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English 4800, Fall 2017

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 focus on a critical inquiry approach.  In so doing we will address the new Common Core Standards, changing student populations, and reform movements in the the teaching of literature including reader response, digital literacy, critical pedagogy, and cultural studies.

(In this course the term "critical inquiry" is in the tradition of "critical theory," not the more abstracted, decontextualized, and superficial approach of "critical thinking skills." Likewise, the term "inquiry" is richer than the simpler, but also of value, expression "questioning strategies.")

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

In the era of anti-democratic governmentality, neo-liberal educational reform, standardized testing, and the corporatization of curriculum, future teachers need to think critically about established curriculum regimes and consider how to develop the freedom they need to prepare their students as global citizens in an unfinished, indeed endangered democracy threatened by climate change.

Critical Inquiry

The starting point for a critical inquiry approach to teaching literature is engaging with critical issues in the world and in the lives of adolescents via relevant and meaningful thematic curriculum. In dialogue with student questions and interest, English language arts teachers should be able to bring together a wide range of cultural materials, including traditional works, multicultural and young adult literature, visual and media texts including film, and cultural and informational texts, and address what texts mean, as well as how they mean, in historical, cultural, political and social contexts.

Critical inquiry facilitates teaching that addresses different abilities, learning styles, and backgrounds. English as a second language students now consitute 9% of the school population in the United States, and their numbers continue to increase. This class will provide opportunities to think about how to develop curriculum that will foster the engagement and success of all students.

By focusing on difficult, relevant, and potentially controversial possible areas for critical inquiry during the student-led portion of the course, future teachers will gain understanding of approaches, strategies, curriculum, and issues involved in teaching literature at the secondary level, see Course Goals. (You may also want to review the WMU teacher education Mission.)

Student groups will select topics addressing current and controversial areas to inquire into such as:

    literature and climate change;
    literature and undocumented students and workers, immigration, border walls;
    literature and White nationalism / neo-nazism;
    literature, policing/the criminal justice system, and Black Lives Matter;
    literature and economic inequality;
    literature and healthcare as a human right;
    literature and educational opportunity, equality, and affordability;
    literature and terrorism;
    literature and representation of Islam, and of Arabs;
    literature and refugees;
    literature and reproductive freedom;
    literature and hunger/famine;
    literature and threats to information, government secrecy, Internet freedom literature and free/fair elections.

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.

New Literacies and New Technologies

Rapid evolution in information technology offers many avenues and resources for critical inquiry extending and reshaping the teaching of English. The inherited cultural archive is now available in digital format on-line. Complementary resources and tools that far exceed what is in textbooks are now available on the Internet and new genres of informational and visual texts are emerging.

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.

Course discussions will be significantly extended in the class on-line discussion forum on our computer conference.

Professional Involvement

Future English teachers should 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 -- join and draw on this resource throughout the semester. WMU has an NCTE Student affiliate; become an active member.

You are expected to attend the Fall Michigan Council of the Teachers of English (MCTE) Conference all day on Friday, October 20 ($60 for students). You are invited to attend the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference in St Louis, Nov 16-19 ($110 for students). If finances present a challenge, seek support and be creative, for example, the gofundme approach.

I recommend gay and straight future teachers join GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Teachers need to be informed about the world.  Students are expected to read regularly the New York Times and other sources. WMU provides a free NYT subscription.

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.

Course Success

Since the class is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing any classes will affect your learning. Missing more 3 classes may lower your grade and missing 5 classes may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning -- and consider your own philosophy!

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 turn in a take home exam, discuss the course, and attend an intern teaching panel comprised of graduates of the class recently engaged in intern / early career teaching and job searching.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being. 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.

And a special Welcome to English 4800 from former students!









Beach, Thein, & Webb. Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards: A Critical Inquiry Approach for 6-12 Classrooms. (Routledge, 2016). (Required chapters will be made available free of charge.)

Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Readers (Scholastic, 2007) Available free on line in PDF format.

Brass, Jory and Allen Webb. Reclaiming English Language Arts Methods Courses: Critical Issues and Challenges for Teacher Educators in Top-Down Times (Routledge, 2015) (Do not buy this book - it is available for free in electronic form through the WMU library!)

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%)

Your own Teaching Web Site (10%) Due: 9/18

Critical Inquiry Unit Plan (15%) Due: 10/9

Student-Led Units (30% your own unit (includes self-evaluation) & 25% participation in other units)

Final Exam (10%) Due: 12/11

Electronic Syllabus

Sep 6: Introductions

In class: Read carefully the Joyce Davidson Case Study making a list of the strengths and weaknesses of Joyce's instruction.

Sep 11: 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. Join and respond to the question about introductions (1) on the Nicenet computer conference. Our "class name" on Nicenet is "4800 Fall 2017" and our "class key" is "7379906448" -- you will need this information to join the discussion.

3.  Join our class phone message system, Remind. If you have a smartphone go to this page in your web browser and follow instructions: rmd.at/2kbd3h. If you don't have a smart phone text "@2kbd3h" to this number "81010". If you don't have a cell phone go to rmd.at/2kbd3h and sign up for email notification.

4. Read: Chapter 8 on Digital/Media Literacy from Teaching to Exceed.

5. Study: SchoolTM Wiki - all 6 pages.

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

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

8. Join NCTE and subscribe to the English Journal.

9. Put the Fall 2015 MCTE Conference (October 20) in East Lansing on your calendar and purchase student ticket ($60).  Look at the NCTE Conference and consider it!

10. Start your own teaching website! Support available at the Student Technology Center on the Tower Bridge (between library and technology center).

Sep 13: Begin Researching Your Student-Led Unit: 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 (via our library database access) for articles on specific topics, for example for the unit you will be leading, by setting "English Journal" as the "publication title" for one of the search terms and your topic (and variations on it) for the other search term.

2. Find three or more secondary English lesson plans available on the web that you consider to be thoughtful and well-crafted -- again, try to connect to your topic for the unit you will lead. 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, 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).

Sep 18: Your Teaching Website

1. Complete your Teaching Web Site to present to the class. Exceed expectations!

Sep 20: Introduction to Critical Inquiry Teaching

1. Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 1.

2. Respond on Nicenet (4).

3. I assume you are already familiar with the Common Core State Standards. If not, examine them, especially the Introduction, standards for Grades 6-12, Reading Literature and Informational Text, and Text Complexity sections.

Sep 25: Critical Inquiry & English Language Arts Curriculum

1. Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 2.

2. Read: Literature and Lives, Chapter 1 & Chapter 2

3. Read: from Teaching the Literature of Today's Middle East, Chapter 6 "Embeded" by Jeffery Patterson

4. Respond on Nicenet (5)

4. Begin Critical Inquiry Unit Plan due: Oct 10. Publish @ CriticalInquiryELA.wikispaces.com.

Sep 27: Critical Inquiry & Climate Change in English

1. Read: Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4

2. Respond on Nicenet (5 Continued)

3. Optional: "How Close to the Savage Soul", "Trees are Dying"

Oct 2: Why Read?  (Ellen Foley)

1.  Bring one of the texts (a book, an article, etc.) you plan on using for your Critical Inquiry project OR for your Student-Led Unit. For example, Darby and Hope might bring a copy of Wonder, Brandy could bring an article about fascism to accompany Pan's Labyrinth, etc. This should be something you want your future students to read.

2.  Read Readicide, ch. 2 (Gallagher)

3. Read Book Love, ch. 2 (Kittle)

4.  Read "How Students Read: Some Thoughts on Why This Matters" (Carillo)

5. Read The Reading Zone, ch. 5 "Comprehension" (Atwell)

6. Respond on Nicenet


Oct 4: Teaching Reading & Independent Reading (Ellen Foley)

1.  Come prepared with a booktalk to be presented in class today.

2. Read Readicide, ch. 4 (Gallagher)

3. Read Book Love, ch. 3 (Kittle)

4.  Read "Literature Circles for Adolescent Developmental Readers" (Ragland & Palace)

5. Read The Reading Zone, ch. 6 "Booktalking" (Atwell)

6. Respond on Nicenet.

Oct 9: Sharing Critical Inquiry Units & ELLs in ELA

1. Critical Inquiry Unit Plan due. Make attractive for the web and publish at CriticalInquiryELA.wikispaces.com.

2. Optional: ELLs in ELA Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 10. and study webpage and view videos on the Teaching Channel: 5 Key Strategies for ELL Instruction

Student-Led Units

Oct 11

Oct 16

Oct 18

Oct 20: Friday ALL DAY MCTE Conference (East Lansing) Respond on Nicenet to question about the MCTE Conference (7).

Oct 23

Group 1

Oct 25

Oct 30

Nov 1

Nov 6

Group 2

Nov 8

Nov 13

Nov 15

Nov 16-19 NCTE Annual Conference (St Louis)

Nov 20


Group 3

Nov 27

Nov 29

Dec 4

Dec 6

Group 4

Dec 11-14 Finals Week

Monday Dec 11, 5-7 pm  Final Exam & Intern / New Teacher Panel

Due: Take Home Final Exam

Intern / New Teacher Panel

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

Examine Other On-line Secondary English Methods Courses