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Here’s something I probably ought to have thought of before the semester started, perhaps even before planning on teaching a class like The Big Novel: It’s really, really hard to get students to talk actively about a text they’ve only read part of. They seem to want to hold all judgment in reserve until having completed the whole thing.

Or perhaps it’s just hard to get my students to do such mid-text talking. Which would imply, of course, that the problem is located not in the texts, and not in the students, but in the professor.

So here’s what’s to my mind perhaps the dumbest teaching question ever, and certainly the dumbest one I’ve ever asked in a public place: How do you get your students to engage actively with a small piece of a long text before they’ve read the whole thing?

As a follow-up: How do you get them to perform such active engagement when the text under consideration consciously presents itself as a mystery of sorts, raising question after question and hinting that answers will eventually be found, which increases that tendency toward the deferral of judgment, even though you, who have read the book several times, know perfectly well that such answers, if they’re to be found at all, aren’t located at the text’s end?



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