English 6920, Fall 2023

Theory and Practice of Teaching English

This graduate seminar provides a review of the theory and practice of teaching English to a cohort of future secondary English teachers in the WMU MAT teacher certification program. The seminar will interact with the intern teaching placement and draw on the rich and diverse backgrounds the MAT graduate students bring to the course.  

The seminar will be informed by a justice, inquiry, and action approach to teaching secondary English. In so doing we will address the range of responsbilities of a secondary language arts teacher, including theory and best practive of teaching, literature, writing, language, and speaking. We will learn about reform movements in the the teaching of English including reader response, the process theory of composition, 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.")

The syllabus for this semester is provisional, experimental, and open to development as the semester progresses.

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 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. A major assignment will be to create a unit plan with a justice, inquiry, and action approach.

In English 6920 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. We will explore these skills in the real world context of the internships you are involved in.

Several areas of interest have already been identified in prior conversation, especially teaching in the era of artificial intelligence and tools like ChatGPT, and working with ELL students for whom English is a second language. Class time will be devoted to these topics and there will be assignments to develop creative and effective teaching in both areas.

Professional Involvement

Future English teachers should join NCTE, MCTE, and/or MRA and read regularly the English Journal or Voices from the Middle.

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 seminar is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing any seminars will impact your learning. Missing more two seminar meetings may lower your grade and missing more than three 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.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being.

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). .

Additional books, packets, and web sites based on topics that the seminar takes on.

Recommended Optional Texts

Major Assignments

Class Participation - An outstanding job with reading, homework, preparation, and leading class. Attending a Professional Teacher Conference is part of class participation. (35%)

AI Writing and Thinking Assignment, due 11/7 (10%)

Justice-Inquiry-Action Unit plan, due 11/16 (15%)

Leading Discussion (Self-Evaluation), due 11/28 (10%)

ELL Teaching I-Search Paper, due 11/21 (10%)

Final Project (20%)

Electronic Syllabus

Sep 5: Introductions

In class: Tips for Intern Teaching.

Sep 12: Introduction to Justice, Inquiry, and Action Teaching

1. 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/abkc72. If you don't have a smart phone text "@abkc72" to this number "81010". If you don't have a cell phone go to rmd.at/abkc72 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 and 2 of Teaching to Exceed and bring at least 1-2 pages of writing responding first to the Activity on page 12 (include your teacher preparation classes if relevant) and to the Activity on page 37.

Sep 19: 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.

Sep 26: Teaching Literature

1. Read: Teaching to Exceed, Chapter 4.

2. Write about a page responding to each of the three activities (pp. 72, 75, 83).

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

Oct 3 & 10: Workshop for Justice, Inquiry, and Action Unit Plan

1. Study the Justice-Inquiry-Action Unit plan

2. Select an anchor text, gather ideas for additional materials and assignments.

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

Oct 17: Present Justice, Inquiry and Action Unit Plan

1. Write up and turn in your unit plan.

2. Create a Google Slide presentation about the unit plan for the whole class.

Oct 24: Teaching Writing

1. Read The Process Theory of Composition

2. Read: Chapter 6

3. Write a couple of paragraphs responding to the Activity on page 115, and choose either the activity on page 118 or 120 and write a couple of paragraphs

4. Bring to class a student written assinment from your internship, name removed, and show how you would respond to and grade that assignment.

Oct 18-20 Fall Break

Oct 31: Creative Writing and Enacting

1. Read: Chapter 7

2. Write a brief summary of 3-4 creative writing assignments you would like to try, and write a brief summary of at least two drama activities you would like to try.

Nov 7: Teaching Writing with Artifical Intelligence Tools

1. Complete the AI Writing and Thinking Assignment.

Nov 14: Leading Discussion

1: Read: "Chapter 9" and make a list of 10 things a teacher can do to integrate speaking opportunities and 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: 11/28.

Nov 16-19 NCTE Conference, Columbus OH

Nov 21: Teaching Language and ELL Students

1. Read: Chapter 10.

2. Complete the ELL I-Search Paper.


Nov 28: Asessment

1. Read: Chapter 11

2. Write: A couple of pages responding to the Activities on pages 207 and 223.

3. Leading Discussion (Self-Evaluation) DUE

Dec 5 Prepare Final Project

1. Read: Chapter 12

2. Bring to class ideas and matrials for the Final Project

Dec 11-15 Finals Week

Dec 12 Final Projects Due

Letter to First-Year Teacher.