Sunday, July 6, 2008

What rocks your students' worlds?

I have been thinking about the texts we teach at my school quite a bit as we work to finetune things. I am stuck right now with my AP English Literature class because while I want to add a Faulkner novel, that leads me to a harder decision -- what do I drop to make room? This is my eternal albatross -- I always find great new things to add, but that does not often mean I have something to drop. So what is a teacher to do?

Think about something else of course. Here are the texts I would absolutely NOT drop:

World Literature/AP English Lit:
  • Excerpts from religious texts, but excerpts from the Koran specifically: My students and I study the Koran (here is the document I use with my students) along with the Bible, Torah, and Bhagavad-Gita, and I know their understanding of the Koran is enhanced by building off the other religious works. Yet it is reading the Koran that changes their world views the most, and our field trip to the Islamic Center in Washington, DC, is irreplacable.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: This text is a student favorite every single year. I do not do much teaching of the text -- since it comes at the end of the first semester and is an "easy read," I turn most of it over to the students to read and understand themselves. Consequently, it is the novel itself that deserves the credit for inspiring, reassuring, and fascinating my students.

  • Othello by William Shakespeare: The tremendous Folger's Shakespeare Set Free teaching guide brings this play literally to life for my students. Each year, they perform the entire fifth act, and I am always amazed at the depth of understanding they show -- as well as memorizing all of those lines in just a week! They love this -- here are some pics and the U-Stream of this year's performance. It takes quite a bit of time to work up to such a performance, but that time could not be better spent -- even on Faulkner :)

Introduction to Genres (Freshman Year):

  • Night by Elie Wiesel: Wiesel's story is the single text every freshman says should never be removed from the curriculum. Using Wiesel's wise words, students work hard to fight indifference as the worst evil.
  • "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks: If you can find the anthology Poetry Speaks (which is well worth buying even if you don't teach this poem because of the incredible wealth of voices reading wonderful poems) with a recording of Brooks herself reading her poem, you will have the tools for the best discussion of the use of line breaks to create meaning that you can ever have.

British Literature (Sophomore Year):

  • Regeneration by Pat Barker: Maybe it is because this is one of the few texts they read all year that is not written in verse, but this novel fascinates students. I also am awed by the World War I poets, so being able to teach them in conjunction (I got verse in there!) was an extra bonus.

American Literature (Junior Year):

  • A Farwell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway: I think I have a future research project embedded in students' reactions to this novel. I no longer teach American Lit, but I get most of the seniors the next year, and this is by far the class favorite. Why? There is my research project for you because this novel grabs every kind of reader -- male, female, action, love, discerning, just like to turn the pages ... I know our junior year teacher is great, and there is something even greater about this novel.

What are your students' favorites? And why? Is it the text itself separate of all else or is it something you really rock at teaching? I'd love to hear your answers ... that way I will have even more great things to add ...


  1. What I enjoy when I consider 'text' with my students is to first define and expand the definition. A text is anything you can read. As we talk about this and start naming examples, the students usually begin with the typical understanding of text which is "anything in print." But after naming magazines, newspapers, books, etc., I offer up art as a text. Then they start naming things like photos, people, social contexts, body language, family, fads, etc. Expanding the definition of 'text' has thus helped me to empower literature and the English curriculum with greater relevance because in truth, we read everything. The follow up question I challenge my students with is to consider that how they read (a text) determines what they will see (in that text).

    Anyway... I'm wrestling with the idea of using Seth Godin's "Unleashing the Ideavirus" in my class to counter the 'get rich quick' mentality of my students by motivating them to market their own ideavirus. It's just a recent thought in development, but I think it has an amazing potential to harness the culture that tends to be so antagonistic toward education.

  2. Patrick,
    I have put this title on my list ot "to read." Let me know if you teach it and how it goes.