March 7th, 2011
There’s already a lively discussion going on over at the English Companion Ning site about Tim Gillespie’s recent book, Doing Literary Criticism: Helping Students Engage with Challenging Texts. The group is discussing Chapter 1 this week.
In a pre-discussion thread, one of the participants, Rikki, asked Tim how he thinks literary criticism should be introduced to struggling students and whether they would benefit from it. Here is a part of Tim’s response:
As Rikki notes, this doesn’t seem like very welcoming territory for our secondary students, especially those who struggle. However, my experience with my high school classes—mixed-ability groups as well as open-door AP Lit sections—is that if we cut to the heart of various critical approaches, provide a bit of clearly-expressed background knowledge, and offer some supportive activities, many students will feel welcomed to the topic. That is what I tried to do in my classroom and what I have tried to share in this book.
I can’t pretend it’s an easy task, however. It’s not. We are talking about challenging students with challenging texts and ideas. But whenever I got lost in the “lit crit” swamp, my students always forced my attention back to the goal of this journey—to empower them as readers and critical thinkers—and to the essential idea that supports that goal: there are many possible ways to come at texts. With a variety of different-functioning tools in their interpretive kits, readers have a better chance of constructing solid and personally satisfying meanings. So this is our challenge and joy (and occasional headache): how to convey this rich, reader-empowering idea to our students.
Do you have a question about the book? Here is your chance to get a response from Tim and from a community of readers and teachers. And if you don’t have a copy of the book yet, order at www.stenhouse.com and get free shipping by using code ECDLC during checkout.