Knot So Fast!

Kathleen Yancey contends that “[l]earning…requires scientific concepts, spontaneous concepts, and  interplay between them. As in the case of tying a knot, we use this dialogue to focus on the end-the knot-as well as on the processes enabling us to achieve the end” (14). Knots can metaphorically represent the areas in our thinking that we might need to work out, to untie and expand. Knots are also tangible objects, things we can physically create. We can tie them and untie them.

In the literature classroom we engage multiple voices: theorists, critics, authors, professors, and students. Often times we jump from concept to concept quickly as we attempt to “untie” narratives with the tools at our disposal. What happens if we slow down that process? How about an activity in which we can literally hand our students some knotted rope on which each knot corresponds with the central themes of the primary text or class. As the discussions progress, the knots can be untied, and create a physical and functioning metaphor for the process of engaging literature, the value of research, and demonstrate the way ideas can be expanded once they have been adequately explored. Whereas Yancey uses the knot to represent the process, why not represent the process with actual knots?

Yancey, Kathleen. “Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice: Context, Vocabulary, Curriculum” Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English,2004. 1-19.

Three Prototype Claims for the Gen Ed Lit Classroom

In the final chapter of her book, Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice: A Reflective Conclusion, Kathleen Yancey posits three claims which she suggests can serve as “exemplars” for conversation that “could point us toward a literature course designed explicitly for general education” (102). The first claim deals with the notion of American writers existing “on the margin,” standing in defiance or skepticism of a society that offers them but a small readership (102). Yancey then provides a number of questions relating to this claim, such as whether it’s actually true, what it might mean with regard to certain novels, literature other than the ‘serious’ kind it relates to, and the relationship between artist and society. While these are thought-provoking questions, are they ones that most non-English major undergrads can engage in? Kate has already suggested that a student in a general education classroom might not have the literary foundation to deliberate what texts the course will cover (something that Yancey proposes earlier in her book), and I think that concern could arise here as well. Although it might serve as a way to compare the status of Literature (with a capital “L”) in the US as opposed to England.

The second claim Yancey discusses relates to the idea that Toni Morrison wrote from “inside the black world,” as opposed to writing for a white audience (103). Yancey suggests using this notion as a way for Gen. Ed. students to examine “the relationship between each smaller culture and the larger culture” (103). This, I think, would bode less of a problem for students than asking them to survey a broad swath of literature they might not have had exposure to. The idea Yancey presents of pairing texts with different cultural contexts seems that it could spark some fruitful thought/discussion, and lead toward the reflective way of thinking about literature she emphasizes.

The third and final claim probes “what happens to text when it moves from one medium to another,” in the form of film adaptations and the like (104). Yancey suggests asking students to consider whether the story has changed, how it compares to the original, and the relationship between form and content. Getting students to consider what happens when the same (or radically altered) novel is presented in a different medium could lead to some rich reflection on the value of film and text.

According to Yancey, these open-ended questions, that draw connections between life and literature in a philosophico-reflective manner, have the potential to “help students negotiate all three curricula,” those being the lived (the experience students bring to the classroom), delivered (syllabuses, assignments, etc.), and experienced (how the course differs from person to person) (104).

Works Cited

Yancey, Kathleen. “A Reflective Conclusion.” Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English,2004. 96-110.

Teaching Literature, not Comfort Zones

In Kathleen Yancey’s first chapter of Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice, she shares five intriguing observations when it comes to the Gen. Ed. literature classroom. First and foremost, she argues that “the writing and reading tasks I assign in school aren’t the same kinds of reading and writing that students do outside of school. And what students do outside of class; it’s not making its way into my classroom either. This, I think, is a problem” (1). Although Yancey’s argument is understandable, is it necessary for all student reading/writing/ activities done outside of the classroom to be brought in? Arguably, one of the most beneficial skills students learn while in college is seeing and understanding new perspectives. If we only consider the students desires and preferences when it comes to learning, we may be taking away the entirety to which they can actually learn. In this light, one may qualify the pathway to student success in terms of how much they are challenged and to what extent they are taken out of their comfort zones while learning, rather than what a student is capable of within the sphere that they have already made for themselves. Although  video games, Oprah’s Book Club, and’s Listmania have their place within students’ lives, I am not sure if they need to be reiterated into a college classroom where a student should be learning and participating in new methods instead of those they are already familiar with (2). Incorporating student interests and communities that they are already engaged in can be beneficial, however, limiting the spaces in which a student can learn to these specified elements could be dangerous.

Yancey’s fifth observation is another that yields complications. She notes that the “teaching of literature is slowly changing.” (3). Although this may be true, some of the examples that she gives appear hazardous to student success. Yancey provides us with Beverly Peterson’s suggestion of “inviting students to challenge the literary selections” (4). The general idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list for a class comes with a significant amount of variables that Yancey does not take account of. A graduate class of literature students may in fact benefit from challenging the reading list on a syllabus because it would allow them to engage with more than just an individual text, but an entire genre, time period or theory that they have already been given a foundation of. For example, a graduate seminar covering twentieth century British war fiction may easily swap out an Elizabeth Bowen text for a Virginia Woolf text because they have most likely already read some of Woolf, or are at least familiar with British authors in the twentieth century and can go from there. However, Yancey is not making this suggestion; she is focusing on Gen. Ed. literature classrooms, which arguably completely changes the idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list. A General Education class fits under the category of “Gen. Ed.” because it participates in allowing students to obtain a knowledge in a wide variety of fields before they move onto their more specified major. Thus, a student in a Gen. Ed. literature class, is not necessarily a Literature major, and therefore, will most likely not have the foundation in literature or skills required to challenge a literature reading list in a sufficient manner like a Literature graduate student would.

As a side note, I do agree with a generous portion of Yancey’s chapter. There does need to be a “role of play” in the classroom, as well as an incorporation of student reflection (3, 12). Web based tools can help us get there, along with “boundary-crossing” to help factor in students’ interests (8, 2). However, we must also consider the purpose of college institutions and the extent to which those outcomes can be made if we decide to stay within the student’s comfort zones.

Works Cited:

Yancey, Kathleen. “Context, Vocabulary, Curriculum.” Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2004. 1-19.


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