Introduction to Literature (ENG 250) is designed primarily to introduce students to close readings of literature, including poetry, drama, fiction, and creative nonfiction. It is a sophomore-level course but often students' first college-level literature course. This particular course--and this lesson--is entirely online, so it has a higher percentage of non-traditional and full-time students than traditional, campus-based courses. It also carries a Writing Emphasis designation, so the enrollment is capped at 25.
The lesson occurs early in the semester, ideally in week two of a 15-week semester. Because of the asynchronous nature of online courses, the length of the lesson is one week (or the equivalent of two days in a F2F class), in addition to a post-lesson assignment that may occur immediately or at the end of the semester.
The course is password-protected in Desire2Learn (D2L), but the official outfront pages are public.
The lesson study topic is the discipline and methodology of literary studies. Introductory courses often focus on the goal of covering enough material to introduce the texts, theories, and concepts of the discipline; just as often, they gloss over the discipline itself, assuming students will get it along the way. On the contrary, introductory courses should be intentional and explicit about their disciplinarity to help students recognize the scope of what they're learning and situate each course within the wider context of their educational careers. This kind of disciplinary and methodological awareness--which facilitates an awareness of the whole liberal arts curriculum--is something we should be intentionally and explicitly fostering as a service to all of our students (not just our majors) and as a way to deepen our students' learning of literature. Our lesson encourages students to discover and practice the larger vision of literary studies as a discipline.
Learning Goals: The immediate learning goal is for students to apply the methodologies of literary studies to a single poem, a focused goal that will ideally transfer to other literary readings and contexts. Ultimately, students will recognize the methods and goals of literary studies as a discipline, and they will begin approaching literary texts using some of the methodologies of literary scholars.
Lesson Design: Before the lesson, students read a poem, wrote their interpretations, and submitted them to the course website's dropbox. These initial interpretations would serve as prior knowledge, illustrating assumptions about close reading, interpretation, and the work of literary analysis. Students then read an online lecture "What is literary studies?" and our model hypertext interpretations of the same poem students just interpreted. In small groups on the discussion page, using their own novice readings (anonymous excerpts of their initial interpretations of the poem, posted by the instructor) and the expert readings (the model hypertext interpretation), students identify and discuss the differences between the ways novices and experts approach a literary text and then connect these ideas to the lecture on literary studies. After the lesson--either immediately or as a final project--students apply what they've learned to a new poem by creating individual hypertext interpretations of the poem and using as needed an unstructured discussion area devoted to the poem. Finally, students submit a brief reflection about what they've learned.
Major Findings: Although not our initial goal, this lesson's primary value was in revealing student misconceptions as related to literary studies and the reading of poetry. By analyzing the students' initial, and often subsequent, interpretations of assigned poem, the research team was able to identify clear patterns of student error and misinterpretation. Our lesson makes clear distinctions between "novice" and "expert" literary readers, and executing the lesson allowed us to more explicitly define the novice reader and his or her practices. By explicitly defining the novice reader, we are better able to present our materials in a way that matches our initial goal: to lay bare and articulate the methodology and strategies of literary studies. Finally, we believe the specificity provided by these student misconceptions reaches far beyond the common assumptions made about why students struggle when interpreting poetry. If the misconceptions we identify could become the starting point for teachers, rather than an eventual realization, we believe students would gain a much more immediate, thorough, and rewarding engagement with literary studies and poetry in particular. Such contribution to pedagogical content knowledge in literary studies will be invaluable.
Student Learning Goals
As a result of the lesson, students should be a) better able to apply the principles of literary studies to literary texts (closely read literary texts and consider literary texts in their biographical, historical, cultural, literary, critical, and personal contexts) and b) better able to appreciate the principles of literary studies (articulate the reasons for reading literature and recognize the differences between reading merely for information or entertainment and reading through the discipline of literary studies).
The immediate academic goal of the lesson is to develop students' understanding of the discipline of literary studies. This lesson defines the discipline of literary studies since many students have probably never thought about it as a discipline. Because it is an introductory lesson, however, expertise is not a learning outcome; instead, our learning goals include developing students' awareness of the differences between novice and expert practices and their movement away from the status of novice and towards expertise, as well as application of some of the principles of the discipline are more realistic goals of the lesson. Subsequent lessons will apply the specific principles of close reading and contextual connections, as well as considerations of the canon and metacognitive reflections on benefits of reading literature.
The broad goal of the lesson is to develop students' ability (and tendency) to read through the perspective of literary studies. Introductory literature students (or novice readers at any level) typically focus on plot summary and how the text reflects their own lives and beliefs; stop at a single interpretation; look for a moral; avoid what's puzzling or ambiguous; and/or support their ideas with minimal textual details, sometimes taken out of context. The lesson should enable students to seek multiple levels of meaning, including denotative and connotative meanings and ambiguities of words and phrases; look to the author's biography and other writings and historical, cultural, social, and philosophical contexts; and support their ideas with textual evidence and clear analyses that connect their interpretations to this evidence.
A Word about Timing: Because this lesson is written for asynchronous, online courses, the time for each step is dependent upon the pace of the course. However, the lesson may be adapted to hybrid or even F2F modes.
1. Students read and interpret Claude McKay's "The Harlem Dancer." They write and submit their interpretations (approximately 500 words) to the course website's dropbox.
2. Students read online lecture "What is Literary Studies?" and sample hypertext close reading "What Do Literary Scholars Do?: An Example," as well as the literary studies rubric.
3. Instructor posts anonymous, unanalyzed excerpts from student interpretations of "The Harlem Dancer" (#1) for class to read.
4. Students write a comparative analysis (250 to 500 words) of novice readings (their own and their classmates' interpretations, #1 and #3 above) with expert readings (#2 example).
5. Students now apply what they've learned to a new poem, "American Sonnet" by Billy Collins, to demonstrate their movement on the continuum from novice to expert. In a general discussion area, students may discuss the new poem. Individually, students create a hypertext illustration of their reading of the new poem, similar to the "What Do Literary Scholars Do?" sample. (Instructor provides template and directions for hypertext assignment.)
6. Students write a 250- to 500-word self-assessment of their hypertext assignment using the rubric, and submit it to the dropbox.
Below are links to the lesson plan and the materials used to teach it.
1. "What Is Literary Studies?" Lesson Plan
Here is the Word document with all of our explanations of the lesson.
8b. Hypertext Assignment Template
This Word document is the template students use to develop their hypertext assignment.
8a. Hypertext Assignment
These are the directions for the students' hypertext assignment in which they annotated Billy Collins's "American Sonnet" to demonstrate what they've learned.
7. "American Sonnet" by Billy Collins
The poem we used for students' individual work was "American Sonnet" by Billy Collins, but the lesson should allow any poem here.
6. Directions for Small Group Discussion: Novice/Expert Readings
Here are the basic instructions for the small-group discussions in which students articulate the differences they see between novice and expert reading practices.
5. Common Strategies and Illustrations of Novice Readings
Here are some novice patterns students' interpretations of "The Harlem Dancer." They may vary in other classes, but that variation will probably be slight. We present these to students.
4. What Do Literary Scholars Do?: A Sample Hypertext Interpretation
This is the model of expert close reading and interpretation for students to read after they've read the lecture, as they prepare to discuss the differences between novice and expert readings.
3b. Free Download of PowerPoint Viewer
If you don't have PowerPoint, you can still view the lecture by downloading this free viewer.
3. "What Is Literary Studies?" Lecture
This is the lecture defining the discipline for students.
If you don't have PowerPoint, download the free PowerPoint Viewer from Microsoft at the link below.
2. "The Harlem Dancer" by Claude McKay
Here is the poem students interpret at the beginning of the lesson.
8c. Hypertext Assignment Technical Directions
Here are the technical directions for students to use the template.