I started my American Literature class by assigning students to listen to 40-minute audio lectures that provided context and walked them through the literary texts we were to discuss in class. As the semester drew on, I had students write podcasts to introduce texts to each other, and by the end of term I was asking students to read scholarly articles in which literary scholars aren’t introducing the texts to beginners, but rather offering evidence-based arguments about the texts.
I’m very glad i took the time to make this video last year.
Students who think literature is about memorizing lists of what the blue curtains symbolize, or who believe that “anything goes” and that there are no wrong answers, can get a gentle correction early in the course, as they make the transition from the techniques that earned them praise in high school (“The character I most identify with is… ” “If I had been in this character’s situation, I would have…” “After the story ends, here is what I think happened to the protagonist.”)
In one of the final assignments for the course, a non-English major in my American Literature class writes:
I think that even though sometimes this was difficult, and sometimes very boring academic articles made it seem much worse, our class was able to grow as readers and writers because of this.
We were like birds who were thrown out of the nest and forced to fly, and based on our discussions getting deeper and more literary we were able to take off before we hit the ground!
I never would have guessed that I would be able to complete something like a close reading or actually be able to break down a poem and find the meaning hidden within the words.