Monday, August 30, 2010

Topic: Teaching a Novel. A Strategy.

10-second review: Teaching the novel Huck Finn using another teacher’s model that the author deems “critical literacy,” the teacher comes dangerously close to proselytizing for feminism, and, I think, deprives the novel of its proper focus.

Title: “Pre-service Teachers Planning for Critical Literacy Teaching.” P Wolfe. English Education (July 2010), 368-390. The editor of English Education describes the readers of this journal as “Our readers largely prepare pre-service and in-service teachers of English language arts and are interested in how to prepare such teachers.”

Comment: The interesting part of this article for me was the way the teacher of American literature began with thought-provoking questions related to the novel BEFORE the students read it. She began by asking who are the dead white men who began American culture, asks questions about the authors and texts her students have read in school, asks specifically about the African-American presence in certain novels, and the presence of other non-white Americans in American literature, and concludes by asking the students to define “whiteness.” She then seeks to find relationships to feminism in Huck Finn.

The questions are good. The trouble I am having with this approach to introducing a novel is that it shapes the students’ thinking. It jumps ahead of the novel that, I think, should be read on its own merits. I have no problem with asking these questions AFTER students have resolved the problems in the novel itself. First, tackle the students’ questions about the novel—then extend the meaning of the novel to related issues. The questions are good, but, in my opinion, take the focus away from the novel—too much to deal with in addition to the novel which has a significance all its own. RayS.

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