Pulp teacher and genre fiction

I teach World Literature to juniors and have for many years now been increasing my use of genre and pulp and popular literature (and movies) in my teaching.  Perhaps I’m using a freedom that only someone with experience can have.  When I teach a graphic novel (say Road to Perdition) or a SF book by Ted Chiang (Stories of Your Life and Others) or a popular movie (Inception), I have 30 years of credibility keeping colleagues, parents, and skeptics at bay.

I’m going to reflect on reading and teaching texts (movies, too) that reflect a range from high culture to (that which is thought of as) disposable culture.


6 responses to “Pulp teacher and genre fiction

  1. I’m a 7th grade English teacher who has been teaching for 22 years. I am always looking for ways to pump up my practice. I was challenged by your point regarding critical thinking skills and decided I’d like to read your blog. I also am reflecting on how I teach critical thinking skills and how to do it better. I look forward to reading your blog and perhaps corresponding with you. If you have online tools for your students that are available for teachers to look at, I would love to see them. Obviously, they wouldn’t relate specifically to my age group, but seeing how you do what you do might influence my approach to literature and thinking for a younger crowd.


    You and your blog–what a delicious find for an x English teacher who has taught sophomores and juniors 36 years and now writes books…four poetry then Transformers: Creative Teachers for the 21st Century (Corwin Press) and You’ve Got To Reach Them To Teach Them (Solution Tree Press)….now finally, one on Engaging Literacy. If I were still in the classroom, I would be stealing you blind (ideas, that is)….as a writer seeking out genuinely cool stuff that works and REALLY teaches, I might still be doing that! (I’ll be sure to ask politely for permission)… I laughed when you said that The Lottery is taught wrong….that’s how I feel about a lot of pieces….I’m explaining just that in a chapter on close reading that uses Poe’s Masque of the Red Death….if you’d like to preview that chapter just roughed out, I’d send it to you…. you’re also the first person I’ve run up against who uses The Problem of Cell 13…so fun to teach….one I use for prediction is Michael Fedo’s The Carnival….awesome! I agree with your comment about using a freedom that comes with years of experience….I made it through the gauntlet without being censored at all and with the freedom to “pilot” materials I wanted to teach that weren’t on the official curriculum materials list….I used Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game with my honors juniors by matching it with Art Costa’s Habits of Mind and analyzing Ender’s leadership abilities….a “kick-ass” unit as students would say…..my “let’s grow up” novel was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest….powerful book with juniors….forgive my rambling….it’s just so good to find a thoughtful, intelligent, passionate teacher who loves the chase….

  3. Kim F. Bell

    I am an older teacher who began teaching English 10 years ago. Prior to teaching I was part of the business world and ended my career there as a tech writer. I have been using all kinds of things to try and bring language arts alive for my students. I have them create graphic novels, game boards, youtube videos, etc. Currently, I am putting together ideas to have my students use all kinds of cool Websites, apps, and technology for Hamlet. I intend to jigsaw the play and instead of me “teaching” Hamlet, I want my seniors to teach the play. I always look for ways to add to the curriculum so that students will enjoy what we are required to teach. I am thrilled that I’ve been given the go-ahead to have two class sets of The Hunger Games purchased for my sophomores.

    At the beginning of the year I dispensed with the short stories in the sophomore curriculum and used Philip K. Dick’s The Adjustment Team and the Matt Damon movie The Adjustment Bureau to teach Plot and Setting. The kids loved it.

    • Hi Ms. Bell,

      Thanks for your cool entry. Your students are so lucky to have you! I have students “story board” plot-driven stories so that they get used to thinking about ways to “see” texts. It is great to cut these up and give them to their classmates to put in order. I think the movie Adjustment Bureau begs to be taught with Oedipus (or other Greek plays with an emphasis on fate). I really liked the Hunger Games trilogy and we teach Hunger Games here at DeMatha (it really works with Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game”).

  4. Michael Hatcher

    Dr. McMahon,

    I couldn’t figure out how to leave a “new” comment, so I am “replying” without really know where this will be filed. Knowing your affinity for Calvin and Hobbes, I wanted to alert you to this Fast Company story about Calvin and Hobbes creater Bill Watterson and a new documentary about cartooning that includes parts of interviews with him. http://www.fastcodesign.com/3027095/4-tips-on-creativity-from-the-creator-of-calvin-hobbes?partner=rss

    As I am sure you know, Watterson is notoriously reclusive and generally refuses interviews, so this is a unique opportunity to get inside his head.

    Mike Hatcher
    (My son Danny was DeMatha Class of 2009 – and now gainfully employed! Thanks!)

    • Thanks Mr. Hatcher, I will definitely watch this. I have long admired Watterson for his artistic and philosophical sensibilities and his determination to use his medium in ways he chose. D

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