficult texts and use their own rereading strategies and their classmates to find/form meaning.
One major benefit of the literature workshop is the development of metacognitive awareness in students. Students can explore what they know and what confuses them. Confusion is lauded because it is a pathway to deeper thinking. When students understand what confuses them, they self-confess that simply writing out their questions and rereading allows them to understand the text more. Asking questions allows them to rethink and to hypothesize answers, looking for evidence of their answers in the text. Through rating their understanding, students can become aware of how their understanding of literature grows through rereading and conversation. Students can no longer say, “I don’t understand it!” and quit. They will be able to see the various strategies will increase understanding.
Great philosophy and classroom activities in these first two chapters; however, I think I’m going to skim ahead to the writing chapters in the book in order to answer some more of my own questions about using literature as a springboard for writing.