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Abstract

Three faculty members from UMass Boston's English Department—a team responsible for the department’s M.A. course on the Teaching of Literature and for the training of novice teachers of literature—examine the complex process of reading texts that they teach as if they are encountering them as their students do, for the first time. Accepting the proposition that reading texts in the classroom places the student at the center of an experience that originates in the instructor, they suggest that teachers must be prepared to relinquish their “expert” attachment to the text by defamiliarizing it to themselves. Instructors must work to “construct” the innocence of a first encounter, recognizing the artifice of the constructed innocence even as they seek it. The authors share three approaches to this process of estrangement, what they call “the innocence of the material text,” “the pedagogy of restraint,” and “the suspension of mastery.” By having their students read first printings of novels, interpret poetry without the aid of scholarly commentary, and defer their desire to fully comprehend literary texts, teachers can use these “innocent” encounters to balance confident and uncertain readings and enrich the literary experience in the classroom.

 

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