Have your students ever asked, When am I going to use this again? Jennifer Fletcher believes that teaching students to think rhetorically through literature is the key to helping students develop skills that they can apply, not only in English arts classes, but in college, careers, and beyond.
Jennifer sat down with us recently to talk about her newest book, Teaching Literature Rhetorically, and how teachers can use the ideas inside this practical resource to help students communicate effectively and with confidence as they navigate important transitions in their lives.
Q: What is your book, Teaching Literature Rhetorically, about?
A: Teaching Literature Rhetorically is about teaching rhetorical thinking skills through literary texts. We practice skills like, analyzing genres, assessing different rhetorical situations, developing and supporting a line of reasoning, etc. The big idea is to make the most of our opportunities to develop transferable learning through literature, and help students get more out of their work in reading and writing about literary texts. When we teach rhetorically, we think about nuances. We think about the whole social world of the text, not just what's there on the surface. We don’t just stay within the four corners of the text, we go outside of it and be more mindful of the full rhetorical situation.
Q: What can teachers find inside Teaching Literature Rhetorically that will help their instruction?
A: What teachers are going find is a practical guide to helping students understand the reasons for the choices that writers make, and for the choices that we have as readers. It brings together literature and rhetoric in a way that gives students all the big concepts of both of those disciplines. Teaching Literature Rhetorically will take readers on a journey from the nuts and bolts of critical communication skills to integrative thinking—bringing literature and rhetoric together.
Q: Why is thinking rhetorically important?
A: Thinking rhetorically is the key to communicating across different contexts. It's about adaptability. It's about responsiveness. For instance, when going into a new situation you haven't faced before, you learn how ask, What's important in this context? What do people care about? What do they want to talk about? How do they talk? Thinking rhetorically means paying attention to all those different contextual cues and being able to effectively communicate in different situations.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: One of the best things we can do for our students is give them the confidence and the problem-solving skills that will help them feel like they can go into any situation and figure out how to be successful. We want to help them learn that they don't have to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do, or they don't have to wait for someone else's directions. They can draw on their own knowledge of things, like audience, purpose, context, and genre to figure out what's called for in that situation.
Often literature is taught as if it's in its own world, but literature doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's very much plugged into the real world. Thinking about literature rhetorically helps students engage literature in a way where they're bringing it to life. They’re bringing to life all the different perspectives in the conversation and not treating literary texts as if they're just something on the bookshelf that only exist in English classrooms.
Q: How will students benefit from thinking rhetorically?
A: The ability to think rhetorically shifts students away from thinking there's a right answer in the text to understanding how individuals create meaning; how communities create meaning; and understanding how all these dynamic components make up communication. When students understand how dynamic and how interrelated those components are, I think it really is empowering. It honors their agency as meaning makers and as participants in different kinds of conversations.
To get a preview inside Teaching Literature Rhetorically, go HERE.