What Are The Best Strategies For Teaching Literature In The 21st Century?
by Terry Heick
How can you teach Shakespeare to students accustomed to tiny screens with brief flashes of communication that instantly fade away (both in meaning endurance and visible text)? Begin by focusing on meaning.
The context and need here are clear enough to jump right into the strategies.
1. Use combinations of media–classic and modern together, leveraging one against the other. Music, video streams, short videos (like TikTok), video games, plays, poems, film, posters, poems, essays, novels, podcasts, etc.
2. Have students analyze diverse media forms for their strengths and weaknesses–and involve both classic and digital forms.
3. Have students turn essays into videos into podcasts into letters into simply-coded games into poems into apps. (See also #7.)
4. Allow students to choose media while you choose themes and/or academic and/or quality standards.
5. When designing units, choose the media first, then the standards (yes, this likely goes against what you were taught–but give it a try).
6. Insist all student work ‘leaves the classroom’ and is published–then design units accordingly.
7. Use RAFT: Role, Audience, Format, and Topic/Tone/Theme. Then have them revise media in response to new roles, audiences, formats, or topics, tones, or themes. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech” in a new format (a video?), or to a new audience (modern hip-hop artists?), or with a new tone (angry?). Students experimenting here are experimenting with media design, which is exactly what authors do.
8. Use a thematic focus to design units, assessments, project-based learning–whatever activities students ‘touch.’ One of the hallmark characteristics of classic literature is that it endures. This is, in part, due to the timelessness of the human condition. Love lost, coming of age, overcoming obstacles, civil rights, identity, and more are all at the core of the greatest of literary works.
The ability to the texts to nail these conditions gives them their ability to endure, so teach through that. The author (e.g., Shakespeare) or media form (e.g., a play) may not seem relevant to a student–and that’s okay. The author chose that form based on prevailing local technology. Help them focus on what is being said and why–and how.
9. Use tools for digital text annotation on pdfs, note-sharing, and more to help students mark text, document questions and insights, and revisit thinking or collaborate with others during the reading of classic texts.
10. Create social media-based reading clubs. Establish a hashtag that anchors year-long discussion of certain themes, authors, text, or whatever other category/topic that makes sense for your curriculum.
11. Have students create and produce an ongoing podcast or YouTube channel on, as above, relevant themes, authors, texts, etc.
12. Connect the old with the new in authentic ways to center the knowledge demands of modern readers.
12 Strategies For Teaching Literature In The 21st Century