Literary analysis is at once an (ideally) objective, skills-based discipline, and a subjective practice heavily influenced by life experience and personality. Thus I consider my role as an instructor to be simultaneously a coach of skills such as argumentative strategies and analytical tools and an accessible, friendly partner who can encourage students to share interpretations and arguments in group and class discussions. As an instructor of several general education classes (ENGL 1100 and ENGL 1050) taken by students in a variety of majors, one of my main goals is to train my students in concrete skills that can be taken and applied in future classes and work, regardless of field. These include skills such as critical thinking, argumentation, critical analysis, and writing skills. I also hope, however, to help my students develop an appreciation for and enjoyment of literature in my classes.
When teaching English, especially introductory-level courses, I believe that modelling strategies and skills is a particularly effective method. I begin my ENGL 1100 course, for example, with a lesson about various ways of reading and analyzing literature that extends over three class periods and asks students to read the same short story multiple ways, take detailed notes, and share their observations in small groups. By the end of the lesson, they work up to an argumentative thesis statement about that short story that is supported with evidence from their previous readings and discussions. In each course I teach, I model how to read critical essays effectively, since this is a skill with which many undergraduates are not yet comfortable. We read a critical essay together in class and I annotate the essay with student input. I also provide annotation guidelines for students to practice with reading at home. Guided responses and discussion are also major parts of my classes, with different levels of scaffolding built into lessons depending on the level of the course. With ENGL 1050 and 1100, questions will be distributed to coincide with students' reading, before the class in which we will discuss that reading. Thus, students can read the assigned readings with discussion questions in mind and can formulate answers to the questions before getting into class. In all classes that I teach, students' responses to the readings and questions posted on the online learning environment before class are incorporated into discussion questions for the day. In ENGL 3300, students are advanced enough that discussion questions do not necessarily need to be set ahead of time and discussion can proceed more organically.
I am also a great believer in student choice and enabling students to practice skills that are useful and interesting for them, and in helping students to frame the lessons from my courses in a way that is relevant for them and their fields. Many of my assessments are designed with this principle in mind. My ENGL 1050 course is completely focused on students' majors and career paths: in their Personal Narrative assignment, they tell the story of how they chose their major or how they knew what they wanted as a career; they research and report on a controversy, debate, or problem in their field for their Research Paper Assignment; in their Persuasive Essay assignment, they then take a stance on that issue and argue for that stance; and finally, they produce a document that they will be expected to produce in their future work for their Unfamiliar Genre assignment. In one version of my ENGL 1100 course, students had to complete two of three options for minor papers: a Close Reading paper, focused on close analysis of a literary text; a Creative Response paper, responding to a poem or short story in a creative way with a reflective and analytical portion; or a Critical Theory paper, analyzing a piece of literature through the lens of a critical theory such as feminist theory, deconstruction, or New Historicism. Thus students can choose whether they would like to follow a more creative or critical route through the Literary Interpretation course. In ENGL 3300, I use the English Studies model (a model that explores the interactions between the various subfields of English) for the course's final assessment: students can choose whether they want to complete a critical analysis, creative, digital humanities, or pedagogical project for their final. Thus, even if a student is a creative writing or English Education major, or if they are a literature major but are really more interested in modern literature than medieval or Renaissance literature, they can design a final project that plays to their strengths and is more relevant to them than a mandated seminar paper on a medieval topic, for example. If they are a literature major intending to go on to grad school, then they can of course choose a seminar paper for their final paper and practice the skills and strategies necessary for that project.
In all of my courses, I also strive to help my students develop an appreciation and enjoyment of reading and writing. In ENGL 1050, we do freewriting exercises at the beginning of each class, and I try to include a wide variety of questions on diverse topics to increase the chance that a student will encounter a prompt that interests them. This is another reason I focus ENGL 1050 around the students' choices of major, in hopes that they will enjoy writing the required papers. In ENGL 1100 and 3300, I often open discussion of short stories and poems by asking students about their opinions and personal reactions to the pieces, rather than jumping right in to critical interpretation. I also try to link themes and content in literature from past eras with current trends or modern iterations: pointing out that the stereotypical lovesick hero, for example, stretches all the way back to medieval romance, or watching excerpts of several of the recent Beowulf film adaptations. While my main goal in teaching English is to equip students, no matter their majors or career aspirations, with usable, transferable skills such as creative problem solving, critical thinking, writing skills, and analysis and synthesis, I also hope that each of my students leaves with at least a slightly greater love for literature than that with which they entered my course.