Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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More on teaching English
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Awhile ago, we posted on reasons for teaching English: Part 1 and Part 2.

Our English professor made a comparison between students' reactions to a science class vs. their reactions to an English class. And the thing that struck me the most about the comparison is that English students very often learn "about" something. It was interesting to realize how often the preposition "about" seems to find its way into descriptions of English class. And it's interesting because it indicates that what often happens is that we simply slide into providing factual knowledge [when we haven't got a clue as to what else we're supposed to be doing]:

"We learned about short stories."
"We learned about Shakespeare/Hamlet."
"We learned about Lord of the Flies."

Well that is just fantastic. Because we all could use a little more knowledge "about short stories".

But for those of them who don't really care "about short stories" or "about Shakespeare," it might be important to remember not to fall into the trap of vigorously teaching content as if it were the be-all and end-all of knowledge. As educators, we'll be teaching subjects that, presumably, we take a personal interest in (or at least, took enough interest in for us to be willing to devote 4 years of undergrad to its study), and oftentimes, we forget that just because we thought it was "fun" to memorize Hamlet's entire 35-line soliloquy, doesn't mean our students will find it equally "fun" (shocking, I know) or meaningful in any way. It's probably important to remember that content is good, but what's more important is how you use content as a vehicle through which you teach skills and other areas of knowledge that are more universally applicable.

A few tips we got from our professor were:

1. Remember to teach for a reason.
2. What do they get to keep?
3. How will they benefit from what they are about to learn?

It might also be helpful to think about other types of responses that you hope to generate when your students are asked what they learned in your class. For example...

"We learned that..."
"We learned how..."
"We learned why..."

Students should be able to take something away from your class aside from a general and temporary increase in knowledge about a subject they probably don't care very much about. I mean, that's what substantiation is isn't it? When we ask ourselves and our class, "Why is this important?" It might not be a bad idea to ask ourselves that question at the end of every class, just to check that what we've taught actually carries importance beyond our own egocentric opinion of stuff that interests us.

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Jonathan posted at 2:23 PM - Comments (1)


You mean there are people out there who don't want to memorize Hamlet? This is news to me! Just kidding, though I do have to admit that it's very tempting.

I think the biggest problem with how people teach Shakespeare is that students spend almost their entire time sitting in desks and reading through it. Shakespeare is theater and I really think that bringing some of that theatrical aspect into teaching it is very beneficial.

I found that walking (or sometimes skipping) and saying some of the lines in rhythm with the iambic pentameter is really helpful. For some reason the words seem to fall much more naturally with movement.

By Blogger Ashley, at September 19, 2009 at 10:14 PM  

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