Two workshops on reading and interpreting literature
Demonstrate google docs for online syllabus workshop
Due: Blau, chapters 1-5
Notes and Discussion Questions:
The Blau text offers both practical suggestions for many of the dilemmas
you have already read about
theoretically, and it also offers research based theories about teaching critical
thinking and literary
interpretation. Let's spend some time absorbing and testing Blau's ideas.
What are the features of the literary workshop? How will this work? (p. 13)
Chapter One: Stories from the Classroom
This chapter addresses the problem of how students tend to be consumers of
interpretation rather than producers of
interpretation. In sum, what are some of the factors of current teaching
trends that lead to interpretative dependence?
What are some strategies for moving students toward interpretative autonomy?
Comment on the role of confusion as the starting place for any act of interpretation. (22)
Agree or disagree: "The only texts worth reading are texts you don't understand.
Because if you understood
a text as soon as you read it, you must have understood it before you
read it, so you didn't
have to bother reading it in the first place" (24).
Examine the assumption that teaching literature is largely conducted by
telling students about it. (26) What
are some of the unfortunate consequences of this practice?(26)
What are the differences between the way a teacher approaches a difficult
text and the way a student does? What
does this tell us?
How do we model for student the struggle for interpretation?
Blau claims that the workshop model aims to foster skills and dispositions
such as: concentration, persistence,
and courage in the face of intellectual difficulties. How does this sound to you?
Chapter Two: From Telling to Teaching: The Literature Workshop in Action (34)
"Writing about your reading, even or maybe especially if it is only
writing about what you don't understand, can be
a useful way to assist you in your reading. Our students need to know this,
and as teachers we need to remember it as we
plan activities for our students" (38). How might you incorporate this advice?
Comment on the role of contextual knowledge in the literature classroom.
How much is enough? What do you offer? (42)
He concludes: "The power of rereading as possibly the best method we can employ
in helping ourselves read difficult
texts" (44). Comment?
The consequences of rereading sometimes appear negative: "To move ahead in
the wrong direction is not progress. But
to move backward in order to correct your course is." How does this work for
students interpreting literature? What
are the implications for learning? What are the implications for teaching? (46)
Examine the critical skills outlined by Scholes (1985) that lead to textual competence:
- reading, addressing the question, What does it say?
- interpretation, addressing the question, what does it mean?
- criticism, addressing the question, what is its value, or so what?
Blau suggests that these three steps "represent a hierarchy of nested intellectual
activities and that
they bear a particular kind of logical relationship one to another" (51). Explain.
How does evidentiary reasoning work in interpreting a poem? Can you see how
this aids in reigning in subjective erroneous
What might this tell us about teaching students to "make a case"?
What do you think of his claim that this type of reasoning correlates
with other disciplines? (52)
He ends the chapter with three intriguing principles about teaching and
learning that I will excerpt here:
- Reading is a process of constructing meaning or composing a text, exactly like writing (53)
- Reading is, and needs to be in classrooms, a social process, completed in conversation (54)
- Literary reading and literary study, as they are ordinarily sponsored in rigorously
conducted English classes,
teach students an intellectual discipline that defines critical thinking in every field
and fosters academic success in
every subject of study (57)
What do you make of Wayne Booth's concept of "coduction" as the logic of collaborative
What are the benefits of discussion, collaboration, coduction (55-6)?
How important is metacognition and how might you foster this in your students? (57)
Chapter Three: Which Interpretation is the Right One? A Workshop on Literary Meaning (60)
This chapter addresses the problem of "differing and contradicting interpretations
and the ways they challenge instruction
and raise questions about the validity of the interpretative enterprise in classrooms" (60)
Blau identifies two misconceptions frequently encountered in the college literature classroom:
- that there is only one
correct and widely held interpretation of a literary text (authoritative, or
what Susan Hynds calls "the myth
of the one correct response"(60)
- If there is no single authoritative interpretation for literary text,
then the discipine of literary
study is one in which any and all interpretations have equal authority (60)
Blau's record of the workshop suggests / models interventions and questions
generated by the teacher. What can
you learn from these models?
Discussions -- examine the potential interpretative difficulties and
his responses -- to biographical readings. (69-70)
What might you conclude about the generational change in interpreting Roethke's poem? (72)
To what extent is Blau's discussion helpful in preparing you to counter
students' belief that all readings are equally valid,
or, conversely, that no single reading is authoritative and therefore the
enterprise of literary interpretation is a sham? (75)
Explain: "The discourse of interpretation proceeds according to the rules
of evidentiary reasoning, and the adequacy and persuasiveness
of such reasoning serves as a standard by which all interpretations are evaluated" (75).
How would you describe the "epistemological phenomenon and logical problem
of the hermeneutic circle"? (75). In what sense is this
similar to methods of scientific reasoning?
Chapter Four: The Problem of Background Knowledge: A Workshop on Intertextual Literacy (79)
What is the distinction to be made between E.D. Hirsh's "cultural literacy" and
Blau's call for intertextual literacy?
Is validity in interpretation the same as certainty? If not, what implications
does this have for how we teach valid interpretation? (82)
What experience do you have with students' background knowledge? How can you
prepare students for adequately understanding the
readings you assign?
Consider the phenomenon of the "already-read text." How might you demystify
the art of skilled reading while you are yourselves still gaining
How might you organize your readings to promote intertextual literacy?
Chapter Five: Where do interpretations come from?
From Robert Scholes: (Semiotics and Interpretation 1982): "The fundamental
and defining act for the
field of literary studies and for all the humanities is that of producing interpretive
discourse" (97 Blau).
How might early texts or cross-cultural texts pose challenges at the
"what does it mean?" level, and how would
you prepare students to meet such challenges?
Examine the idea that we do not have "available to us a serviceable and widely
shared vocabulary for referring to the
dimension of meaning we want to indicate" by interpretation. What is wrong
with "between the lines," "hidden meaning," or
"what the text does not say"? (99).
How helpful is the model for literary meaning offered on p. 100, with the
horizontal axis being representational meaning and
the vertical axis being evocative meaning?
He examines here the problem of moving students from summary to thoughtful
analysis. What does he propose? Do you think this will be
effective? What are the strengths, drawbacks?
"Insofar as there is some sort of translation, it is a translation of
particular textual facts into statements that are not textually represented
(what the text doesn't say), but that operate on a more abstract or
general level ... than anything represented directly by the text" (115)
How does this process happen and what does it take for a student to be able to do it?
Comment on the distinction between personally interesting versus
culturally interesting stories as an explanation for richness of interpretation (117).
The chapter indicates that interpretation is not a skill requiring a course
in English but something that all students do whether they
are conscious of it or not. To get below the surface, though, he indicates that
interpretation comes both from lived experience and from discourse
experience, and that some interpretation is informed by culturally
transmitted knowledge that is not even experienced.
What is the role of theory in interpretation?
To what extent, then, do teachers of English have an advantage in
interpretation over their students?
In your own words, what makes a sophisticated interpretation? Is Blau's
discussion helpful in thinking about your own increasingly sophisticated interpretations
of literature in graduate school?
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