A desk in an empty room

Montessori education suggests three stages of learning. First you understand the concepts, then you practice its applications, then you teach it to someone else as the "final." These are the guiding principles of this course, that you've been studying and practicing English for several years and your "capstone" or synthesis is to figure out and experience how to teach it to others.

The main impetus for this course is the gap between our theories (almost all of them) and our practice, a gap that Jim Sosnoski has explored in a recent book titled Modern Skeletons in Postmodern Closets. While we recognize that the literary text generates a number of divergent responses, we often work in the classroom towards closure and consensus. Further, we know that literature speaks to our whole being, to our emotions and senses as well as to our intellects, but the kinds of responses we encourage are often abstract, generalized, cognitive ones. Too often process--the pluralistic, the erring, the mysterious--is ignored, suppressed, or finessed to get to some kind of product on schedule. Even in classrooms where the most radical lines of social defiance are presented, the structures of authority and patterns of interaction remain as rigid and unimaginative as ever.

We will not try to reinvent the wheel, but will study what has been done already to help us conceptualize what we see. When I first taught a version of this course over three decades ago, there were few publications relating pedagogy to theory. Now I find the opposite problem; a minor industry has arisen, although unfortunately too little of it really does address the human, concrete realities of the classroom. Two strands of theory most relevant for our work will be the varieties of reader-response criticism and the revival of interest in pragmatism. We will be reading, then, among others, Louise Rosenblatt, Norman Holland, Jane Tompkins, David Bleich, Robert Crosman, Stanley Fish, Richard Poirier, and Richard Rorty. I will also try to skim off the best writings about education in general from teachers, philosophers, and psychologists such as John Dewey, John Holt, Nelson Goodman, and Jerome Bruner.

All of us will be keeping a running journal from which we will share extracts at regular intervals.  There will also be a larger semester project which is very open-ended and which you and I will discuss in conference.

There will be a service-learning component to the course, recommended for all but particularly to those who haven’t taught in the past.  If you choose to do this, you can either find your own placement or consult with me.  My two favorite placements are the Reading Buddies Program at the Boulder Public Library or work this Val Wheeler, a superb teacher at Casey Middle School.  Both have been excellent experiences for previous students in the class.  If you chose to do this service learning component you will receive an extra credit hour if you so wish under the rubric “Service Learning in English.”  If you’re interested in this option, please contact me at least a week before the semester begins at or 303 492 8945.