English 4800, Fall 2023

Teaching Literature in the Secondary Schools

In an effort to prepare future secondary English teachers for the students and classrooms of the 21st Century, this section of English 4800 will focus on a justice, inquiry, and action approach. In so doing we will address the Common Core Standards, changing student populations, and 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 critical inquiry approaches to developing meaningful curriculum and instruction in contemporary secondary schools. This approach represents an experiment in Frierian teacher-student, student-teacher education.

In an era of anti-democratic governmentality, neo-liberal educational reform, standardized testing, the corporatization of curriculum, and attacks on "critical race theory" and teacher freedom, 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, indeed endangered, democracy threatened by demogoguery, inequality, and global warming.

Justice, Inquiry, and Action

The starting point for a critical inquiry, social justice approach to teaching literature is engaging with critical issues 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.

In English 4800 teachers are considered to be transformative intellectuals, producers rather than transmitters of knowledge. More than simply being a reflective pracitioner who can rethink teaching practices in order to improve them, this course also aims to prepare you to be a critical practitioner, a teacher who leads inquiry into social, cultural, and ideological issues, and finds ways to support students acting upon what they learn.

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 focus on developing curriculum that will foster the engagement and success of all students.

By examining relevant, challenging, and potentially controversial topics for justice, inquiry, and action 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 economic inequality;
    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 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. The inherited cultural archive is now available in digital format on-line. Complementary resources and tools that far exceed what is in textbooks are now available on the Internet and new genres of informational and visual texts are emerging. Artificial intelligence is emerging with programs like ChatGBT revolutionizing writing and the teaching of writing.   

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. Students will likely create websites to support group teaching, work online, engage in virtual school discussions, and students will design technology enhanced teaching in the context of a laptop classroom into learning.

Professional Involvement

Future English teachers should join NCTE, MCTE, and/or MRA and read regularly the English Journal or Voices from the Middle. 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 possibilities include the MCTE Fall Conference in Lansing Friday October 13 and the NCTE National Conference in Columbus, OH, November 16 - 19. If finances present a challenge, seek support and be creative, for example, the gofundme approach.

Especially in this era of increasing attacks on glbt students and teaching I recommend gay and straight future teachers join GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Teachers need to be informed about the world.  Students 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. Missing more 3 classes may lower your grade and missing 5 classes 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.

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 after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.









Beach, Webb, Boyd, & Thein. Teaching to Exceed, Third Edition (Paper copy, if possible.) (Routledge, 2022).

Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Readers (Scholastic, 2007) Paper best, but also available online.

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

Class Participation - An outstanding job with reading and homework during teacher-led portion of the course! (20%)

Attend a Professional Teacher Conference (10%)

Discussion Analysis (10%) Due: 10/2

Student-Led Units (30% your own unit (includes self-evaluation) & 20% participation in other units)

Final Exam (10%)

Electronic Syllabus

Aug 30: Introductions

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

Sep 6: Introduction to Justice, Inquiry, & Action Teaching  

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.  Join our class phone message system, Remind. If you have a smartphone go to this page in your web browser and follow instructions: rmd.at/aaa4d7. If you don't have a smart phone text "@aaa4d7" to this number "81010". If you don't have a cell phone go to rmd.at/aaa4d7 and sign up for email notification.

3. Join NCTE and subscribe to the English Journal.

4. Sign up and put on your calendar the MCTE Fall Conference in Lansing Friday, 7:30-3:30, October 13 and/or the NCTE National Conference in Columbus, OH, November 16 to 19.

5. Read: Carefully read Chapter 1 of Teaching to Exceed and bring at least 1-2 pages of writing responding first to Activity 1 (p. 12), and then at least 1-2 pages responding to Activity 2 (p. 18).

Sep 11: Planning and Expectations 

1. Read: Teaching to Exceed Chapter 2 then write at least 2-3 pages responding to Activity 1 (p. 37). Email to Jessica Molloy

Sep 13: Contexts, Standards, and Teacher Freedom

1. Review the Common Core State Standards, especially the Introduction, standards for Grades 6-12, Reading Literature and Informational Text, and Text Complexity sections.

2. Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 3.

3. Write: A couple of pages responding to Activity 1 (p. 45).

4. Write: Select an example from both Activity 2 (p. 48) and Activity 3 (p. 54) and write a couple of paragraphs about each one. Email to Jessica Molloy

Sep 18: Teaching Literature

1. Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 4.

2. Choose 3 ideas from Chapter 4 that you like and/or that you have questions about, and write a couple of paragraphs or more about each. Email to Jessica Molloy

3 In Class: Read "The World is Too Much With Us" by William Wordsworth (1807).

Sep 20: English Journal, Online Lesson Plans, & Student-led Unit Planning

1. Carefully read three or more articles from back issues of the English Journal that connect to your topic for the unit you will lead. Take notes you can share in class.

You can subscribe to the English Journal (member price $25). NCTE members can read back issues of the English Journal at the NCTE website on-line using their membership number as a password. To find articles connected to the unit you are going to lead  will want to conduct an ERIC search (via our library database access).

For articles on specific topics, for example for the unit you will be leading, first set "English Journal" as the "SO Journal Title" Field. (Use quotation marks around "English Journal" - even with quotation marks on "English Journal" you may still get journals like "Arab World English Journal," which you can ignore. Look out: without the quotation marks many different journals will come up.) Second, for another Field use descriptive terms for your topic (try different key word variations relevant to the topic). (You will get the most articles if for your topic you use the field "TX All Text" which searches the full text of articles, not just titles or descriptors. Title and descriptor searches can be good if you are getting too many articles).

2. Find three or more secondary English lesson plans available on the web that you consider to be thoughtful and well-crafted and that connect to your topic for the unit you will lead. Take notes you can share in class.

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 (put "lesson plan" into the search along with your topic descriptor terms)!

Sep 25: Leading Discussion

1: Read: "Teaching Toward Great Conversations" by Randy Bomer and make a list of 10 things a teacher can do to improve conversations and discussions.

2: Study: Creating Discussion Questions, as well as A System for Analyzing Discussion. After class meeting, observe a discussion and write a discussion analysis due: 10/2.

Sep 27: More Dimensions

1: Read: An additional chapter from Teaching to Exceed depending on the group you are in. Plan with your group to present this chapter to the class.

Oct 2: More Dimensions, Con't

1. Continue group presentations from Teaching to Exceed.

2. Discussion Analysis Due

Oct 4: Independent Reading

1. Read The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell.

2. Write a list of very specific strategies Atwell uses to make the reading workshops successful.


Student-Led Units

Oct 9

Oct 11

Oct 13  MCTE Conference, 7:30-3:30 Lansing

Oct 16

Oct 18-20 Fall Break

Oct 23

Group 1

Oct 25

Oct 30

Nov 1

Nov 6

Group 2

Nov 8

Nov 13

Nov 15

Nov 16-19 NCTE Conference, Columbus OH

Nov 20


Group 3

Nov 27

Nov 29

Dec 4

Dec 6

Group 4

Dec 11-15 Finals Week

Dec 13 Wed 2:45-4:45  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