Teaching Literature to Adolescents
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Teaching Literature to Adolescents

Richard Beach, Deborah Appleman, Bob Fecho, Rob Simon

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  1. 312 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Teaching Literature to Adolescents

Richard Beach, Deborah Appleman, Bob Fecho, Rob Simon

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Now in its fourth edition, this popular textbook introduces prospective and practicing English teachers to current methods of teaching literature in middle and high school classrooms. This new edition broadens its focus to cover important topics such as critical race theory; perspectives on teaching fiction, nonfiction, and drama; the integration of digital literacy; and teacher research for ongoing learning and professional development. It underscores the value of providing students with a range of different critical approaches and tools for interpreting texts. It also addresses the need to organize literature instruction around topics and issues of interest to today's adolescents. By using authentic dilemmas and contemporary issues, the authors encourage preservice English teachers and their instructors to raise and explore inquiry-based questions that center on the teaching of a variety of literary texts, both classic and contemporary, traditional and digital.

New to the Fourth Edition:

  • Expanded attention to digital tools, multimodal learning, and teaching online

  • New examples of teaching contemporary texts

  • Expanded discussion and illustration of formative assessment

  • Revised response activities for incorporating young adult literature into the literature curriculum

  • Real-world examples of student work to illustrate how students respond to the suggested strategies

  • Extended focus on infusing multicultural and diverse literature in the classroom

Each chapter is organized around specific questions that preservice teachers consistently raise as they prepare to become English language arts teachers. The authors model critical inquiry throughout the text by offering authentic case narratives that raise important considerations of both theory and practice. A companion website, a favorite of English education instructors, http://teachingliterature.pbworks.com, provides resources and enrichment activities, inviting teachers to consider important issues in the context of their current or future classrooms.

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Part I

Why Should I Teach Literature?

Chapter 1

Why Teaching Literature Still Matters

It’s finally happened. After all those teacher education courses, creating those hypothetical lesson plans, and student teaching in a class that never felt like it truly belonged to you, this is the real thing. You have a teaching job! You’ve been hired as a secondary school English language arts teacher. You have a full schedule of classes to teach and even a key to the faculty workroom. With the opening day of school fast approaching, you’ve been making regular trips to your classroom—arranging the tables and desks, stocking your bookshelves, putting up posters—all in preparation for meeting your very first group of students.
But mingled among all that excitement are shreds of doubt and worry that you can’t quite shake. Maybe they creep up when you’re posting those last letters to your young adult literature display, knowing that the bookroom only stocks The Outsiders and Go Ask Alice. You think about how much the world has changed since those novels were popular. Is there anything in that bookroom that will speak to your students, to their issues? Are there books in there that both you and your students will connect with? Or perhaps the worry seeps in as you assess the reality of teaching: several different preparations, 120-plus students for 10 months, a grueling daily schedule, and an increasingly complicated world outside the windows of your classroom. Those unsettling doubts might appear when you’re rifling through the aging 10-pound British literature anthology given to you by your department head and realizing how much you, as a high school student, hated crawling chronologically through a nation’s literary legacy, especially one that seems so distant and irrelevant to the lives of your students.
During these moments of uncertainty, a range of questions sifts through your mind: Am I really prepared to teach? Can I do this? Will I be able to create and maintain a productive classroom atmosphere? Can I earn the respect of my students? Can I honor their diverse backgrounds? What happens if they ask questions I can’t answer? As troubling as these questions might be, one set of questions seems to rise to the surface above the others. These questions have to do with your purpose, your intent—why you chose to teach: Why teach English? Why teach literature? How can I make literature matter to my students? What kinds of texts should I teach? How can I balance the expectations of my department with my own desire to teach creatively? What, if anything, am I obligated to teach?
As you sit in your classroom and reflect on your purpose, the why behind your instructional, curricular, and assessment choices doesn’t just seem, but is, paramount. In particular, the question, “Why teach literature?” gnaws at you. On some level, you know you have to; it’s certainly expected of you, and, furthermore, you actually enjoy reading and discussing novels, poetry, short stories, and other texts. After all, you did choose to become an English language arts teacher. But unless you bring a deep, reflective understanding of why you should engage students in the study of literature, you suspect—and rightly so—that you might not be able to truly engage your students.
The rest of this chapter will help you think about why and how you can engage students in critical dialogues with the texts that surround them and the contexts of their lives. In it, you will encounter theories that underlie different approaches to teaching literature and have an opportunity to explore your own beliefs and conceptual frameworks as a teacher.

Two Contrasting Theories of Teaching Literature

What does it mean to teach literature? You may have a good sense of what it means to be a student of literature, but now that you’re going to be a teacher, you have to think about how to teach literature—selecting texts, planning response activities and units, leading discussions, formulating writing assignments, evaluating students’ interpretations, and so on.
Underlying all these choices are your beliefs and attitudes about the larger purpose and value for teaching literature—why you’re doing what you are doing. You will ultimately need to formulate your own sense of purpose and theories of teaching literature as a means of making decisions about what kinds of texts you select, how you will foster student participation, the roles you adopt in the classroom, what criteria you employ in evaluating students, and how you describe your textual choices and curricular approach to your students, the school, parents, and to yourself. Your beliefs about what kinds of literature to teach and why are the very first things we want you to think about as you begin this book as well as your journey to becoming a teacher of literature.
The field of education, in general, and of literacy education, in particular, is politically and theoretically charged. Debates rage about how to best teach, what to teach, and how to prove what students have learned. Legislation, such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Common Core State Standards, and many more local or state-level laws, has implicitly endorsed and mandated some ideas and theories over others. Often, such mandates seem to assume that everyone would agree on definitions of learning, beliefs about what counts as literacy, to whom, and in what ways, ideas of what content and processes should be learned, and the best ways to assess learning. But nothing could be further from the truth. And nowhere are such issues more contested than in the areas of teaching reading and literature.
As social justice educator Linda Christensen reminds us, teaching reading and writing are political acts. Christensen (1999) argues that literature is
what Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman (1983, p. 7) calls a ‘social blueprint’ about what it means to be men, women, poor, people of color, gay, or straight. And that vision is political—whether it portrays the status quo or argues for a reorganization of society.
(p. 54)
In addition to being political, teaching is also theoretical. Theories—whether explicitly or implicitly held—have powerful effects on what educators do, how we do it, and how we determine if we are successful. Drawing on the work of educators like Christensen (2009, 2017), in this book, we are going to stake a clear theoretical position about taking ...

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