teaching literature

Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.

– John Dewey, “Self Realization as the Moral Ideal”

This quote from Dewey is a good reminder that education can do more than just get us ready for the job market. After all, few literature students enter the field because of the booming employment rates.

Does this quote affect the ways you think about humanities education? About how and what you teach in the classroom?

Framing the Literature Classroom

In Teaching and Learning English Literature, Ellie Chambers and Marshall Gregory discuss the importance of literary pedagogy as a framing system. Pedagogy not only encourages learning and growth, but it can also affect and frame course content to invite different types of understanding (14). The teaching of literature needs to better adapt to the modern world, addressing issues like postcritical thought, different student experiences, the corporatization of education, and the potential for personal transformations.

Continue reading “Framing the Literature Classroom”

To Make Sense


Reading and writing go together, right? The general expectation in a literature class is that students will read, and then write about it. Generally, this is geared toward a literary analysis in which the student finds something smart to say about what they have read. Of course, this is the way it has always been structured. It makes sense.

Sheridan D. Blau contends that the problem with writing in the literature classroom is that “students don’t always cooperate by having the kind of intellectual experience we want for them” (152). This apparent lack of cooperation from the students often results in, to use Sheridan’s words, “warmed over versions of somebody else’s cooking” (153). Perhaps, we need a new recipe.

One compelling idea that Blau presents is an active and engaging journaling exercise which the professor devotes an hour a week to read aloud selected journal entries. This genre choice, one which the understood audience is the student’s own self, turned public is particularly interesting to me. It is more traditional with its materials, the pen and paper as opposed to the keys and a screen often employed in the digitally engaged class. However, it provides a productive means for students to generate their own thinking, or make their own sense.

I am a huge fan of handwritten work. I would argue it slows down the mind enough for the thoughts to really come through. Additionally, Blau recognizes that it is actively engaged with the literary tradition, as those of us in literary studies know those who produce literature often keep their own journals.

As scholars contemplate the shifts in the humanities not only through the digital age, but also the nature of criticism, and the act writing in the literature classroom—how are we meant to best balance these shifts in order to engage the students, but also ensure that they are actually making sense out of what they read?


Blau, Sheridan D. “Writing Assignments in Literature Classrooms: The Problem.” The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003. 151-63. Print.

Literature and Emotional Exploration

Can reading classic literature help students achieve greater emotional intelligence? In “Emotion and Reason,” from Literature as Exploration, Louise M. Rosenblatt examines this question in depth. Fittingly, for the header image I chose a scene from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a book he wrote to help children navigate their own emotional growth and resulting confusion.

Although Rosenblatt uses many examples, one of the most interesting comes from a classroom where students are discussing Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. Because of the emotionally complex nature of the play, the students become embroiled in a conflict of opposite views and emotional tension develops. However, not only did the students find conflict amongst themselves; they also uncovered an internal dissonance over the complicated issues. (Rosenblatt 217-18) Vicariously experiencing the issues of a fictional character, although it may seem like mere pleasure reading, allowed the students to understand more of their personal frame of reference.

Viewing literature as a tool for emotional contemplation requires some shifts in teaching perspective. Firstly, it requires the teacher to subvert their own beliefs, biases, and inclinations while teaching. If a teacher lets these bubble to the surface, they will end up swaying students to an interpretation based on the teacher’s points of reference. Instead, the teacher must emphasize the process of personal exploration that each student takes in reading the literature and be open to their interpretations. Furthermore, the teacher must be comfortable with the fact that when emotions get involved, things can get messy. Keeping these things in mind can allow the classroom and the texts to become powerful sites for emotional discovery.

While the distanced, impartial approach of literary studies has valuable things to offer, it is also important for students to explore the range of human emotions that books have to offer. Doing so allows the reader to take perspectives of literary characters, build empathy, and ponder through how they would address similar situations. I am interested in thinking about how this approach to literature and emotions could translate into the field of digital humanities. Are we restricted to just data collection and visualization, charting bursts of emotions throughout a book or a literary movement? Or can we use the digital humanities to connect readers (and perhaps particularly students) more fully to emotions in literature? I believe that with innovation in the right places, the digital humanities can become a powerful tool for the latter.

Works Cited

Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Emotion and Reason.” Literature as Exploration. New York: Appleton, 1938. Online.

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