"New critical approaches assume that the meaning of the text is embedded in the text and needs to be teased out by closely reading textual language. By focusing solely on the text, teachers employing these approaches often do not examine the larger cultural and institutional forces shaping the author's or reader's construction of the text" (p. 123).
This really got me thinking. In a way, this is a good thing and a bad thing. Last school year was my first year to teach AP Literature and Composition. I struggled with how I would teach the use of critical lenses because I didn't understand how it would help students accomplish the goals of the AP exam. And because I didn't want to do a bad job with it and confuse my students because I was unclear about my purpose, I stayed away from it. However, what made a new critical approach a good idea is that it in a way leveled the playing field for students especially those who come to the class with not as much reading background as their classmates who have been AP classes before. Though I don't agree to teaching to a test, the AP exam is "fair" in that a student is just using the text in front of them to draw conclusions and understand the meaning of the text. Teaching close reading skills is something that can be learned with lots of practice and feedback from the teacher. By using the text as their support and not their outside experiences, students all have the same starting point.
However, after taking this class, I am beginning to see how I can use this in my classroom and why this is important. First of all, I think having students look at a piece of literature from different perspectives will only create more risk taking in terms of critical thinking. What I have found is that because students are only focusing on the text in front of them, they overlook other cool things that the text is implying and all their responses sound the same. Their creativity is stunted and it becomes a task when they are looking for the definitive right answer. While close reading is a good skill to have, I don't think it is the be all and end all, and it ignores the bigger picture of the piece's message (which they will have to be able to figure out for one of the essay prompts on the AP exam, anyway). This year I am going to be very intentional about the use of critical lenses and use close reading as only one of the many tools I will give my students as they navigate the world of literary analysis.