Category Archives: Literature

Masquerading (1931)

LaBrant, L. (1931, March). Masquerading. The English Journal, 20(3), 244-246.

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LaBrant offers a passionate confrontation of the misapplied project method, focusing on how its misuse has manifested in English classes.

Quoting LaBrant:

The cause for my wrath is not new or single. It is of slow growth and has many characteristics. It is known to many as a variation of the project method; to me, as the soap performance. With the project, neatly defined by theorizing educators as “a purposeful activity carried to a successful conclusion,” I know better than to be at war. With what passes for purposeful activity and is unfortunately carried to a conclusion because it will kill time, I have much to complain. To be, for a moment, coherent: I am disturbed by the practice, much more common than our publications would indicate, of using the carving of little toy boats and castles, the dressing of quaint dolls, the pasting of advertising pictures, and the manipulation of clay and soap as the teaching of English literature. (p. 245)

It is doubtful, however, whether playing with toy furniture will produce in the average adult an ambition to own his own house, or whether enjoyment in carving a boat for the Lady of the Lake will induce one to read Cavender’s House. Quite the contrary may be the result. In encouraging much of handwork in connection with the reading of literature, it seems to the writer, wrong emphasis is made. The children may be interested, yes. But it makes considerable difference whether the interest be such as to lead to more reading or more carving. Soap is doubtless an excellent material, and important in present civilization. The question is whether carving out of soap a castle or a horse or a clown will stimulate interest in the drama, or even in daily bathing….On the contrary, the need of the reader is to secure a picture from the written word. (p. 245)

That the making of concrete models will keep interested many pupils who would otherwise find much of the English course dull may be granted. The remedy would seem to be in changing the reading material rather than in turning the literature course into a class in handcraft. (p. 246)

Differentiated Teaching of Literature (1931)

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

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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)

Certain Criteria for Classifying Pupils in Literature Courses (1927)

LaBrant, L. (1927, June). Certain criteria for classifying pupils in literature courses. The School Review, 35(6), 458-466.

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LaBrant offers an argument for matching student needs and prior experiences/knowledge with in-school classification, such as grouping or tracking. She places her argument in the context of education seeking goals with “social value” (p. 458). Her four criteria for classifying students are (1) IQ scores, (2) reading assessments of reading rates and comprehension, (3) vocabulary development, and (4) recommendations from teachers. The essay captures the early commitment among progressive educators that a scientific approach to teaching could address well democratic goals of schools; notable is that LaBrant grounds her discussion in action research she conducted in her classes at Oread Training School, University of Kansas.

Quoting LaBrant:

Recent studies in curriculum-making have placed great emphasis on those aims which can be stated in terms of habits and definite experiences. All departments have been forced to answer questions as to why they were in existence and whether they were presenting the best which might be taught. Along with other departments, the English department has found that answers to such demands have led to changed objectives and materials, so that from the modern curriculum many of the articles of faith have been banished. From progressive curriculums formal grammar has largely disappeared; close criticism of classics has been superseded by wide reading of a more popular sort; formal rhetoric has given place to the writing of letters and to such other composition as may be necessary in the daily program of the average citizen….A fair judgment would seem to be that, if our aims are to be in terms of social values, our classification—our arrangements for caring for pupils—must consider these social values as they are already developed in the child. (p. 458)

There are undoubtedly abilities belonging to the field of English which all might lack, as, for example, a knowledge of certain rules of formal grammar, the rhyme scheme for a sonnet, or Chaucer’s relation to English literature; but, in the making of the English curriculum, it would seem desirable so to group courses with relation to objectives, so to separate habit-forming and informational courses, as to make it possible for the child who has profited by home training to avoid identical training to any large degree in his school work….In spite of these facts, we are refusing to recognize the significance of the social background in classifying pupils, even while we recognize social activity in our objectives. (p. 459)

Lists of books were supplied, and the pupils were allowed to choose. Consequently, no two read the same material. It was possible, however, to discuss general characteristics of peoples and writers, varied reading making these discussions interesting. Frequently pupils read material unfamiliar to the instructor. The freedom from uniformity in daily assignments was an important element in meeting the difficulty of securing books. While the pupils had access to the library of the University of Kansas and to the Lawrence city library, the majority of the books read were secured through other sources. The teachers brought material to the school from their private shelves, and the pupils themselves contributed. Members of the teaching staff out-side the English department lent several volumes, and the school library furnished collections and most of the books on mythology. The writer has several times observed that even a rural community will afford many good books if duplicate copies are not required. A few books were purchased by the pupils, but the cost of these did not equal the usual expenditure for texts. (p. 463)