English: “What is Literary Studies?”: An Online Lesson Study

Title: “What is Literary Studies?”: An Online Lesson Study
Discipline(s) or Field(s): English, Literary studies or interdisciplinary studies that involve literary studies (face-to-face, online, or hybrid)
Authors: Nancy Chick (University of Wisconsin-Barron County), Holly Hassel (UW-Marathon County), Chuck Rybak (UW-Washington County)
Submission Date: August 6, 2007

Executive Summary: The lesson study topic is the discipline and methodology of literary studies. Introductory courses often focus on the goal of covering enough material to introduce the texts, theories, and concepts of the discipline; just as often, they gloss over the discipline itself, assuming students will get it along the way. On the contrary, introductory courses should be intentional and explicit about their disciplinarity to help students recognize the scope of what they’re learning and situate each course within the wider context of their educational careers. This kind of disciplinary and methodological awareness–which facilitates an awareness of the whole liberal arts curriculum–is something we should be intentionally and explicitly fostering as a service to all of our students (not just our majors) and as a way to deepen our students’ learning of literature. Our lesson encourages students to discover and practice the larger vision of literary studies as a discipline.

Learning Goals: The immediate learning goal is for students to apply the methodologies of literary studies to a single poem, a focused goal that will ideally transfer to other literary readings and contexts. Ultimately, students will recognize the methods and goals of literary studies as a discipline, and they will begin approaching literary texts using some of the methodologies of literary scholars.

Lesson Design: Before the lesson, students read a poem, wrote their interpretations, and submitted them to the course website’s dropbox. These initial interpretations would serve as prior knowledge, illustrating assumptions about close reading, interpretation, and the work of literary analysis. Students then read an online lecture “What is literary studies?” and our model hypertext interpretations of the same poem students just interpreted. In small groups on the discussion page, using their own novice readings (anonymous excerpts of their initial interpretations of the poem, posted by the instructor) and the expert readings (the model hypertext interpretation), students identify and discuss the differences between the ways novices and experts approach a literary text and then connect these ideas to the lecture on literary studies. After the lesson–either immediately or as a final project–students apply what they’ve learned to a new poem by creating individual hypertext interpretations of the poem and using as needed an unstructured discussion area devoted to the poem. Finally, students submit a brief reflection about what they’ve learned.

Major Findings: Although not our initial goal, this lesson’s primary value was in revealing student misconceptions as related to literary studies and the reading of poetry. By analyzing the students’ initial, and often subsequent, interpretations of assigned poem, the research team was able to identify clear patterns of student error and misinterpretation. Our lesson makes clear distinctions between “novice” and “expert” literary readers, and executing the lesson allowed us to more explicitly define the novice reader and his or her practices. By explicitly defining the novice reader, we are better able to present our materials in a way that matches our initial goal: to lay bare and articulate the methodology and strategies of literary studies. Finally, we believe the specificity provided by these student misconceptions reaches far beyond the common assumptions made about why students struggle when interpreting poetry. If the misconceptions we identify could become the starting point for teachers, rather than an eventual realization, we believe students would gain a much more immediate, thorough, and rewarding engagement with literary studies and poetry in particular. Such contribution to pedagogical content knowledge in literary studies will be invaluable.

Below are links to the lesson plan and the materials used to teach it.

Below are links to the study of the lesson.

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