Sequence of Instruction, Text Set, Unit, [your word here]

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?

J. Degan



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4 responses to “Sequence of Instruction, Text Set, Unit, [your word here]

  1. sunyprof

    Jerry, yes, I am troubling the language that has prevailed in methods classes for so long–so be it!

    Your ideas for the unit are very interesting–not exactly sure where you are planning to go with the ? “How do we make meaning?” I would encourage you to focus this question a bit more concretely for high school students. Are you asking the ? “What is story?” You reference narrative-making in your post.

    I’m not sure what this passage means in relationship to your driving question:

    “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)”

    I’m also not sure what you mean by BIASED’s not being biased? Maybe I just need to get some sleep and all will be clear in the morning. KES

  2. jmdegan

    Dr. Stearns- I was being ironic. Sarcastic. I’m like that once in a while (about BIASED and the naming). Here’s an example of how this kind of discourse is dehumanizing: it fails to convey deeply nuanced cues that carry a significant part of meaning.

    I would clarify that I intend to question how we make meaning from the texts we encounter. For example, In AS I LAY DYING, Faulkner gives us a number of (often conflicting) versions of the action in the novel. What I would ask students to do is determine how they make meanings from these proliferating texts (if we think of each character as creating a text within the text of the novel). How do we render texts meaningful?

    I thought that I summed up reader-response theory nicely, and that the connection between the use of that theory and the overall purpose of my unit was fairly obvious. Let me try it another way. I want students to become more critical consumers of information- to develop metacognative strategies for accessing information and negotiating the competing claims for authenticity (between texts- like between a quack like Sean Hannity and a quack like Al Franken). If we want students to be sophisticated consumers as well as authors of their own content (i.e.- able to create/synthesize meanings from multiple texts), then they need to be aware of how these processes work.

    Does that make more sense?

    J. Degan

  3. sunyprof

    Jerry, You say, “I want students to become more critical consumers of information- to develop metacognitive strategies for accessing information and negotiating the competing claims for authenticity.”

    This is a worthy goal for ALL the work we do on texts or any kind in any ELA classroom.

    I’m not seeing how this goal–a template for an education rather than a “unit” (ouch!) and essentially what we call CRITICAL LITERACY, is defined enough to support a short sequence of instruction.

    I also wonder about your using a text as central (Faulkner) that you have already become very familiar with, even taught. One of my own goals for this unit is that teachers work with new texts that they “find” as a result of setting up the question first.

    You mention class and identity as interests. We can talk more about how you might work with those topics in the larger framework of a critical literacy.

    Sorry I didn’t get the sarcasm. As I said, I was pretty tired when I was reading the blog last night!
    Prof. Yagelski’s latest comment is worth all of our attention. I’m going to put it up as a post I think. KES

  4. allison

    For the record, I LOVE Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying! Nice choice.

    I think your idea of examining bias is a great one. Be sure to examine such news sources as MSNBC and CNN as well. The 24-hour news networks certainly have a problem avoiding commentary when reporting the news. The reason for this is that there is usually not enough coverage to fill 24 hours. CNN usually places above the other two in actual reporting, because they have the most international bureaus. Let me know if you need some resources involving news sources. I did a lot of this in my undergraduate communications courses at Newhouse. I’d be happy to look through my old coursework and suggest some resources!


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