I was recently asked to write a paper where I was to reflect on several works from ancient literature while at the same time analyze my own reflections, the goal being to gain some sense of understanding as to what sort of reader I am. In this, I asked myself several questions: Do I tend to read as a man? An American man? A 21st century American man? Further, what does it mean to be a reader within those perceptions? Ultimately, I found that if I read with an awareness of my own perceptions, I was more easily able to step outside of my own perceptive bubble and read from a point of view that was outside of myself, and this leads to the one thing I would take—if limited to only one thing—from my entire undergraduate study: never allow oneself to become a victim of one’s own perceptions. This approach to reading and writing goes hand-in-hand with an approach to teaching literature—where one does not allow one’s own perceptions to influence how they teach a work of literature, and this completes a sort of trifecta or hat trick of literature studies.
What I have found occur time and time again during my time observing the teaching of literature in English 102 is a smooth movement up and down the pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy which allowed students to discover how and which puzzle pieces of the literature fit into their minds in a way that was relevant to their own lives. What I most appreciate about this approach is that students get to navigate their way up the pyramid without being encumbered by a teacher’s own perspective. Now Bloom’s Taxonomy might be considered “dated” by some (one would be using Bloom’s Taxonomy in order to make that evaluation), but I would like to stress that what I have seen is, as mentioned, a smooth movement: here, Bloom was used more as a guiding principal than a steadfast rule where the blueprint was always to move from knowledge to comprehension to application and so on. Additionally, I have found that this schema worked on multiple levels: each text was approached in a way where every level of the taxonomy was hit, and the over-arching structure of the course was shaped in a way that reflected the taxonomy as well.
Instruction in each individual class and with each individual text can certainly reflect the movement up Bloom’s Taxonomy to great effect. “General comments, questions, or thoughts [on the material]” is the phrase that begins the journey up the pyramid where students often tread ground between knowledge and comprehension, and often times—like coming up with a 7 in the first roll at Craps—the payoff is that the comments, questions, and thoughts provide a roadmap for the class discussion of that day. Navigating this area of the pyramid is a critical step no matter what level of reader one is. Acknowledging my own perspective as a literary scholar, I realize that my tendency is to skip over the significance of some plot details and immediately jump to the analytical and theoretical side, and this has potential to leave holes in my analyses. From the perspective of a reader who is not necessarily a literary scholar, it is important to acknowledge and comprehend what the literature is saying in order to get to the analytical level. So starting each class with the mindset of discovering what the text is “saying” is an absolutely crucial step toward discovering what the text is “doing.” Once the “saying” portion of the class passes, the question “What do we do with this?” generally allowed students to begin their way further up the pyramid: some students find a niche at the level of application and analysis while others spend more time with synthesis or evaluation. Even though the levels of the pyramid at which students discuss the text vary from student to student, day to day, the overall trend is definitely upward.
Also to great effect is the reflection of the pyramid at the course level with the end of the semester resulting in a project focused on synthesis and evaluation, and I believe this strategy leaves students with the feeling that—because they have been able to synthesize ideas from the literature into something new that has kinship with who they are as individuals—literature is applicable to their own lives in the present. The base of this pyramid lies in the daily journal entries that are required for each reading. This is a perfect way for students to maintain their footing at the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels. The prescriptive element of the journal requirement also has the added bonus of encouraging students to read with purpose and, perhaps, take steps outside of their own perceptions (each journal entry required students to address their expectations of the texts followed by whether or not those expectations were met, challenged, etc., and why). Prompt-driven course papers clearly force students to spend time treading the level of analysis, an important (albeit sometimes painful) step in helping students understand the place of literature in its own time and culture as well as the student’s own. Organizing the materials in sub-units that have thematic ties also provide a way for students to make analytical connections to related texts. Finally, the final project to create a new adaptation based on any selection of literature that was read throughout the course clearly has students transgress into the levels of synthesis and evaluation.
From my point of view, this three-layered use of the pyramid was ultimately successful, and this strategy will greatly influence how I structure any course of literature that I may have the pleasure of teaching in the future. Every day of class, every overall discussion of each individual text, and the overall course worked toward an upward trend on Bloom’s Taxonomy to great effect: the synthesis and judgment portions of the taxonomy allow the perceptions of both teachers and students to grow; in this way, Bloom’s Taxonomy has in itself built in the potential to challenge and expand one’s own perceptions. The new meanings generated by the class in the final project allowed the students to walk away with the notion that literature has the potential to renew itself throughout time in the hands of thoughtful readers, so there’s no reason to ignore a corpus of literature even if it’s from a different time, a different country, or a different perspective. That is what teaching, learning, and experiencing literature is all about, is it not?