Teaching English in the I/S Division
The aim of Teaching English in the Intermediate/Senior Division is to provide foundations for critical reading, interpretation, and textual production – engaging diverse texts, genres, and media forms (including the digital) – to support your future teaching practice. By situationally engaging these practices in this course, the aim is for you to critically reflect upon what and how you learn as you perform and ‘do’ interpretative and literary practices, so you might in turn, as English teachers, support more purposeful student engagement, deep learning, and meaningful creative agency within the 21st Century English classroom. At the same time, we will explore theories to help candidates develop a rationale for their own teaching practice (why teach/learn English? why does English matter today?), as well as forge critical links between theory, vital learning practices, and Ontario Curriculum frameworks.
Teaching English in the 21st Century
As we will soon see, ‘Teaching English’ is not, never has been, a stable subject, finished system, or perfected art, whether we are talking about the historical/social aims of English education (ideological forces), literary theories, instructional ‘best practices’, or the literary cannon itself. New digital media, multimodal texts, and networked environments further complicate – and enrich – what counts as literate/literary practices today, indeed extending what counts as a ‘text’ and how we might best interpret texts as ‘crafty readers’ (Scholes, 2001) and ‘critical cultural readers’ (Linkon, 2005).
Course Aims: Learning by Doing
Philosophers like Paul Ricouer have argued that we make sense of our world, our individual and social histories and possibilities, through narrative. By critically negotiating stories (given fictions and non-fictions and descriptions of states-of-affairs), and by imagining and composing our own stories, we have some agency or power in co-writing our identities, our ongoing ‘narratives of self’ (Giddens, 1991), as well as the social world/s in which we are variously positioned (including, then, schools). As Terry Eagleton (1984) puts it, ‘language is constitutive of the reality or experience, rather than simply a vehicle for it.’
As English Teachers, your primary vehicles for teaching will be texts – in all the different forms and genres that texts take today — from novels and poetry to multimodal texts (e.g. graphic novels, serious comics), the digital humanities, and emerging sites (online and off) where young people are already immersed in story-telling practices, directing their own attention, and reading, writing and creating media documents outside of schools (e.g., through fanficiton sites, blogs, social media, DIY cultural production, YouTube, digital storytelling, and so on).
As reading, interpreting, and writing are invariably situated, social and productive activities, we will attend to media – old and new – that support students’ capacities to enact forms of ‘textual power’ (Scholes, 1985), that is, to intervene as critical readers and authentic text-makers within common cultural, artistic, and democratic sites of practice. We’ll explore:
- How to read and interpret texts – relating different literary texts and genres and rhetorical forms to one another – and how to make meaning through intertextual connections among literary and cultural and multimodal works, as well as forge connections between literary texts and one’s own world.
- How to create literary texts of our own from within a production pedagogy framework (i.e., asking students to take roles as writers, producing authentic works for authentic audiences).
- How to blur traditional curricular boundaries that separate reading, interpretation and writing, keeping in mind that we learn to write by writing, and also by decomposing and recomposing textual models, borrowing styles and figures. In a word, through imitation and embodiment we can adopt styles and literary practices and make them our own…
- How to mobilize all these ‘how’s’ to create vital, energized learning environments where your students can exert critical and creative agency – environments and challenges that invite attention and support English as pleasure, passion, and serious play.
Instructional Philosophy: Examined through a literary lens, Ontario English Curriculum documents are populated with metaphors of ‘growth’, emphasizing development, progress, discrete skills enhancement, and ‘preparation’. While respecting the important aims and purposes of our curriculum documents, this course (drawing upon the sociocultural theory and new literacy studies) has a slightly different point of departure: What if, instead of placing students in a ‘constant state of preparation’ (Rollins, 2009), and continuously developing students to become writers, we encouraged learners to be writers now – to embody the roles and identities of writers, and to make and situationally do as creative cultural producers (Ranciere, 1989; 1991)?
With this ‘What If’ as a kind of working supposition, we will explore English through critical engagements with course texts, literature, and multimodal cultural artefacts — and through ‘hands-on’ creative production (i.e., learning through inquiry-learning and production pedagogy forms, and critically reflecting upon processes).
Here, the stakes of this course go beyond ‘reading and writing skills’ to address big questions about participation, equality, and democracy, and the creative capacities of anyone.
Header Art: James Koehnline