Almost never in my teaching career have I taught the same material in a course twice. However, last Spring, my English 100 course was so successful that after much deliberation, I decided that for once I was going to teach the same material in this course for a second term. I’m interested to see how a whole new class of students will engage with the assignments and text that so fully engaged students in the Spring ad led to some of the richest discussions I’ve ever experienced in one of my Children’s Literature Courses.
This is an introductory course in Children’s Literature. We look at a variety of sub-genres within the field, engage theory, and examine the trajectory of the development of Children’s Literature over time. I used three texts/thinkers to provide a theoretical framework for the course this term: Steven Mintz’s Hucks Raft: A History of American Childhood, Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk “Love, No Matter What,” based on his book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Together these texts establish a framework that will challenge students to re-think a variety of stereotypes and assumptions surrounding Children’s Literature, including that of the innocent, carefree childhood.
Students will read a range of texts that will span a wide range of time to help them see the development of Children’s Literature over time and identify significant changes, complete a variety of written assignments that will range from summary to textual analysis, create a visual image to test their understanding of illustration theory, specifically Molly Bang’s Ten Principles as presented in her book Picture This!, and give a presentation on a children’s TV show or film released since 1970 that they consider significant to the study of Children’s Literature.
Together we will read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum), Six by Seuss (Dr. Seuss), Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary), Coming on Home Soon (Jacqueline Woodson), The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick), We Are in a Book (Mo Williams), Out of My Mind (Sharon Draper), and Babymouse: Mad Scientist (Jennifer Holm).
The “experiment” of teaching the same set of texts twice was interesting from a pedagogical standpoint. The reactions to the texts this term varied, in some cases quite radically, from the reactions in Spring term. Henry Huggins, which had been a favorite of some of my students in Spring term, was pretty universally loathed in this class. Even some of my best students confessed to not being able to sustain interest long enough to finish reading the book in their final course reflections. We Are in a Book and Babymouse: Mad Scientist were much more amicably received in this class, each fostering a fascinating, in-depth discussion. I especially enjoyed how much this class engaged with learning to uncover the “layers of literacy” needed to successfully navigate a graphic novel in our discussion of Babymouse.
The quality of student work in this course was impressive overall. I received some of the strongest samples of written assignments I’ve seen in Literature courses at Lane from these students. In several cases, what students had written about a specific book in response to an assignment transformed the way I read and thought about that text. For example, students in this class convinced me that the automaton in Hugo Cabret was actually a developed character that changed over the course of the novel.
I was also especially impressed with the quality of presentations given by this class. Students in this iteration of the course seemed to really grasp the “point” of this assignment, as well as why these presentations were important to the course and what they added to the class’s larger understanding of children’s lit. I really enjoyed how deeply many students engaged with theory during their research process and how well this theory was incorporated into their presentations. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ended up becoming one of our shared theory texts in the course because so many students used it effectively in their presentations. We also had some great discussions about the idea of “a village to raise a child” and imagination that were fostered by the information shared in presentations.
Participation in the in-class discussions was a weak point in this class. While the discussions were rich and valuable, only about half of the class participated in these discussions on a regular basis. While it was clear to me from the end of term reflection that the students who didn’t get or choose to speak in these discussions still learned a lot from them, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether it was the classroom environment I framed that prevented at least some of these students from participating. This lack of participation also resulted in awkward lags in some of our discussions and sometimes left those who did regularly participate worrying that they were saying too much and silencing others. This feature of in-class discussions is often hard to mediate and I’m not sure what I could have done differently this term, but I’m thinking that when I teach the course again in the Spring I need to find a way to open up a meaningful conversation about the importance of participation in these discussions early in the term so I can work together with the class to set up reasonable expectations for participation for everyone.
Using the same texts as I did in Spring term, while an interesting pedagogical experiment, I think was also a weak point in this class. It was hard for me to be as engaged and enthusiastic about texts that I’d just taught. It was also hard for me to not frame my expectations for what might be said or discussed in conversations about specific books by what students had talked about in regards to that book last term. Sometimes this made it difficult for me to fully engage in what was being said in class because I was lost in thought wondering why the discussion of the same text in this class was so different than it had been last term. So it’s unlikely that I will try to repeat this experiment, at least anytime soon.
In the large picture, I think this class was a success. Students seemed to learn a lot in the course and see value in what they’d learned. Based on their final reflections, they were also able to articulate what they’d learned and clearly tie their learning to specific course goals as well as to Lane’s Core Learning Outcomes. And what else could a teacher ask for?