Eng 6002: Week of March 4th–Close Reading

I think that all of the reading I have done in school is close reading. This presents a problem when I am trying to get through a lot of material quickly. As I have progressed through education, I have acquired the knowledge that I need to choose what I read closely and what gets a broader look. However, this week has shown me that I have other discomforts with close reading–that is, how do I teach it. As my concentration is composition and rhetoric, I am familiar with close reading in regards to rhetorical artifacts, and I would like to preform close readings on composition texts that my students produce, but I am not yet able to do so.

I also struggle with deconstruction as a student and a teacher. I feel that I am not skilled enough to teach something that I find complicated. Lois Tyson argues that teaching deconstruction allows us to examine “the seams–the ways in which language fails to smooth over contradictions and gaps in logic–in order to understand the ways in which the ideologies from which the text is constructed fall short of their projects” (230). Thinking of deconstruction in this way really helps me see how I can, and have, implemented deconstruction in my classroom.

I now realize that I have taught deconstruction because I have a very loose definition of what a text is or can be. If we look to our immediate environment and the world our students live in, we can see many things to deconstruct. In my high school classes, I have had students deconstruct their own work, magazine articles, and ad campaigns. I could see myself extending this way of deconstruction to internet articles, message boards, or collaborative online communication. The exercises Tyson includes in her chapter on deconstruction could be easily applied to not literary texts. I am intrigued by the exercise of looking at a sentence (by President Reagan, which I find to be inapplicable) and changing the word of emphasis to create different meanings. I could see students doing this when deconstructing their own work, or the work of a classmate during a peer review exercise. Deconstruction allows me to teach students how to critique their language, and that of the literature they read, in order to either shape of decipher the intention of the text.

To switch topics a bit–Earlier this evening, I was talking with classmates about literature classes we took during undergraduate study and how many of us did not find our experiences satisfying. After I got home, I thought back to Showalter’s chapter on Poetry, and realized that I may not have enjoyed my poetic analysis course as much as I could have because the instruction focused on poetic scansion, and then somehow moved into writing poetry of our own without discussing what makes a poem work. Showalter’s suggestions depict what I would think of as a fulfilling poetry class. I especially like the suggestion of working with what students already know, and this is something that I have done in my own classrooms when teaching multiple types of texts. I have found that modern songs work well when teaching poetry, and that movies or television programs work well when trying to talk about drama in a high school English classroom. Now that technology is more advanced than when I was in high school, I have been able to utilize YouTube or Vimeo to show students other student’s adaptations of dramatic texts. I have found that this approach not only relates the students to the concepts, but also creates a sense of community with other students around the world.

Recreating texts using video is not a new fad, but technology has allowed it to be disseminated to the wider world and utilized to show students multiple adaptations of one text. I was in high school many years ago (more than 15!), and I did a video with a group of peers in AP English. We were assigned Antigone, and somehow we were able to do an adaptation of the Blair Witch Project, as well as an adaptation of an MTV show. It is embarrassing to think about now, since I played several strange characters including a broach saleswoman and an ancient Greek rapper named Notorious Beta Iota Gamma, but I do remember that it was one of the more enjoyable final projects that I have done in my life. I think that deconstruction would have worked in teaching Antigone before we enacted it, but we did not do that in class. If we had, we may have better understood the intent of the words we read, and would have been better at translating this intent into the text we created in response.


One thought on “Eng 6002: Week of March 4th–Close Reading

  1. Dear Deanna,

    Like you, I also think poetry is a difficult subject to both teach and learn. In my undergraduate poetry classes, I had trouble connecting to the material and recall observing other students’ faces when professors lectured to see if they felt as alienated as I did. Later in grad school, when I read a good deal of postcolonial and African American poetry, it began to spark my interest and appreciate for poetry’s aesthetic appeal. As you suggest, working with the familiar, with what students already know, helps to build bridges between historical texts and contemporary issues. In addition to making poetry familiar, I also think group activities fosters a sense of a shared experience of an aesthetic object. I very desperately wanted to know what others were thinking and feeling as student when I read poetry. I think that’s a natural desire students feel when confronted with a highly formalized art whose meanings depend on human experience/readings.


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