Thinking about Literature
New Ideas for High School Teachers
AUTHOR: McMahon, Robert
Also available at Amazon.com
Do students respond to your question "What is the theme?" with a resounding silence? Does "What do you think?" meet with only a few raised hands and little enthusiasm? Is mastering the art of falling asleep undetected your students' greatest ambition? Maybe it's time to take a new tack...
Robert McMahon has contributed something genuinely new to the teaching of classic and contemporary literature in high school-a system of teaching English that achieves classroom control through engagement and interest in content. As longtime teacher Carol Jago attests, McMahon's approach to literature is so stimulating that students eagerly respond. The provocative questions he poses help students build a kind of mental muscle for reading challenging texts and, what's more, interacting with them.The author proposes a "model of human action," with a series of questions that focus on character motivation and that foster reasoning, reflecting, and further questioning. Subtly but rigorously, he offers a heuristic that leads students through factual, interpretative, and evaluative questions and answers. Eventually, students internalize the heuristic and begin to ask the questions themselves, making them more independent readers and preparing them for lifelong engagement with challenging books. Along the way, McMahon intersperses "Provocations," imaginative exercises that help students to:
- imagine a character more fully
- grasp a writer's style non-analytically and creatively
- connect more deeply with relationships in a story
- prepare themselves to read, act, and recite well in class.
In the end, students participate in authentic conversations about issues that matter, finding in-text evidence for their views that simultaneously shed light on their own experiences.
Give McMahon's strategies a try. Read his chapter on Oedipus the King. Then teach it-and have students respond to it-like never before.
PUBLICATION DATE: 8/1/2002