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A Discussion Guide For Rethinking How You Teach Literature

Think about all the books you taught last year and the year before. With which book do you do your best work? With which book did you do your worst work? When you think of “your worst work” as a teacher, what makes it your worst work? How do you distinguish between good work from bad work?

Of all the books you have taught in the last several years, which book did students enjoy the least? Why did they enjoy this book the least? Would you also have disliked this book back when you were in high school? What can students gain from a book they do not like? Which books have your students struggled to take seriously? Is there a difference between not enjoying a book and not taking a book seriously? Is it possible to learn virtue from a book you dislike? Is it possible to learn virtue from a book you do not take seriously?

What makes high school students take a book seriously? What does it mean to “take a book seriously”? Can a student be quizzed and tested into taking a book seriously? Is it possible to ace a test on a book and still not take it seriously?

What are some good reasons for disliking a classic book? What are some bad reasons for disliking a classic book? Are there are any bad reasons for liking a classic book? Which reasons for liking a book do you most commonly appeal to when teaching a classic?

Imagine “the greatest literature teacher in the world” for just a moment. How is this teacher different than you? What does this teacher do that you can’t do? How is this teacher able to do these things? Is there anything this teacher does which you could do, but won’t?

Think back to the best experience you had with a book in high school—this book may be a classic, but not necessarily. What made this experience the best? Name a few books you read in high school and have read again since graduating high school. Why did you read these books again? Was your first experience with this book a good one or a bad one? If it was good, what made it good? Was there something about your first experience of the book that made you want to read it again?

Think back to the best experience you had with an old book in college. What made this experience the best? Recall the teacher who taught you this book. What sorts of things did this teacher say or do that you don’t do? Why do you not do these things?

What books that you read in high school did you very little good or no good at all? Could these books have done you good? If they could have done you good, why didn’t they?

What book that you read in high school did you the most good? Trace the good this book has done in your life. Did it immediately begin doing you good? Did its goodness lay dormant for quite some time before waking?

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