Short Stories in the Classroom

ISBN 13: 9780814103999

Short Stories in the Classroom

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9780814103999: Short Stories in the Classroom
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The short story is frequently used in educational settings, and this book helps teachers develop ways to make the short story a valuable teaching tool. English and literature teachers, from junior high to college level, examine "teachable" short stories by authors such as Armistead Maupin, Tim O'Brien, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in an effort to show how a story's structure can help readers better understand theme and characterization, among other important issues. The authors explore a student's first connection to a story, varied cultural contexts, and how to refine a reader's sense of taste in short fiction. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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From Chapter 1:

One basic premise underlies the essays in this book: that productive teaching of short stories can begin only when students make valid, heartfelt responses and connections. These personal connections to the self include idiosyncratic sympathies, quirky affinities, and sudden touches to the soul that enable readers to question values and beliefs, to seek new depth in understanding motives, longings, and secrets. Put another way, we all know how words can surge through our pens (or word processors) when we have need to complain, plead, or emote--that is, when we care. As teachers, we aim for the same sort of energy in our classrooms.

Meaningful connections imply that readers move beyond passive consumership of stories to active engagement and response. Readers who seeks only validation of pre-formed, static judgments are consumers of fiction, not readers. Story consumers grimly hold onto their intuitive first responses, knowing what they like, validating and liking what they know. Real connections shake the reader's soul. For their part, teachers challenge students to care, widening the tiny cracks in their intellectual and emotional armor and opening the way to deeper insight. The short story provides the perfect occasion to do that, for it resists facile assumptions, presenting an enigma, not an explanation...

From Afterword: Although the short story has obvious merit in the classroom, it is not necessarily a better catalyst for student writing exercises than other genres. In fact, the short story is somewhat problematic because, by its very design, it can offer a sense of closure that misleads readers to conclude that nothing more need be said. Its brevity gives the impression that the whole has been processed, and, once discussed and comprehended, it can be forgotten. But a good story resists being forgotten, and those moments of intuitive comprehension--sensed first by internally hearing how language may add up to more than the sum of its words--demand contemplation if they are to contribute to personal growth.

Encouraging students to engage in that productive contemplation is necessary, yet difficult. If they are to make personal connections, it will be due to their own central and possibly unresolved issues (conscious or unconscious). Reading strikes at vulnerable places, and a good story will home in on those spots. Put another way, the firefly's flash lights the way, but, when the story ends and darkness once again closes in, relief follows. Perhaps the story will provide some food for contemplative thought, but to write about the story in any meaningful way will entail that the reader address sensitive issues. As teachers, then, our job is not only to encourage students to connect to texts but to manage the potentially messy aftermath...

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