Thursday, February 9, 2017

Incorporating literary theories in the classroom

Using lenses in the English classroom is very important in order to build a better community, stronger reading skills, and greater understanding of others.  Teachers have always looked down on literary theories, as they think that they are useless and that there are better things to teach about.  I have been reading the book Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents and I have been exposed to very many different lenses.  These lenses have made understanding people unlike me a lot easier, whether I am doing this in my reading or in eye-to-eye conversation.  As a fifteen year-old freshman that has trouble reading, I feel that many other students would love to learn about these lenses.  Without even realizing, I have increased my reading skills greatly, as I saw after reading When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do, a book for teachers to help students.  These are some of the lenses that I think will help students tremendously.

Gender Theory

Gender theory, also known as feminist theory, is something that almost all students could use in our world right now.  This lens is very important to understand the opposite gender and how they think, especially as a male.  This helps students my age because we are becoming more knowledgeable about the world and feminism is a very big topic that not many people understand.  Most of the students in my grade think very strongly about one side, but don't understand why the other side thinks that way.  As Appleman says in her book, "There are at least four dimensions in which feminist theory can transform students' reading" as we can learn to think through the eyes of a female.  Teaching this will completely change the way we read books that are in the footsteps of an opposite gender.  This could help many struggling readers as it gives multiple perspectives, and gives them more confidence in their reading as they won't be as scared to read a book that doesn't have their same point of view.  

Marxist Criticism Theory

Marxist criticism theory, created by Karl Marx, is a lens that points out the different social classes.  This theory is a conflict theory as it shows the conflict between the rich and the poor; dedicated philosophers have also studied it for decades. "And Marxists critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed - in everyday life and in literature." (Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism, N/A) This could be a very important theory to teach students as in my area there aren’t too many families in the lower class.  It is always good to be able to think like a different social class, as they are very prominent throughout the US.  Marxism could also help many students in their reading, as the students will begin to understand the lower class and how they think compared to us students.  Too many teachers find that teaching this theory will be useless, as they believe all students already get it, but I can tell many students in my grade are completely oblivious to the other social classes, and think they have it just as easy as their peers. 

Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory (CRT) is all about racism, and how it affects literacy.  This theory comes up in most literature, especially in older literature.  It is very important for students to realize how to apply CRT into our everyday lives and in our reading.  CRT is very helpful in order to point out the struggles of different races and how different terms relate to their culture.  "In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice." (Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism, N/A) Many students would be helped by this theory as it has them think like someone they aren’t and they will realize how that race is oppressed.  The amount of literature that you could use CRT is limitless, and it could be a great way to show students with different types of literature.  

How To Apply The Theories

These lenses can be incorporated into the classroom very easily, with a discussion or an essay with the students looking through the opposite gender, social class, or race's eyes.  This discussion or essay could be based upon a book written in a different point of view, or even any other type of literature in the that point of view.  Doing this will allow the students to think as the character does, and get a better understanding of that group.  After doing this the students will get a much better grasp of this lenses, and how to apply them.  Another way that teachers can use this theory, is to have the students find a piece of literacy to apply the lens to, and change it to a different point of view.  This will help the student with their ability to analyze literature and apply this theory to real examples.  

Literary Theories are a great help to struggling readers.  They give the readers another perspective to read and think through, and will give the students more opportunities with their literary texts.  Within Dr. Beers' Think-Aloud Self-Assessment, she asks if the student has been visualizing, predicting, commenting, questioning, and more, in order to make sure the student is thinking aloud.  This ties into using lenses in the connecting portion, "I ask myself how this is like something I've read or maybe a song I've heard. (Connecting)" (Kylene Beers, 2003) if the students are learning lenses they can begin to connect different texts and use similar lenses, from text to text.  These theories could also help excelling students as it gives them something to experiment with, using different lenses.  The students will be exposed to many different styles of thinking and can build off of that, making their reading and writing skills excel greatly.

“Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL,

Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. New York, Teachers College Press, 2009.

 Beers, G. Kylene. When kids can't read, what teachers can do: a guide for teachers, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2003.


  1. Dawson,
    I am not familiar with Deborah Appleman's text so I'm exploring additional learning there, but I love that you are still connecting Kylene Beer's work in your blog posts.

    Do you suppose that we could apply the different theories presented above to commercials on TV? Which theory seems to be the focus of this commercial "x" when compared to "y" and "z"? I think there is merit in further exploration of how it feels to walk in someone else's shoes in order to build empathy!

    Thanks for giving me much more to read and think about! :-)

    1. I do! There are so many different times when we could apply these lenses, including commercials, TV shows, and many more!