Guerrilla Literature

As we end our work with a text, I like to have the students participate in what I call “Guerrilla Literature.” I will explain what this is later, but first let’s look at the reason why I’m using words as a tool for warfare.

I feel that some approaches to teaching literature can be limiting. The need to meet educational standards can lead to a fracturing of how we teach texts. What I mean is, because we have to teach, let’s say, characterization, we organize our units around that element and, therefore, our literature. The unfortunate result is that students see literature in tiny, niche analytical strategies. And because we move on so quickly, because we need to teach more standards, students don’t retain what they’ve been taught and thus show up to next years English class and say, “Our teacher didn’t teach us that last year.” the end result is that we tell students that they need to know what (insert random literary element) for the assessment over (insert random text), but now lets move on to (insert random literary element) that we’ll learn while reading (insert random text)…

I realize I’ve simplified the the teaching of texts, and that teachers don’t just teach one element per work, but even if we teach characterization, tone, and the historical background of a piece in one unit, we’re still missing out on so much more that the literature can teach us and students have little value in literature other than looking for symbolism and metaphor. While there is a push to teach pieces together that relate thematically, the appreciation of authors’ craft isn’t, and students don’t get to see the real importance of good authorship.

Literary elements are necessary to understand and appreciate literature, but when taught in small chunks without the needed connections that show their true meaning and importance, reading literature is something you just have to do in school. Therefore, the value is lost on students and why they often time don’t actually read the book and instead figure out what they need to say about the text from the teacher or another student and simply regurgitate ideas.

So what’s the alternative? Well, I’m still developing that, but anything I teach in class is sustained throughout the year. I teach the approach to literature, not the approach to a piece of literature. Don’t worry, I still cover all standards, but instead of expecting mastery at the end of a unit, I expect growth throughout the year.

Now back to Guerrilla Literature.

I have my students write important quotes from the text we’re finishing, in chalk, on the sidewalk of the bus loop. The idea is that other students on their way home from the “drudgery of school” will see all of this writing on the ground, read it, have some thought come to their mind, and WHAM!, they’ve been forced to think about literature. And maybe that quote was metaphoric, maybe it set a certain tone, or maybe it made them think about a book they actually read in the past. It doesn’t matter; they’ve read and thought.

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