Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The article below looks at a process called "situated learning,"
carried out via the method of "legitimate peripheral participation."
Although the focus is on literature, there are obvious implications
for teaching in many other disciplines as well.
The author, John V. Knapp, professor of English at Northern Illinois
University, has been educating English teachers for over thirty
years. This work is based on what Knapp calls. "my second Ph.D., my
"leisure-time" degree. His first Ph.D.
first was completed in 1971, in British and American literature at
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. *Red-Eye Milton* was done out
of Educational Psychology at U. of Wisconsin-Madison. According to
Knapp, "I found -- later in my career -- that the research
collaboration at UW with such
scholars as Leona Schauble (my Director, in Ed. Psych), and Martin
Nystrand (UW English Department) to be the essence of what the Greeks
called "leisure" -- scholarship whose ultimate goal was as much
development of the soul as practical publication."
UP NEXT: Yes Virginia, There Is A Big Difference Between Cooperative
And Collaborative Learning Paradigms
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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SITUATED LEARNING; RED-EYE MILTON AND THE LOOM OF LEARNING: ENGLISH
by John V. Knapp
Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
Tomorrow's professor may be surrounded by all sorts of high tech
wonders to aid in his/her teaching, but it would be a mistake to think
that the old tried-and-true lecture method, however tarted up by
electronic sophistication, will necessarily remain as the primary vehicle
for developing students' minds. Recently, I conducted a study of
professorial expertise in humanities teaching by employing a "situated
learning" model, the results of which suggest that tomorrow's expert
university teacher of earlier imaginative literature may instead be more
like a dream weaver, employing experiential practices actively to engage
students in a cognitive apprenticeship (Knapp 2000). The professor's
ultimate teaching goal: students learn (in this case) enough about 17th
century British culture and the writings of John Milton to argue back with
the teacher as they jointly create an in- class narrative.
Cognitive studies of teaching expertise at all levels may be found
in great profusion in the disciplines of math, several of the sciences,
history, and literature at the primary and secondary level, composition at
the college level, but, until recently, there have been very few detailed
studies of the process of teaching literature at the university level.
For most professors, literature is usually taught via one of two rather
generalized methods (Langer, 1995; Probst, 1992), each within its own
theoretical framework: "small groups in face-to- face interaction" or
"well organized classes presented by dynamic lecturers" (Nelson and Watt,
1999, p. 282). Many tacitly assume those ends of the spectrum are somehow
both largely (and mutually) exclusive, and ultimately, with minor
The study just completed suggests that these polarities should be
seen more as areas of choice in a teaching mosaic rather than opposite
ends of a linear plane, since both have well-discussed weaknesses.
Briefly, those employing the lecture model are rarely concerned,
theoretically, for the process of student motivation, while the reader-
response (RR) model has no theoretical means of accounting for the
structured impartation of crucial and detailed information in an efficient
manner. Each approach is, by itself, inadequate to account for English
professor expertise and optimal student learning.
Easier Said than Done
The key issue in the current study is *how* students' skills,
insights, and motivations are developed during a typical fifteen week
semester. I selected an NIU professor, called Prof. J., who was thought
of as an expertise both in Milton and in teaching Milton and video-taped
each of his classes for a semester, collecting students' writings and
interviewing both professor and students. Although previous studies have
detailed the conclusions of what good literature teaching might reveal
(Knapp, 1996; Langer 1995; Brooks 1947; Smagorinsky and Whiting 1995),
none described, from the perspective of situated learning, a semester-long
process of how an expert teaches Milton -- one of the major three
canonical writers including Chaucer & Shakespeare -- by using his
knowledge of both subject and pedagogy to enable students to think and act
like proto-experts themselves.
By employing the "situated learning" model developed by Jean Lave
(1988); Lave and Wenger (1991), and others (Brown, Collins, and Duguid,
1989; Rogoff, 1990; 1992) for this study, I found that students learn best
via what Lave calls "legitimate peripheral participation." Looking at
Prof. J's expert "knowledge-in-practice" with his college-student novices,
I have described below the characteristics of an expert teacher of
imaginative literature at the university level.
I. Class structures:
Prof. J. structured his semester's work into six steps or
sections corresponding to a combination of texts studied, literary skills
to be mastered, historical/biographical information to be added to the
students's knowledge base, as well as a set of texts that were initially
organized chronologically according to Milton's life and writing.
Further organizational structuring devices included both the growing
complexity of each text's genre(s) and, most importantly, the students'
II. The Snakes and Ladders of Abstraction:
Prof. J. emphasized assisting students' negotiation up and down
what I have called the "snakes and ladders of abstraction." The student
skill of moving from the single word or image level through intermediate
characterological and plot developments up to the highest levels of
character analysis, genre, and theme and then back down again may well be
one of the major accomplishments of any sophisticated reader of
III. Student's Knowledge Base and Prior Knowledge
One of Prof. J's earliest and most important tasks was to expand
his student's knowledge base of vocabulary and syntactical rules to
support the ordinary process of decoding a text written in an unfamiliar
(early modern) type of English (Baugh 1957), set in a past (1608 - 1674)
remote from their own experience, and exhibiting values distant from
students' own assumptions. J. often started, for example, with the
literal meanings in The King James Bible and then moved into Milton's
imagistic borrowings by reading out loud, getting students to hear the
sounds from an excellent reader, and by asking questions, comparing sound
patterns, and posing suggestions for alternative interpretations.
IV. Emotional Identification
Prof. J. considered the first 26 lines of PL so important, for example,
that he asked all students to memorize them and to be able to recite them
back to him (privately). This memorization helped students to "own" that
piece of the poem and so quite literally make it part of their conscious and
even unconscious thinking. As Brand (1994) suggests, it is "naive and
inaccurate to believe that all ways of knowing may only be represented
intellectually" (p. 3).
V. Reoccurring Assignments
Tasks were often identical to Milton's college assignments, so in
one case, J. asked students to prepare a rhetorical exercise exploring,
"Which is better, day or night?" and then asked them to compare their own
writing to Milton's "homework," an orally read piece known as a Prolusion;
hence assignments included both rhetorical practice and emotional
identification (Bartholmae and Petrosky 1986).
VI. Milton's Language into Student-Speak
J. also regularly insisted that students turn Milton's language
into a calculus of their own understanding. During the Comus summary, for
example, J. asked students to paraphrase in their own words the rather
arcane thoughts and language in the debate between Comus and the Lady over
chastity and virtue, constantly joking and using the language of
undergraduates to translate 17th century masques into accessible thoughts
for students. As the semester progressed, students' earlier one-line,
semi-incoherent responses became more elaborated, even using the language
of the 17th century at times, in part because J's rather generalized
prompting required students to create a mix of Milton's language and their
VII. Fostering Personal Identities with the Milton Class
J. demonstrated that expert teachers take great pains to weave
connections between students' own lives and the text(s) under discussion.
To do that, the professor needs to know something about students' lives.
So, early in the semester, Prof J. started class with a lengthy roll call
of some fifteen minutes, during which he memorized student's names and
faces in combination, joking with many, and asking for and then himself
telling little anecdotes and stories. The seemingly casual and leisurely
pace of these roll-calls masked their serious purpose: first "develop
trust and familiarity between individual students and the professor" and
among the students themselves to conduct a class of active participants
(Sizer, 1996, pp. 91-95).
VIII. Bridging Mechanisms
In order to connect the materials from a culture and a poet
distant in both space and time from the students's own lives, he
constantly searched for bridging mechanisms such as J's evoking the
students' raw emotion from the shock of Princess Diana's untimely death --
then only three weeks earlier -- and connecting students' emotions to the
eulogy and the specific example of Milton's "Lycidas."
IX. Attunement to Students' Literary Growth & Development
J. constantly reinforced the sense that mistakes were part of
students' learning by drawing attention to his own mistake (on a handout)
and used that as a tool to teach what he called a word du jour: St
Augustine's peccata forte (means `sin boldly') if one is going to make a
X. Narrative Collaboration
By midterm, it was clear that both teacher and students had begun
jointly to weave a class narrative, albeit though the Loom-master was
largely still Prof. J. By late in the semester, J's focus shifted again,
from questioning techniques to motivational statements and outright
exhortations woven into the class fabric, signaling to students that their
insights had triggered new thoughts about Paradise Lost in him, the
expert, and if they could do THAT, then the conversation was a mutual
exploration of the difficult masterpiece.
Expert Professor of Literature
So, What ultimately identifies an expert professor of literature
at the college level? To paraphrase an old popular song: the professor is
a dream weaver. Prof. J's teaching employs the metaphor of weaving ideas,
motivations, historical information, student learning, and J's energy and
exhortations into a fabric of class activity. Thus, professor expertise
in English teaching cannot be characterized by any one descriptor, but
rather by a systemic sense that the whole ultimately emerges from the sum
of its parts, greater than but constitutive of them.
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