Writing about Teaching Literature

"Writing" by Jeffrey James Pacres (CC BY-NC-ND)by Laura L. Runge

The MLA recently released its long-awaited report on Doctoral Study in Modern Languages and Literature. Among its recommendations, the report argues for greater support and value for teacher-training. Although not an early harbinger of change, the report gives a welcome endorsement to strategies that we have seen developing in doctoral programs around the country.Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral  Study in Modern Language and Literature I’ve taught a practicum in teaching literature at the University of South Florida since 2004. I’ve also written two teaching guides for Norton and a couple of articles on pedagogy. Whereas in the earlier days I felt something like of a lone voice in the wilderness among my colleagues in English, I’ve watched the scholarship on teaching transform to a diverse and robust field.

There are now many opportunities to share our scholarship on teaching and learning, and there is much to be learned from the variety of classroom experiences in higher education. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) encourages us to see the relationship between scholarship and teaching, rather than perceive these as mutually exclusive responsibilities (see Eileen Bender and Donald Gray). Furthermore, SoTL emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between teaching and learning. Sharing our teaching and learning stories can be a key component of success, and the international SoTL movement provides numerous resources and outlets to advance this conversation.

Since 2010, I have edited a pedagogy section for an online journal called ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830, and in that role I’ve had the opportunity to read many original essays on classroom teaching.

ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830

Based on the experience of seeing so many essays through peer-review, I’ve formulated a set of recommendations for writing about teaching literature that I’d like to offer.

1. Treat the pedagogical article like a scholarly article in the following ways:

  • Give it a title that focuses on key words.
  • Clarify your subject, purpose, and thesis in the introduction.
    • While your subject can be the classroom, your purpose is not the classroom. You may have designed your course to fill a certain need, but you write an article for a different, related need. Pedagogical articles are not simply transcriptions of events in the class. Purpose must be aligned with scholarship, and you should identify the gap that this article fills.
    • The thesis of a pedagogical article also is not a description of the subject. Your thesis should advance your purpose. If you want to write about using certain engagement strategies for teaching eighteenth-century travel narrative, for example, then you should not just describe those strategies but actually make the argument that they are effective in the classroom.
  • Engage current scholarship (on pedagogy as well as on the subject of the classroom; i.e. learning theory and travel narrative).
  • Use appropriate citations and documentation of research.
  • Write in clear, compelling, concise, and correct prose.

2. Understand that the pedagogical article differs from literary (or other humanistic) scholarship in the following ways:

  • Evidence from the classroom—there are many ways of providing evidence from the classroom and the author should be aware of the contingencies.
    • Pedagogical materials: work you have designed or adapted can be presented and analyzed (multimedia publication is possible in online formats).
    • Student work: in the form of testing results, writing, visual or graphic representation (authors always must provide permission from quoted students, and in some cases gain IRB approval from the institution).
    • Ethnography or qualitative research: the teacher’s or student’s narratives of the experience or student surveys (authors always must provide permission from quoted students, and in some cases gain IRB approval from the institution).
  • Practical application—most articles will have an element of praxis.
  • Supplemental materials—include visuals, games, syllabi, samples, websites, databases, classroom materials, etc.
  • Format—for pedagogy articles, it is possible to follow a social science or science model (title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, references), and it is usual to include shorter sections and subsections.
  • Opinion pieces based in thoughtful engagement of pedagogical experiences and research are often welcome.

3. Implement the following strategies for writing pedagogical articles well:

  • Identify a need or value for this particular experience, argument or opinion to be published.
  • Identify an audience that would benefit from the publication (and target it appropriately).
  • Identify the pedagogical context for subject of the article with as much detail as anonymity and applicability can sustain (type of institution, demographic of student population, level and type of course, etc.).
  • Survey and implement educational research as well as literary (or art history, etc) research. For those without background in educational theory, see Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki, Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 14th edition (Cengage, 2014), B. G. Davis, Tools for Teaching, 2nd edition (Jossey-Bass, 2009), and Kenneth Eble, The Craft of Teaching, 2nd edition (Jossey-Bass 1988). See also the many available resources on SoTL and this annotated bibliography on teaching literature.
  • Explain your objectives or goals for the particular class, exercise, etc., with reference to what options you did not choose and why.
  • Be aware of the implications of your claims on student/teacher audiences that differ in demographic from your own (e.g. race, class, religion, gender, age, etc.).

4. Consider the following venues for publishing scholarship on teaching literature:

As the landscape of higher education changes with greater emphasis on teaching and learning assessment, more of my colleagues are becoming interested in being part of the discussion of teaching. The fact that we have seen more venues for publishing scholarship on teaching literature is further evidence of the shift toward valuing teaching, a shift that this blog documents as well. If you are interested in publishing your scholarship on teaching literature, please consider the following journals and blogs:

Writing photo by Jeffery James Pacres (CC 2009)


Laura L. RungeLaura L. Runge is Professor of English at the University of South Florida, the author of Teaching with the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women 3rd ed. (Norton, 2007), and the editor (and pedagogy editor) for ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830. She also teaches a practicum on teaching literature for doctoral students, edits an annotated bibliography on teaching literature, and serves on the advisory board for Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. More info on her home page. Follow on Twitter at @laura_runge.


6 responses to “Writing about Teaching Literature

  1. Nice work, Laura. Do you feel that there are particular areas in SOTL that need particular research? Where do you feel the gaps are regarding our teaching?

  2. Reblogged this on Best Practices for Legal Education and commented:
    This may be helpful for those of us whose summer plans include scholarship on teaching and learning.
    ….. And speaking of the fruits of our labor, the blueberries in the farmers markets on the East Coast are really spectacularly delicious right now.
    What “fruit” scholarly or organic appeals to you this summer?

  3. Well, one should never post a blog and then go on vacation. I am sorry to have missed these comments. Thanks for the feedback and the reposting! David Mazella, you might know better the areas that need more particular research, and I welcome your ideas. I’ve been thinking about the role of “analytics” in higher education, and I’m wondering if that has more of future in SOTL. I’m not very keen on the idea, but number crunching seems to be the order of the day.

  4. Well, now I’m coming late to the thread, but I think the question of evaluating innovations is really crucial, but the variability of any practice from one class to the next, even when it’s the “same” content, can make evaluation difficult. So yes, analytics. On my side, I’ve been thinking about discipline specific pedagogies, and the very concrete practices and working concepts they entail. I think understanding these and being able to elaborate on them would help with the kinds of students I have. This is related to Meyer and Land’s notion of “threshold concepts,” the concepts that provide an irreplaceable point of entry to a particular disciplinary culture. E.g., what do we mean we say, “close reading,” etc. etc.?

  5. Great piece, Laura. As a CC professor/administrator, I appreciate the recommendation of TETYC, a journal that has historically featured about a 50/50 split between 2-year and 4-year college faculty authors because of its focus on the first two years of the gen ed curriculum.

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