Differentiated Teaching of Literature (1931)

LaBrant, L. (1931). Differentiated teaching of literature. English Journal, 20(7), 548–556.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/803120

LaBrant discusses individualized literature instruction, drawing on her experiences at Oread Training School (University of Kansas), “a four-year high school with an enrollment of approximately one hundred pupils” (p. 548).

Quoting LaBrant:

The first principle which became evident in formulating plans for individualized instruction was that objectives must be framed in terms independent of specific literature content. (p. 549)

Individualized instruction…must provide for each pupil, rather than for three pupils, and must involve a range so great as to make formulation in terms of read materials an impossible task. It must also provide some definite basis for guidance unless we agree that teaching is unnecessary. The impossibility of teaching every skill and piece of information privately is also evident. Individualized instruction in groups is consequently somewhat paradoxical. It must in reality mean group instruction for all common elements dis-coverable, and private instruction and guidance beyond that….General objectives such as “knowledge of literature” and “standards of appreciation” were of little help. In the first place, individualized instruction means that not all children will know, now or ever, all of the literature we have been teaching; nor will all have equal standards of appreciation. This always has been true. Many children have sat through a class which has presumably studied Macbeth and have learned two things only: the name of the book, and the story as told by the teacher and other pupils. They might better have read Lamb’s Tales. (p. 550)

If we are really teaching Charles (intelligence quotient ninety) to read to his best advantage, we must stop trying to develop the appreciation of many things which English teachers find fascinating. We must acknowledge that Charles will probably do well if he reads The American Magazine instead of Confessions, and Thornton Wilder instead of nothing at all….(pp. 550-551)

He should, therefore, establish in high school the habit of reading as a real and pleasant factor in the use of leisure. A reading habit, suitable, as nearly as we can determine, to each child’s general ability, becomes a major objective. Such an aim is too vague for use as a teaching guide. In order to insure good habits of regular reading we must see that our pupil has taken three steps: (i) that he has learned how to read the various kinds of materials which follow conventions of writing, dividing them into novels, plays, poems, essays, biographies, and records of history, science, or travel, and that he has learned how to read these whether he finds them in volumes or in current periodicals; (2) that he has learned how to find these various kinds of materials without teacher assistance; and (3) that he has continued for some time to experience satisfaction in finding and reading material, until the resultant habit is strong enough to compete successfully with other forms of leisure activity. (p. 551)

Burch’s study presents evidence that the classics commonly taught in our high-school courses are beyond the reading comprehension of a considerable percentage of pupils studying them. It is fair to question the real value resulting from such study, where dependence must rest on teacher interpretation instead of on individual understanding. (p. 554)

Individualized instruction involves a considerable amount of bookkeeping, indi-vidual records. Pupils keep these themselves, asking only that the teacher initial the entries for verification….Consequently, by the third year there is a very wide range of interests and needs in the class. This makes teaching much more difficult as the course progresses. (p. 555)

As soon as a pupil excels his teacher in any one field, he is given an opportunity to share the pleasure of directing. Classes are usually informal. It is not essential that a classroom have one and only one center of conversation. One can talk intelligently at an afternoon tea without demanding silence from all other persons in the room….Essentials of the plan here presented may be summarized as follows: I. A revision of the teaching objectives into a statement of desirable pupil skills in the reading of literature. 2. A revision of curriculum content into materials adapted to provide the above skills, and the discarding of a list of required classics as a basis for the literature course. 3. The limiting of group teaching to the teaching of such specific skills as “how to discover the action in a play,” and the giving over of remaining class periods to individual reports discussed either with teacher or with class. 4. The making of careful diagnosis of individual needs and progress, with co-operation of the pupils. 5. The gradual emancipation of pupil from teacher direction. (p. 556)

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About plthomasedd

P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), in which he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010). He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).He has also published books on Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Ralph Ellison. His scholarly work includes dozens of works in major journals—English Journal, English Education, Souls, Notes on American Literature, Journal of Educational Controversy, Journal of Teaching Writing, and others. His commentaries have been included in Room for Debate (The New York Times), The Answer Sheet (Washington Post), The Guardian (UK), truthout, Education Week, The Daily Censored, OpEdNews, The State (Columbia, SC), The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC) and The Greenville News (Greenville, SC). His work can be followed at the becoming radical (http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/) and @plthomasEdD on twitter. View all posts by plthomasedd

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