Thursday, October 20, 2011

You and us

Ah, pedagogy. I’ve changed the way I ask a standard question in class, for the better, I think.

Old version: What in the poem (or story, or text) makes you think that? What in the poem shows you that?

New version: What in the poem makes us think that? What in the poem shows us that?

The old version puts all the weight on the shoulders of one student and can be misheard as a challenge: where did you ever get that idea? The new version suggests that whatever the student has said makes sense, that other readers would think so too, and that evidence is indeed there in the text. Getting students to argue from the text is a more difficult proposition than you might imagine, so I’m always asking for evidence, even if it’s to support what appears to be obvious. Close, and closer, reading.

comments: 7

anonymous said...

When Obama was running for Office, it was "we." Now it's all "I." He need to go back to we, as in, we're all in this together.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., see these two pieces on Obama and pronouns:

Is it all about him? (The Economist)
The Power of Pronouns (New York Times)

Daughter Number Three said...

It's funny you should bring this up today, Michael. When I was writing the other day about Law & Order, I kept finding myself describing the episode in the first person plural ("we conveniently find out..." "we are left with the evil twin hypothesis").

As I was writing it, I wondered if it was the best way to say it, but it felt right to me.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, it sounds fine. It seems like an extension of the literary present tense, describing what anyone at any time sees.

Andy said...

As a tactical move to prompt participation in classroom discussion, perhaps the change works better. But it saddens me to think that a student, at the college level and with something as subjective as poetry, can't be asked to discuss their thoughts about a piece of literature without taking it as a challenge or attack. There also seems to be a subtle implication that a thought is only valid if it is shared by most or all of the class. In mathematics or science this may be true, but in a poetry class of X students, I would hope that there would be at least X different thoughts.

Michael Leddy said...

Notice what I said though: it can be heard as a challenge. I don’t believe that valid thoughts are those “shared by most or all of the class”: asking “What shows us that?” can prompt other students to notice things in the text that they hadn’t noticed. And there can be all kinds of things to say that find support in the text but cannot easily be reconciled. Not an exercise in groupthink, believe me.

anonymous said...

Thank you for the links; I'd not seen the articles. I'm somewhat relieved to find it's not just me.