In chapter three of her book, Teaching Literature: “Methods,” Elaine Showalter posits several techniques to bring to the classroom. As a fledgling teacher, some of her suggestions resonated with what I’ve done so far, while others have me re-considering my future conduct. One of the methods that Showalter advocates is showing students models. She writes, “In assigning papers, we can xerox or make available in the library examples of outstanding student papers from the past, or even papers we have written ourselves. Proving models of good writing, and allowing time for students to discuss them, can help establish realistic goals” (55). Using models is something I’ve used in my own teaching, and it was nice to see it reinforced by a more experienced pedagogue. Giving students a strong sense of what’s expected by not just making available, but discussing a strong model can mean the difference between grasping a potentially new concept like close reading, and greeting their graded work with disappointment and confusion. She also mentioned a professor who has her students actually grade a sample paper based on given criteria. This kind of practice seems like it could students some insight into their teachers own process when looking at and evaluating their own work.
Showalter also has her students complete profiles on her course’s software, where students can present personal information and a photograph, and teachers with computer-equipped classrooms can certainly make use of this. Not only can this aid the teacher in learning more about their students (as well as matching names to faces, which some certainly find troublesome, especially with a larger group), but also to instill a better sense of proper conduct in the college classroom. I’ve heard from other teachers about students posting profile pictures with derogatory hand gestures (see “the bird”), and a student I had last semester insisted on using an unflattering picture of Bill Cosby in lieu of his own, which considering the allegations recently leveled at him, carried a very negative connotation. Making it clear to students that their profile on the course page should present an air of professionalism could definitely help them as their college and future career runs its course.
Another method that Showalter espouses is not granting students the opportunity to revise graded work, instead asking them to learn from their mistakes and apply them to their next assignment. She writes, “Although some teachers allow students to rewrite papers and resubmit them, for both practical and pedagogical reasons, I am against it… I recommend instead that TAs encourage students to set clear goals for the second paper and have them apply in that what they have learned from criticism” (59). At the behest of a professor I respect very much, I’ve allowed my students to revise their work beyond the ‘final’ grade, often giving them a window of about two weeks. What I’ve found, however, is that I often end up granting them too much leeway, operating under the assumption that a simple show of extra effort is worth more points, with the result being a paper that is perhaps graded a little too high for its quality. I’m strongly considering adopting the more realistic policy of having students take my criticism and apply it to their next paper, since it seems more reflective of real-world expectations and saves me the added work of helping them through another revision.
Discussion questions: Of the three theories that Showalter details for teaching literature, subject-, teacher-, student-centered, and eclectic, which do you think is most effective? Perhaps a synthesis of two or more? Which of these would you use to describe your own teaching, or how you intend to teach in the future?
Showalter, Elaine. “Methods of Teaching Literature.” Teaching Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 42-61. Print.