Getting to Know Literary Theory

I’m a dork and have really dorky jokes, especially when it comes to my classroom.  Sometimes I go out of my way to think of the funniest way to “package” a concept or an assignment or a text to a class.  I do this really because I find it witty; the kids find it lame. 

Introducing literary theory is one such package.

I’ve set it up to resemble an online dating profile and tell them they are finding their literary soul mate.  Finding a connection to the way they read is like finding their soulmate:  it makes their lives easier, it completes them as readers, it makes them happier. 

I begin by reminding them of the survey they took about their reading styles and interests.  Then I give each student a piece of paper with their name that details which 1-2 of the lenses they naturally do and which 1-2 they are opposed to.  Sometimes this is nice because it provides students with a justification for why they struggle with certain activities in an English class.  Most students see those as deficiencies and then block out the positive things they do as readers or see them as unimportant. 

Then I distribute descriptions of theories (also featured to the right).  They form groups with people who have the same theory and begin studying and identifying basic tenets or qualities of the theory.  Then they present their lens to their peers.  I think the study and presentation is important.  Some students will hear a lens they are more interested in and want to switch into that group.  This is also helpful for students to understand what types of questions they need to be asking themselves when reading from that lens.  The more they understand it the stronger reader they will become.  Presenting also allows me the opportunity to correct or provide more information about each theory. 

To practice and test out the lenses I give the entire class the same passage from a text and provide them questions to help them analyze the passage from their lens.  Since this is early in the implementation of critical theory it is important to provide them a lot of assistance.  When composing the questions I keep using the language of the theory and ask about specifics.  As experienced readers English teachers can read from all of these lenses, so, while it might be a bit time consuming to draft questions for 6 different groups it usually goes pretty quickly. 

Then, the students present out their interpretations from their lens.  It is amazing for students to see how the same passage can be interpreted in so many different ways.  As stated yesterday, it really helps to substantiate our work as students of literature.  It also helps them see there isn’t one set interpretation to any text, making them feel more confident in their analysis and reading skills.

Tomorrow I will provide several suggestions to continue using critical theory in your classroom through multiple activities.  I will also provide a variety of resources for particular texts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *