Brit Lit: Reading, Writing and Relevance

This year I’m assigned to teach three sections of British Literature Survey, a one-semester class for seniors. I’ve taught this class before, but it’s been at least a dozen years since it appeared in my schedule. Brit Lit hasn’t changed much in those years, but my teaching has evolved quite a bit during that time. So, I have these classes where the content is familiar to me, but the way I teach it will be different from how I did it before.

So, a quick note—mostly to myself—about how to approach Brit Lit with new eyes:

1. Keep the emphasis on the Lit part, not the Brit part. I want my students to be confident, competent, maybe even joyful readers. Let’s look for ways to embed choice reading in this class. My intent is to experiment with spending the first ten minutes of each class reading books that students choose. This worked extremely well with sophomores. Will it work with seniors? At 7:30 a.m.? (I love challenges.)
2. Where’s the writing? Students need writing choices and opportunities, even in this class with a more literary focus. No specific assignments are in the curriculum, so I’m looking for ways to use the class to help students discover things about themselves and their writing. Most of these seniors will take a one-semester Expository Composition class during second semester taught by a different teacher. I want them primed and ready to go for that experience, their final writing class before graduation.
3. Make it relevant. A valid question every day is “Why does this matter?” It’s easy to get caught up in symbolism, Shakespearean idiom, and Anglo-Saxon historical context. That’s all fine, as long as we connect it to our real-world concerns. If it doesn’t connect, we’ll dump it, but I’m pretty sure we can connect it.

I’m eager to work with seniors during such an exciting time in their lives, and I can’t wait to delve into those great Brit Lit stories. I’ve dusted off my old gray Brit Lit binder, but I’m grateful for any tips or thoughts from Brit Lit teachers!

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5 Responses to Brit Lit: Reading, Writing and Relevance

  1. glenda says:

    Does your survey course cover a specific time frame, or are you starting w/ the Anglo Saxons and going to the present? You’re welcome to any of the materials I use, which, you know focus on performance pedagogy. In terms of writing, I think one of the fantastic things about both Anglo Saxon and Medieval lit is its sense of place, which I think is a great place to start w/ both descriptive and narrative writing. Of course short story collections (“Dubliners” and “Miguel Street” come to mind) also create a sense of place. BTW, did you just get this assignment, or did you know about it last spring? Just curious. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Glenda. Don’t be surprised if I have some questions for you along the way.
      I’ve known about this assignment since the spring, but the schedule frequently changes over the summer, so it didn’t quite become real until the last few days.

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  2. Hi Gary! Man, all you prolific bloggers are making me feel guilty. 😛

    Anyway, RE making it relevant – I think it doesn’t ALWAYS have to matter. Sometimes it’s good to dive into the really heavy-duty-thinky stuff just because it IS heavy-duty-thinky stuff. Like calisthenics for your brain, you know?

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  3. Mindi Rench says:

    Gary, I’ve never taught high school, so I can’t comment on the specific choice you’re making, but as a former high school student, I can say I wish my teachers had approached English classes in such a fashion. I HATE, HATE, HATED most of my lit courses in high school, but I also was never asked to read a book I chose or reflect on what I was learning. I had to guess at what the teachers thought were correct answers to the questions they asked during “discussion” of the book we were supposed to have read.

    Good luck with your new school year. I look forward to hearing more about it.

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  4. cb717 says:

    Gary, good luck with the new school year and “new” class this year! I have to say the key is all about making it relevant to them. For me, my senior classes have been some of the most challenging but rewarding teaching experiences I have had. Also, love the opener activity with reading…I found they hated it at first but LOVED it in the end. Keep us updated on how things go:]

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