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English 4800, Fall 2021

Teaching Literature in the Secondary Schools

In an effort to prepare future secondary English teachers for the students and classrooms of the 2020's and beyond, this section of English 4800 will focus on a justice, inquiry, and action approach to English teaching.  We will develop understanding of various traditional approaches, the Common Core Standards, changing student populations, and past reform movements in the the teaching of literature including reader response, digital literacy, critical pedagogy, and cultural studies.

(In this course the term "critical inquiry" is in the tradition of "critical theory," not the more abstracted, decontextualized, and superficial approach of "critical thinking skills." Likewise, the term "inquiry" is richer than the simpler, but also of value, expression "questioning strategies.")

After the first part of the semester directed by the instructor, students will take significant responsiblity for course, choosing the reading, creating assignments and activities, and assessing learning as we explore  approaches to developing meaningful curriculum and instruction in contemporary secondary schools. This approach represents an experiment in Frierian teacher-student, student-teacher education.

In the era of post-pandemic, warming earth, increased violence and polarization around issues of race and inequality as well as neo-liberal educational reform, standardized testing, and the corporatization of curriculum, future teachers need to think critically about established curriculum regimes and consider how to develop the freedom they need to prepare their students as global citizens in an unfinished democracy.

Justice, Inquiry & Action

The starting point for teaching literature is engaging with issues of justice, fairness, kindness and human decency in the world and in the lives of adolescents via relevant and meaningful thematic curriculum. In dialogue with student questions and interest, English language arts teachers should be able to bring together a wide range of cultural materials, including traditional works, multicultural and young adult literature, visual and media texts including film, and cultural and informational texts, and address what texts mean, as well as how they mean, in historical, cultural, political and social contexts.

Thematic teaching facilitates teaching that addresses different abilities, learning styles, and backgrounds. English as a second language students now consitute 9% of the school population in the United States, and their numbers continue to increase. This class will provide opportunities to think about how to develop curriculum that will foster the engagement and success of all students.

By focusing on difficult, relevant, and potentially controversial possible areas for critical inquiry and social justice teaching during the student-led portion of the course, future teachers will gain understanding of approaches, strategies, curriculum, and issues involved in teaching literature at the secondary level, see Course Goals. (You may also want to review the WMU teacher education Mission.)

Student groups will select topics addressing current and controversial areas to inquire into such as:

    literature and climate change;
    literature and undocumented students and workers, immigration, border walls;
    literature and White nationalism / neo-nazism;
    literature, policing/the criminal justice system, and Black Lives Matter;
    literature and pandemic;
    literature and economic inequality;
    literature and social protest;
    literature and technology/on-line communication;
    literature and healthcare as a human right;
    literature and educational opportunity, equality, and affordability;
    literature and terrorism;
    literature and representation of Islam, and of Arabs;
    literature and refugees;
    literature and reproductive freedom;
    literature and hunger/famine;
    literature and transgender experience and rights;
    literature and threats to information, government secrecy, Internet freedom;
    literature and elections;
    literature and democracy.

Expect to spend an additional twenty dollars on books, packets, and reading materials for each of the student-led units -- this reading will be announced throughout the course.

New Literacies and New Technologies

Rapid evolution in information technology offers many avenues and resources for critical inquiry extending and reshaping the teaching of English. During the COVID pandemic teachers and students enhanced skills to work and comunicate on line. So many traditional texts, indeed the inherited cultural archive, is available in digital format on-line. New genres of informational and visual texts, and an array of  resources and tools exceeding traditional textbooks are now available yet require thoughtful integration into learning.

The WMU English Department has, perhaps, the most advanced language arts teacher preparation classrooms in the world. Rather than training teachers to adopt cook book software or corporate "classroom management" packages, these labs foster teacher designed instruction, critical thinking about technology and curriculum, teacher and student publication, free, open-source, or low cost resources, and strategies for bringing the vast resources and communicative possibilities of the Internet to all students.

Our class will be organized by this on-line syllabus that also serves as an electronic, hyperlinked, textbook.We will use on-line threaded discussion, publish student work on a collaborative wiki, engage in virtual school discussions, and students will design technology enhanced teaching and use of the laptop classroom into learning in a variety of ways.  I recommend students develop their own teaching website, that can serve as both a portfolio of work and a real-world working site for future teaching.

Professional Involvement

Future English teachers should join NCTE, MCTE, and/or MRA and read regularly the English Journal or Voices from the Middle. The English Companion Ning is a remarkable resource with over 10,000 members -- join and draw on this resource throughout the semester. WMU has an NCTE Student affiliate; become an active member.

An important assignment in the class is to attend a professional teacher conference, and report on that to the rest of the class. This Fall there are two outstanding fully online choices: 1) Michigan Council of the Teachers of English (MCTE) Saturday, October 16 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Registration for students (before Sept 30) only $30! And/or, 2) one or more days at the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference Thursday to Sunday, November 18-21. ($112 - if you register by Nov 1).

I recommend gay and straight future teachers join GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Teachers need to be informed about the world.  The future teachers in this class are expected to read regularly the New York Times and other sources. WMU provides a free NYT subscription. The Guardian is also a good news source, and can also be accessed for free.

Official information about the Michigan Teacher Certification test is available on the MTTC website.

Course Success

Since the class is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing any classes will affect your learning. Since we are meeting once-a-week in a long seminar format, missing 2 seminars may lower your grade and missing 3 may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning -- and consider your own philosophy!

Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below. At the hour scheduled for the final exam students will turn in a take home exam, discuss the course, and attend an intern teaching panel comprised of graduates of the class recently engaged in intern / early career teaching and job searching.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

This course will also follow WMU COVID-19 Vacine Policy. WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being. If at any point in the semester if you feel stress, English 4800 does offer free on-line therapy from Eliza!

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are before and after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.



Beach, Thein, & Webb. Teaching to Exceed, Third Edition. (In manuscript form, forthcoming from Routledge, 2022).

Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Readers (Scholastic, 2007)

Brass, Jory and Allen Webb. Reclaiming English Language Arts Methods Courses: Critical Issues and Challenges for Teacher Educators in Top-Down Times (Routledge, 2015) (Do not buy this book - it is available for free in electronic form through the WMU library!)

Additional books, packets, and web sites as components in research and group learning (up to $20 per group).

Recommended Optional Texts

Major Assignments

Attend an English Teacher Conference

Justice, Inquiry, & Action Unit Plan (15%) Due: 10/11

Student-Led Units (35% your own unit (includes self-evaluation) & 35% participation in other units)

Final Exam (15%) Due: 12/13

Electronic Syllabus

Sep 13: Introductions & Curriculum Approaches

Before Class Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 1 (Provided in manuscript form). Come to class with at least 2 pages responding to Activity 1 & 2.

In class: Read carefully the Joyce Davidson Case Study making a list of the strengths and weaknesses of Joyce's instruction.

Sep 20: Planning Justice, Inquiry, and Action Teaching

Be sure that you have:

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus, including all assignments, and, especially, expectations for the student-led unit. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2.  Joined our class phone message system, Remind. From your phone text "6ahe8h" to this number "81010".

3. Joined NCTE and subscribed to the English Journal.

4. Put the the Fall English teacher conferences on your calendar: 1) Michigan Council of the Teachers of English (MCTE) Saturday, October 16; 2) the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) Conference November 18-21.

5. Read Teaching to Exceed, Chapters 2 & 3 (sent to you as an email attachment) & write some notes on Activity 1 (Chapter 2), Activity 1 & 3 (Chapter 3).

6. Read and study the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), especially the Introduction, standards for Grades 6-12, Reading Literature and Informational Text, and Text Complexity sections.

7. In class you were assigned to one topic for Chapter 3, Activity 2.  Really dig into it, put together notes, perhaps a couple Google slides - you will be part of a jigsaw activity on that topic.

Sep 27: Ideas, Resources, and Discussion Leading

1. Read three or more articles from back issues of the English Journal that interest you -- try to connect to the Unit plan you are developing or to the topic for the unit you will lead. You should subscribe to the English Journal (only $12.50 for students!) and you can do so from its home website and view a sample issue. NCTE members can read back issues of the English Journal at the NCTE website on-line using their membership number as a password. Back issues are also in the Sangren Library under the call number PE1.E5. (Between Waldo (all issues before 1980) and Sangren (issues after 1980) we have back issues to 1912 when the English Journal began publication--fascinating reading in the history of secondary English teaching!) You can conduct an ERIC search (via our library database access) for articles on specific topics, for example for the unit you will be leading, by setting "English Journal" as the publication title "PUB" for one of the search terms and your topic (and variations on it) for the other search term.

2. Find three or more secondary English lesson plans available on the web that you consider to be thoughtful and well-crafted -- again, try to connect to your topic for your unit plan and/or the unit you will lead. There are many sources for Language Arts lesson plans on the web. Try Read/Write/Think, Outta Ray's Head, Web English Teacher, New York Times Lesson Plan Archive, Lesson Plans Page, ERIC, NCTE's Notes Plus (subscribers only), Lesson Planz.com, and, of course, Google!

3. Drawing on at least three on-line lesson plans and three English Journal articles, develop an annotated list of "Teaching Ideas" with at a few sentences descriping each article and lesson.

4. Read about leading discussion and other speaking activities - reading from Chapter 5 of Teaching to Exceed.

5. Examine Justice, Inquiry, and Action Unit Plan and brainstorm ideas.

Oct 4: Justice, Inquiry, and Action Teaching

1. Read: Teaching To Exceed Chapter 4.

2. Read/Review: Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.

Oct 11 Presentation of Justice, Inquiry, Action Unit Plan & Independent Reading

1. Read: The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell.


2. Prepare Google Slide presentation of your Unit Plan. Email URL to Allen by Friday, Oct 8

Oct 16 MCTE Conference (online)

Oct 20-22 FALL BREAK

Student-Led Units

Oct 18

Oct 25

Group 1 Institutional Oppression

Nov 1

Nov 8

Group 2 Technology & Online Communication

Nov 15

Nov 18-21 NCTE Conference

Nov 22

Group 3

Nov 29

Dec 6

Group 4

Dec 13-16 Finals Week

Dec 13, 7:15 pm Final Exam & Intern / New Teacher Panel

Due: Take Home Final Exam

Intern / New Teacher Panel

At the time set for our final exam, a panel of English 4800 graduates will speak on their experiences with intern teaching, first year teaching, and the job search. Does 4800 work in the 'real world'? Read on-line: Tips for Intern Teaching and Letter to First-Year Teacher.

Examine Other On-line Secondary English Methods Courses