Examination questions, the ultimate location of institutional power, identify the boundaries of the discipline, and define what is permissible to "discuss," as they so invitingly and misleadingly put it (Belsey 428).
"Mom, she's doing it again!"...Yes, I am. I'm going to link yet another quote from one of our readings to teaching. I can't help it. (See my other blogs: Teaching with a Critical Awareness and Play the Game). Catherine Belsey raises a good point when she questions the authority of examination questions on a topic in her essay "Literature, History, and Politics." As teachers, we need to be careful when we formulate exam questions because those questions will inevitably be taken by our students as a reference to the all-important meaning of the text. We need to be careful, because, as literary critics, we know there is not one single all-important meaning, but several possibilities, and, if these possibilities are well supported, they may make valid arguments, even when they conflict with one another. However, while I do recognize this need to be careful when formulating an examination question, this does not mean that I think examination questions should be abandoned. No, as teachers, especially at the high school level which is were I plan to teach, we need to provide our students with both freedom and guidance. Thus, we need to make sure our question prompts are not too limiting and we might even give our students the opportunity to write a few papers about a text with no specific prompt at all. While I think I was very blessed in high school for the most part in terms of my English teachers, I've heard horror stories from others about paper assignments where they had to write about the thematic topic of ambition in Macbeth when they really wanted to write a paper on the supernatural elements in the play instead. To me, as long as the student properly supports his or her arguments, both papers could turn out well. Hopefully, as a teacher I will be able to keep an open mind when it comes to creating question prompts and paper assignments so I don't hinder my students creative ideas. It's these creative ideas that will help them grow--they'll learn much more from developing an argument they've come up with all by themselves as opposed to an argument I think is right or important. Furthermore, I'll get much more interesting and diverse papers to grade, which is a plus for me :)
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