A frustration in my profession is the inability, or at least unwillingness, of us to be reflective about our methodology. How are we teaching? Why are we teaching?
In the place of more expert craftsmanship, we might instead consider elements like: student grades, recorded progress – anything that we can observe. There is no need to consider anything more because our emotional and physical energy is finite.
Edward Hall’s explanation of models convinces me that a model’s power exists in what it cannot explain as much as what it can (1989).
In other words, models in the human sciences need not focus on what can be directly observed (like a natural science) but rather can operate on what might be functional. Some might even offer richer explanations for what is happening, in this case in a classroom.
So for example, I have prized models of teaching that encourage thinking and reflection, curiosity and ambiguity. I believe these models, and their related approaches, are more interesting and nourishing for both student and teacher. They are ultimately more successful, at least for the more dedicated literature reader. More neoliberal thinkers would see ambiguity as dangerously tricky, vague to the point of nonsense. Prioritising thinking risks a student deprioritising clarity, especially in an exam. More importantly, it is hard to track thinking and curiosity.
Let me give an example of my current approach when teaching poetry:
a) I prize an emphasis on context and authorial positionality before the poem is read.
b) I emphasise activating genre expectations prior to reading the poem.
c) I want my students to choose distinctive words or phrases that seem aesthetically significant to them after one or two readings of the poem.
d) I want my students to make judgements about structure, and how poetic structure might support or subvert expectations.
e) I want my students to find relationships between key concepts/themes in the poem, and to see if they can see what is problematised in the poem.
f) I want my students to be authentic about what the poem does not seem to resolve…
This model deprioritises alternative approaches such as:
i) Moving through line by line, emphasing a possible development, and clarifying misconceptions.
ii) A prioritisation on connotation, seeking to analyse ‘a lot about a little’ in ‘microquotes’
iii) Applying a reading-based acronym where the student has identified a number of techniques, therefore ‘cracking the puzzle of the poem’.
These approaches have their place, but only as subsets or tools for the more empowered approach of embracing ambiguity I outline above.
Articulating this methodology, and its evolution (and possibly devolution!) is an ongoing ambition.
Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday, 1989. Print.