Literary and Critical theory: The Practice of Theory
Whatever approach we choose to take, we need to work out how to integrate work in class with independent study so that both feed into each other. What Diana Laurillard calls ‘learning conversations’ can be enabled through the mode of short formative assessment, sensitive use of the Virtual Learning Environment, reading logs and diaries. Deborah Wynne’s case study of using reading diaries in teaching theory can be found in our Case Studies area.
All suggestions on this page are, precisely, suggestions, but they aim to model and enhance sociable activity within the class. Some simple examples of priming and enhancement work can be found in Teaching Topics and Texts (T3): Teaching Critical Theory and Theories of the Subject.
If students can be helped to become conscious of themselves as makers of theories they’ve come a long way in understanding what theories are for.
The object of these suggestions (apart from being potentially helpful tips) is to suggest ways in which one might take students back to the basic questions of why people develop theories in the first place. What kind of questions might they be trying to answer? What kind of handle on experience are they looking for? What happens when people reach for categories or engage in meta-linguistic explanations? If students can be helped to become conscious of themselves as makers of theories they’ve come a long way in understanding what theories are for. A number of other entries in T3 have theoretical implications. (For example ‘Teaching Waterland’.)
Theory Across the Curriculum
In a sense, we are suggesting that ‘practising theory’ can be seen as enhancing a student’s whole experience of the curriculum. This is not just a matter of applying theories in a mechanical way to selected texts. It is to suggest a role for ‘theory’ in the curriculum more like that of the ‘Theory of Knowledge’ core in the International Baccalaureate (which some of your students may have studied). This requires students to become aware of knowledge as interpretation, and to become
aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge.