The “Whys” Behind the New Adolescent Lit Syllabus

This is the letter I’m posting to students in Adolescent Literature to explain the philosophy of the course:

Most English teachers say their number one goal is to help their students become better readers, but most of our classroom practices don’t reflect that goal. (Think about what you do in your real life as a reader, and think about what school asks students to do. Have you ever filled out a worksheet after reading a book? Do you give yourself quizzes after you read? Have you ever dressed up as a character or written a letter in the voice of a character from the story? I didn’t think so!)

This course is designed to introduce you to classroom practices that do support that goal. We are going to investigate the conditions of an engaged literate life for ourselves, and we’re going to figure out how to create those conditions in our classrooms and help guide our students to becoming engaged, even passionate readers.

Readers need models to show them how to lead a literate life. They need time to read. They need freedom to choose books they love. They need access to books that interest them. They need access to books that challenge them. They need to talk about the books they read and share the books they love with others. They need support. They need encouragement. They need to have a plan for what they want to read next. These are the things that real readers do. And these are the things that we’re going to be doing in this class.

We’ll be doing this work in the context of 21st-century learning practices. It’s possible to have a strong literate life that’s very low-tech, but there are also so many tools available online that support and encourage our literacies. My own literate life is so deeply intertwined with my life online that I can’t really separate the two anymore. The web is how I find out about books I want to read, it’s how I connect with other readers like me, how I connect to writers and teachers and thinkers who influence my life as a reader. It’s where I write about my reading and share that writing with others. It’s where I read what other people have to say about their reading. It’s where I buy books, and, increasingly, where I read books. And I suspect that’s the case for most of us.

My philosophy in this class has been highly influenced by the reading I’ve done on new literacies, digital literacies, and 21st-century learning. In that literature, you find an emphasis on inquiry, collaboration, community, creativity, synthesis. Students are expected to create knowledge, not just consume it, and they are supposed to be able to use the tools of web 2.0 to do that. That means not just reading the web, but also writing it—-learning from the experts you have access to online and sharing your own learning with others. You will be expected to bring Web 2.0 skills and technologies into your classroom—-skills you may or may not have right now.

So in this class, we’re taking the learning outside the walls of the traditional classroom. We’re going to access expert knowledge in the field not through the conventional ways of learning—-reading textbooks—-but through accessing experts themselves in the places where the experts share and build their knowledge—-blogs, social networking sites like Twitter, and sites like Goodreads. We’ll be consuming knowledge online but also creating and sharing knowledge ourselves. We will learn to use tools like RSS feeds, bookmarking sites, and blogs to curate our knowledge. All of our work for this class will be public and shared, which means we will be creating a digital footprint that becomes part of our professional identity. All of these tools are things you will be able to use in your own classrooms to help your students create and grow rich, passionate literate lives.

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