Literary Theory-Overview

Raise your hand if you have heard “you’re an English teacher and are reading into this symbol too much” at least once this week.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.  It is the bane of our existence…what we constantly hear and defend tirelessly to our students who struggle to apply any sort of meaning to any sort of text let alone a 180-page novel written in the 19th century.  We always give the same response:  “We are scholars of literature and it is our job to evaluate in this manner.”  Or “we are engaging in an investigation of the text.  Exciting, huh?”  Or on really trying days “too bad.” 

However, if looking for a way to avoid these comments there is an easy fix:  literary theory.  I wasn’t exposed to different schools of criticism (like gender theory, Marxist theory, or Formalism) until I was sophomore in college.  And if high school students are introduced to it is usually only the higher-level students in an AP class.  But, while literary theory is appropriate for all ability-levels, I think it is especially important to struggling readers.  This opens them to an entire world of critics, situating the English teacher contextually.  Also, it gives them a focus to their reading.  For those who aren’t strong readers it is overwhelming to read a novel because they aren’t sure how to interpret it.  There are so many things to analyze:  plot, symbols, characters, themes, etc.  It is overpowering.  Giving them a specific critical lens from which to read narrows down the field of analysis, making it easier for them to make meaning of a text. 

It also gets them off our back with their pesky questions about reading into the text too much. 

This week I will be providing you tools to identify natural lenses of critical theory your students naturally use when reading, ways to introduce it to your students in an accessible way, and activities and resources to use with your students.

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