The OF Blog: Teaching spec fic

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Teaching spec fic

As I'm winding down my first full week at my new teaching job (at a residential treatment center for teens with emotional/behavioral disorders), I've been thinking more and more about the roles of a teacher in the Reader-Text-Author interaction. Not too much is mentioned about this, perhaps because most spec fic readers never are in the position of having to relate ideas, themes, characterizations, etc. in a pedagogical fashion for another to consider.

I started a two-week Literature/Language Arts unit on S.E. Hinton's classic, The Outsiders. From past experience teaching this novel, I knew that the characters and situations would resonate so well with them and that they'd want to know more, because they would care about characters such as Ponyboy, Sodapop, Johnny, Darry, and Two-Bits. It is so easy to get students involved when the work in question mirrors their own fractured backgrounds.

But what about situations in which the stories are just off-kilter or deals with other-worldly concerns? Are there really "easy" ways of taking spec fic stories and using them in the classroom for the "average" student, one who perhaps never really has wanted to read much? What is there about tales of created "worlds" populated with unusual creatures, who sometimes seem to "speak" in a rather stilted fashion, that could possibly appeal to such students? What is out there that might just appeal to these students?

I have some vague notions, but I am curious as to which stories (remember, short stories might be the most effective in such situations, as I did get a group of students last year to consider and ultimately enjoy Dino Buzzati's "The Colomber") of a spec fic "flavor" might be used well as a teaching tool for those who are unaccustomed to such literary stylings?


Ted said...

Ender's Game maybe? It's difficult to say, because spec fic encompasses so much, and I don't really know what an 'ordinary' reader would find interesting. I think that Orson Scott Card could be a good starting point though.

Sara J. said...

If you have access to any Tiptree collections, some of her stories are extremely well-put together and can be fairly mainstream depending which you choose. Plus they're awesome as discussion pieces ;)

J M McDermott said...

"The Lais of Marie de France" might be excellent. Plenty of pedagogical resources, and a mysterious tone that resonates in a good translation.

I suspect, for this group of teens, Orson Scott Card is an excellent choice.

If a short story antho is your fancy, tough kids like this migt go for "Burning Chrome" by William Gibson, or perhaps an antho by Gene Wolfe. Maybe not "Strange Travelers", though...

Good luck with the kids!

Larry said...

Thanks everyone, and maybe I'll overcome my reluctance to use Card's fiction (I need to get rid of that hangup about political views, I suppose) and use that in the near future. Should be able to buy 5-6 books cheap as well, come to think of it. The Lais is another possibility, although that might be harder to come by (unless I just buy one copy and photocopy the hell out of it).

J M McDermott said...

102 used and new for sale starting at 1.20

Not a hard book to find at all.

Still quite popular after all these centuries!

Larry said...

OK, you've won me over with that. I'll purchase a few at the end of the month with my new paycheck. If they hate it, I'll tell them at there's this author in Tejas that's at fault ;)

J M McDermott said...

My favorite is "Bisclavret".

Sometimes I think I'm a werewolf when I'm naked, too.

Larry said...

I'll keep the first in mind and try my damnedest to forget the second, J.M. But at least you didn't say you'd rather be a squirrel. You know I'm terrified of certain squirrely types, right?

J M McDermott said...

They're all thinly-veiled gossip tales, disguised as poetic stories to protect the identities of the ones involved.

So - for instance - when the king calls all his men over to try their hand at this knot in her pants that no one can unknot...

Well, let's just say the subtext is truly horrifying when you think about it.

If you can get 'em to start thinking a little about the subtext, they might just have a break-through and learn how to read.

Best of luck!

And, *woof*

Larry said...

Yes, I remember a grad school discussion about the real meaning of the "path of needles" meaning in one of the (unexpurgated) versions of Little Red Riding Hood. That and the "country matters" in Act III of Hamlet certainly got the attentions of a few there. Gotta love those subtexts. I'll keep that in mind...and likely let them discover it on their own after perhaps a few "hints." ;)

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