What If my Students Don’t Like a Text?

Published: November 16th, 2018

Category: Blog

As my unit’s Director of Graduate Student Teaching, I write an advice column for my staff. I generate my topics from their questions and my own experience. Here’s this week’s post. –MB

At this point in the semester, many of us are hitting the outlier, experimental, or difficult text on our syllabus. We’ve built our students’ interpretive skills, and we’re now taking on a literary, critical, or visual text that pushes the boundaries in some way. Something that augments our students’ perspective on our course topic. I typically do this very thing, but sometimes my outlier text falls flat. This week’s topic is What if my students don’t like a text I’ve assigned?

At some point, we’ll all hit a week like that. Here are some strategies I’ve used when it happens to me:

  1. ​Do a Poll Call and ask students to give a 1-word reaction to the text; don’t let them repeat what’s already been said. OR you could ask them for a 2-word response, and have them submit it to Canvas or a Google Doc so they can see the results come in. Tap this energy and map the results; discuss.
  2. Negative reviews tend to be the ones we most enjoy reading. Give students 5 minutes to write “3 Things I Hate about this Text,” and let them share one with the class. Ask if anyone didn’t hate (or even liked) some of those things.
  3. Ask students to describe how reading/viewing this particular text requires a different process, and talk about it. Shift their focus from what happens to how it happens.
  4. Ask students to consider the risks/benefits of the writer/creator’s choice to make the text that way. Then consider which outweighs which, and why.
  5. Tap one of the text’s outlier aspects, and discuss it. For example, if the text has an atypical protagonist or speaker (or a collective protagonist), talk about how that maker choice affords a different perspective than what we usually get. Does the text take us indoors when we expect more outdoor scenes (or vice versa)? Does the text present more everyday life than dramatic moments? Is the text disjunctive instead of linear? Does it defy genre categories? Use such differences to consider what things we miss when we read/view a text with typical choices.

Remember that it’s not our job to get students to like everything we assign. We all have texts we love to hate. Thumbs down needn’t shut down our class discussions; it often opens them up. –MB

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