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English 4800, Fall 2012

Teaching Literature in the Secondary Schools

In an effort to prepare future secondary English teachers for the students and classrooms of the 21st Century, this section of English 4800 will address the new Common Core Standards, changing student populations, and reform movements in the the teaching of literature including reader response, literacy practices, digital literacy, critical pedagogy, and cultural studies.

After the first part of the class directed by the instructor, students will take significant responsiblity for course, choosing the reading, creating assignments and activities, and assessing learning as we explore cultural studies approaches to developing meaningful curriculum and instruction in contemporary secondary schools. This approach represents an experiment in Frierian teacher-student, student-teacher education.

This course contends that the starting point for teaching literature is engaging with critical issues in the world and in the lives of adolescents via relevant and meaningful thematic curriculum. English language arts teachers need to bring together a wide range of cultural materials, including traditional works, young adult literature, film, cultural and informational texts, and address what literary works mean, as well as how they mean, in historical, cultural, political and social contexts.

In the era of standards reform, standardized testing, and the corporatization of curriculum, future teachers need to think critically about established curriculum regimes and develop the freedom they need to prepare their students as citizens in an unfinished democracy.

By focusing on difficult and potentially controversial cultural studies curricular themes during the student-led portion of the course, future teachers will gain understanding of issues involved in teaching literature at the secondary level, see Course Goals. You may also want to review the WMU teacher education Program Goals, the basis for the evaluation of intern teaching.

Rapid evolution in information technology is extending and reshaping the teaching of literature and cultural works. The inherited cultural archive is now available in digital format on-line and complementary resources and tools that far exceed what is in textbooks are now available on the Internet. Genres and forms of distribution of informational and visual texts are evolving.

The WMU English Department has, perhaps, the most advanced language arts teacher preparation classrooms in the world. Rather than training teachers to adopt cook book software or corporate "classroom management" packages, these labs foster teacher designed instruction, critical thinking about technology and curriculum, teacher and student publication, free, open-source, or low cost resources, and strategies for bringing the vast resources and communicative possibilities of the Internet to all students.

Our class will be organized by this on-line syllabus that also serves as an electronic, hyperlinked, textbook. All students will develop and publish their own teaching website, both a portfolio of work and a real-world working site for future teaching. We will use on-line threaded discussion, publish student work on a collaborative wiki, engage in virtual school discussions, and students will design technology enhanced teaching and use of the laptop classroom into learning in a variety of ways.

English as a second language students now consitute 20% of the school population in the United States, and their numbers continue to rapidly increase. This class will provide opportunities to think about how to facilitate the success of these students.

Student groups will select topics addressing current and controversial themes such as:

  • literature, elections, and democracy;
  • literature and economic inequality / Occupy Movement;
  • literature and the English language learner;
  • literature and unions;
  • literature and the environment / global warming;
  • literature and terrorism;
  • literature and the Iraq and Afghan War;
  • literature and the Third World;
  • literature and the Arab Spring;
  • literature and Islam;
  • literature and sexuality;
  • literature and sexual orientation;
  • literature, the mass media, and consumerism;
  • literature and food
  • teaching Native American literature;
  • literature and white priviledge;
  • literature and service learning.

Expect to spend an additional twenty dollars on books, packets, and reading materials for each of the student-led units -- this reading will be announced throughout the course.

Students will need to purchase a five dollar fee card from the bookstore, and turn that card into the professor, to offset English Department copying expenses.

Course discussions will be significantly extended in the class on-line discussion forum on our computer conference. Participation in the electronic conference and in the professional activities are all included as part of class participation.

I have worked with former secondary English students to create an extensive wiki about seeking a job teaching secondary English and I have created a webpage of information for aspiring teachers. Official information about the Michigan Teacher Certification test is available on the MTTC website -- and here are my suggestions to prepare for and think about the MTTC test.

As the capstone experience for English Education majors, this course entails an exciting variety of professional activities and responsibilities. Students are expected to attend a professional English teacher's conference, for example the October 19 MCTE Conference in Lansing and/or the November 15-18 NCTE in Las Vegas.

You should also join NCTE, MCTE, and/or MRA and read regularly the English Journal or Voices from the Middle. The English Companion Ning is a remarkable resource with over 10,000 members.

Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below. At the hour scheduled for the final exam students will attend an intern teaching panel.

Class participation is vital in 4800; missing 3 classes may lower the grade and missing 5 classes may lead to failing. Please examine carefully my philosophy regarding Preparation and Attendance. This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being. I recommend The Last Closet for gay and straight future teachers. If at any point in the semester if you feel stress, English 4800 does offer free on-line therapy from Eliza!

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.


Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Readers (Scholastic, 2007)

Beach, Thein & Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core Standards (Routledge, 2012)

$5 Fee Card

Additional books, packets, and web sites as components in research and group learning (up to $20 per group).

Recommended Optional Texts

Major Assignments

Class Participation & Nicenet (10%) Due: every week, closed on 12/11

Your own Teaching Web Site (10%) Due: 9/13

Discussion Analysis (10%) Due: by 9/25

Cultural Studies Unit Plan (10%) Due: 10/9

Student-Led Units (25% your own unit (includes self-evaluation) & 20% participation in other units)

Exchange with ESL teacher/student (5%) Due: 10/2

Final Exam (10%) Due: 12/11

Electronic Syllabus

Sept 4 : Introductions & Workshop Classroom Website

Resources to create your own Teaching Website. Websites made by students in previous 4800 classes. [At a minimum your site needs these pages: 1) home; 2) student; 3) parent; 4) colleague; 5) about me. You also need to built into the site: 6) a recommended reading list, 7) English teaching philosophy, 8) your own annotated links to English Journal articles, on-line lesson plans, and resources. Sign up at Weebly. [Other possible free resources for classroom websites: Webnode, Wikispaces, WordPress, Google Sites.]

Join and respond to the question about introductions (1) on the Nicenet computer conference. Our "class name" on Nicenet is "4800 Fall 2012" and our "class key" is "2336489449" -- you will need this information to join the discussion.

Sept 6 Digital Learning: Teacher Directed or Corporate For-Profit?

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus, including all assignments, and, especially, expectations for the student-led unit. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2. Read: "Digital Literature: Electronic Archives in the Classroom" from Literature and the Web Allen Webb

3. Read: from Education Networks pg. 65-69 Joel Spring

4. Respond to Nicenet computer conference item 2, Digital Learning.

5. Join NCTE and subscribe to the English Journal.

6. Put the October 19 MCTE Conference (Lansing) and the November 15-18 NCTE (Las Vegas) on your calendar.

Webresources to support the development of your teacher website: English Teacher Companion Ning, LitArchives.com, Literature Circles, Literary Worlds, Google Documents, Webquests, Blogger, LiveJournal, YouTube.com, Animoto, IMovie, Audio Boo, Google Ajaz Feed, Illuminated Texts, Prezi, (Glogster) Tagxedo, Wordle, AfterTheDeadline, mind meister, bubbl.us,Webspiration, Good Reads, Twitter, Facebook, Second Life -- and so many more. Check out Jen Heymoss's website, Mashable on On-Line Writing Toolbox. and other sites that support literature scholarship. Seek out webpages and websites that would be useful for your teaching website, including sites for parents and students, using Google and other resources, and create links to those pages. Check out my recent books: Literature and the Web: Reading and Responding with New Technologies and Teaching Literature in Virtual Worlds: An Immersive Approach to English Studies.

Sept 11: Researching Your Student-Led Teaching: English Journal and More!

1. Read three or more articles from back issues of the English Journal that interest you -- try to connect to your topic for the unit you will lead. You should subscribe to the English Journal (only $12.50 for students!) and you can do so from its home website and view a sample issue. NCTE members can read back issues of the English Journal at the NCTE website on-line using their membership number as a password. Back issues are also in the Sangren Library under the call number PE1.E5. (Between Waldo (all issues before 1980) and Sangren (issues after 1980) we have back issues to 1912 when the English Journal began publication--fascinating reading in the history of secondary English teaching!) You can conduct an ERIC search for articles on specific topics, for example for the unit you will be leading, by setting "English Journal" as the "source."

2. Find three or more secondary English lesson plans available on the web that you consider to be thoughtful and well-crafted. There are many sources for Language Arts lesson plans on the web. Try Read/Write/Think, Outta Ray's Head, Web English Teacher, New York Times Lesson Plan Archive, Cyberguides, Lesson Plans Page, ERIC, NCTE's Notes Plus (subscribers only), Lesson Planz.com, and, of course, Google!

3. Drawing on at least three on-line lesson plans and three English Journal articles, develop an annotated list of "Teaching Ideas" with at least a paragraph of description and comments about how you might use or modify the idea in your own classroom. Post this on your website page for teacher resources with links as appropriate.

4. Visit Nicenet and respond to questions about the English Journal (3).

Sept 13 Your Teaching Website

1. Complete your teaching website to present to the class. Exceed expectations!

Sept 18 Leading Discussion

1. Read "Teaching Toward Great Conversations" by Randy Bomer.

2. Study the following Web Sites: Tips for Leading Discussion, Creating Discussion Questions, as well as A System for Analyzing Discussion. After class meeting, observe a discussion and write a discussion analysis due Sept 25.

Optional Podcasts:

3. Visit Nicenet and respond to the question about leading discussion (4).

Sept 20 Teaching Reading, Reader Response, & Reading Workshop

1. Read The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell.

2. Reply on Nicenet to the question about the book (5)


3. I assume you have already know about the Fry Readability Graph from prior education classes (more on its limitations and complications). I also assume you are familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy (revisions). Review these pages and refresh or develop your background.

Sept 25: Introduction to Cultural Studies Teaching

1. Read: from Literature and Lives, Chapter 1 & 2, from Teaching the Literature of Today's Middle East, Chapters 6 & 7

2. Respond on Nicenet (6).

3. Discussion Analysis Due

Sept 27: Meeting and Exceeding Common Core Standards I

1. Read: Exceeding the 6-12 ELA Common Core Standards, Chapter 1 & 2.

2. With two-three other students engage in (2) The Teacher's Lounge on-line virtual case study, at LiteraryWorlds.org Portal. User id: "student" -- no password needed.

Oct 2: Meeting and Exceeding Common Core Standards II

1. Examine the NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts, and the "Race to the Top" Common Core Standards for Language Arts (download language arts standards, look at 6-12).

1. Read: Exceeding the 6-12 ELA Common Core Standards, Chapter 3 &4.

2. With two-three other students engage in (3) Principle's Hallway on-line virtual case study, at LiteraryWorlds.org Portal. User id: "student" -- no password needed.

Exchange with ESL teacher/student Due

Oct 4: Common Core Standards: Informational Text

1. Read: Exceeding the 6-12 ELA Common Core Standards, Chapter 5

2. With two-three other students engage in (5) Mr. Plot-a-Long's Hallway on-line virtual case study, at LiteraryWorlds.org Portal. User id: "student" -- no password needed.

Oct 9: Common Core Standards: Literary Text

1. Read: Exceeding the 6-12 ELA Common Core Standards, Chapter 6 & 7.

2. With two-three other students engage in either (6) Mr. Poetry Pro's Hallway OR (7) Mr. Virtual's Hallway on-line virtual case study, at LiteraryWorlds.org Portal. User id: "student" -- no password needed.

Cultural Studies Unit plan due (CulturalStudiesTeaching.wikispaces.com)

Student-Led Units

Oct 11

Oct 16

Oct 18

Oct 19 MCTE (Lansing) Respond on Nicenet

Oct 23

Group 1

Oct 25

Oct 30

Nov 1

Nov 6

Group 2

Nov 8

Nov 13

Nov 15

Nov 15-18 NCTE Las Vegas

Nov 20

Group 3

Nov 21-5 Thanksgiving


Nov 27

Nov 29

Dec 4

Dec 6

Group 4

Dec 10-14 Finals Week

Dec 11 2:45-4:45 Final Exam: Take Home Final Exam due

Intern Teaching Panel

At the time set for our final exam, a panel of English 4800 graduates will speak on their experiences with intern teaching. Does 4800 work in the 'real world'? Read on-line: Tips for Intern Teaching and Letter to First-Year Teacher

Examine Other On-line Secondary English Methods Courses