Sorry, but I find it amusing that we are so troubled by the term “unit” that we need to invent new ways of describing what a unit does.
I’ve been refining and redefining my thoughts on what kind of essential questions we should be asking our students. Thinking about the place reader-response theory holds in our pedagogical discourse has led me to what I think is the first essential question we should ask of our students: How do we make meaning? Think about the ways in which the media has proliferated because of the internet. Blogs like this one present vast amounts of information, ideas are exchanged in real time, and the distance between consumers and producers of information are flattened. But how do we negotiate such prodigious quatnities of material? How do we separate truth from fiction, if those distinctions even apply? How do we create an authentic (and ethical) narrative out of the competing calls for our “attention,” which can include self-promotion, opinion, advertisement, propoganda, and misinformation presented as useful information?
This kind of media literacy is an essential skill for all students to be aware of, as they are increasingly consumers not only of information, but of attention. We create and define our own content but the texts we are exposed to, but that content is also defined by our exposure to texts (this is a major tenent of reader-response theory). This idea comes from my own problematic response to wading through rivers of useless content looking for websites to include in the webquest I am creating in ENG 506. It is also the approach I took when I taught Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to my freshman at Oneonta (although my understanding of how complex this issue is was not fully developed at that time). I am going to keep As I Lay Dying as my central text- it is a great example of how narratives need to be constructed using multiple perspectives and for asking students to critique their methods of narrative-making. I am also interested in bringing in texts that tease out the implications raised in the novel about class and identity. I’m also thinking about texts like Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as a way of discussing how we create valued readings that are not included in the text (it’s not an inspirational poem about individual expression). Maybe Welles’ Citizen Kane– what truth emerges from the divergent experiences of one man’s life? Any other suggestions? I’m thinking about including some examples of metafiction, but that might be a little to sophisticated. Also, media texts like Biased could be really useful (because it’s not biased- neither is the fair and balanced reporting of Fox News, or the State of the Union Address, or the opposition response). Obviously, this unit is geared to 11-12 grade students.
I think a unit like this is a good starting point for us to engage in an ongoing process of textual interrogation, which I think of as the ultimate goal of literacy education. Any thoughts?