I came across a blog post tonight that articulated a very familiar concern that I hear from many new and seasoned English teachers. Essentially the concern was the following question: Are we incorporating multiliteracies at the risk of not focusing enough on things like literature and essay-writing.
Here was my response:
I read your post while taking a break from working on writing curriculum for an adult ed English course. I understand your passion for literature; it’s part of why I became an English teacher too. One of the things I learned quickly, however, was that my job as an English teacher was not to create a bunch of mini-mes (I’m tempted to put an apostrophe before the s for clarity but I can’t bring myself to do it).
I work in Ontario, and the Ontario curriculum clearly articulates that literature is only a portion of the secondary English curriculum. Additionally, our curriculum documents do not specify which texts we must teach. I don’t teach my students Hamlet (or any other work of literature for that matter). I teach my students skills, using Hamlet. (I do not need to teach them the entire play either, but that’s another story).
And yes, I take a multiliteracies approach to English as much as possible.
a. I don’t have any courses that are explicitly English literature courses.
b. When I look at the curriculum (and sure, partly my own agenda), I see the ultimate goal being teaching my students to be effective critical thinkers and communicators. They’re already communicating in a wide variety of media and they’re not always doing it critically or effectively. Rather than create an artificial and inauthentic environment in which they communication meaning, I think it’s more important that I acknowledge the myriad of ways in which students communicate (and consume texts) and find ways to help them do that more effectively.
I still have to review comma usage with my grade 12s. And no I don’t blame texting because correlation does not equal causation.
I still teach students how to write essays, but I don’t think that the essay is the best way for students to demonstrate their thinking.
When you add in new things you do have to take out some things, but we need to ask ourselves why we are clinging to the “other things” so firmly. Is it because it’s a specific curriculum expectation? Is it because all the students absolutely need it? Or does it say something about our own firmly established paradigmatic views about the way the English class should look based on our own positive experiences in high school English? (or a few too many viewings of Dead Poets Society)
It’s not about what we like. It’s about what our students need. And sometimes we confuse the two.