ACCS AND SCL: pleasure and practice in the literature classroom

2nd July, 2013 - Posted by Christine Perrin - 1 Comment

I’m combing two panel talks at two different conferences in the last couple of weeks to produce these blog recommendations:  Effective Practices in the Literature Classroom and The Role of Pleasure in Classical Education.

Here are some suggestions that came from both of these discussions:

I start every class having students recite either a poem or a prose passage–they do this 3-4 times in a semester.  This gives them a direct intimacy with the language and it gives the listeners a certain relation to the language as well–receiving it as a gift from another human being.  IT also starts our class on the right foot–a liturgy of beginning, if you will, we we are reminding ourself of the importance of the words of these beloved writers, taking them in, making them part of our meanings.

I end most classes with a 5-7 min period of silence where students write a comment that comes from the sum of the class time we have together–we have done a good bit of work to get to this climax and I want them to profit from and gather that wisdom or insight or impression that we/they arrived at.  Sometimes I direct them to choose a metaphor or image to contain the work of the class, sometimes a summary.

In my classroom we use art to interpret art (as Steiner speaks about in Real Presences), this means different things–letting our books ‘talk to each other’ speaking about one book we’ve read through another one that we’ve read, comparing and contrasting them, having one character comment on another (in a writing assignment, for instance), have students read Pride and Prejudice and then watch both films (1996 and 2005) and discuss the different ways the film has interpreted the characters–which ones they like, are accurate, dislike.  Create a writing project out of this discussion.

Tell your students you like being with them, like studying this material with them, are excited and filled with anticipation for your work together.  Tell them frequently.  Make it so that you mean it.  Take responsibility to show them how wonderful the books are, show them how you live your life in books, show them how these books are essential to your own lived life.  Give them assignments that require them to do the same.

For instance:  A paper that I had students write in my Inklings class (Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers) aimed for this.  They wrote a 250 word narrative about a spiritual/theological problem that they struggle with.  They use 2 or more texts from our authors to ‘answer’ the problem in the form of a thesis driven paper, 1500 words.  They write a 250 word narrative paper to reflect on their response to the answer.  This assignment is designed to show them the relevance of this literature to their lives but it also shows them the different ways of talking about a book and different types of ethos, audience, different persons in which to speak (first or third).

Give students different format to write arguments in generally:  letter, dialogue, argument paper, speech, etc…

Use literature in the life of the school to inform, delight, direct, answer, participate–demonstrate how this works by drawing on it for important assemblies, events, identity.  See poetry liturgy post for one way I have done this.

Teach them the task of summarizing and then use their efforts (written summaries turned in) for exams/papers/discussions so that they see how valuable the early work is later on.

Teach them to work in reading/discussion groups that actually help them with the learning task, without which their job would be much harder.  Let them break down the work in this group (reading closely, answering questions their group is responsible for, teaching a class, studying for an exam, reviewing each other’s papers).

Remember:  how they feel about a book is part of what it is teaching them ( and you).

Pay attention to room design and the way it serves the objectives of the class–people must look at each other to converse, after all.  Become aware of how the setup of the room is communicating an intention and anthropology to everyone.  Make it better to the extent that you can.

Provide tea and hot water in class so that students get a sense of the leisure and privilege of sitting around conversing.  Aim to make Inklings of them with each other.

REad aloud constantly.  First as a teacher, bringing in audio books, grade them on their ability to read aloud well (in order to teach them to work at it, value it, consider it an essential part of the process).  Make them practice it.

Give them interesting assignments that help them to get inside a book:  for instance, drawing Penelope and Odysseys’ bed.  IT’s very hard to imagine what it looks like.

Develop a shared language in the context of that classroom–use words and characters and narratives from the books you are reading to speak about other matters–embody the importance of these to your ability to describe/articulate anything in the world.

Spend time looking together quietly and then speaking collectively about what you see.  Tell them when they give you an idea or teach you something that you didn’t know.  Thank them.

Show your own hunger and need.


Have a great year!  Thanks for sharing your own stories and ideas from your classrooms.  Feel free to add more below.



Posted on: July 2, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

Christine Perrin

July 2nd, 2013 at 7:05 pm    

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