Sunday, April 07, 2013

High School Chaucer

My Chaucer students are doing stepping stone assignments for their research project, which is basically a lit review about some topic or question to do with Chaucer.  So I've been reading their reports on what they've been reading, and also reading some of the articles they've been finding.  It's pretty interesting, to be honest.  And it's certainly helping me catch up a bit on the Chaucer lit.

Several of the students are education students, and a few of them are interested in how Chaucer's being taught in secondary schools. 

I, too, am getting a sense from these articles of how people are teaching Chaucer, and it seems cointerintuitive to me.

Mostly, it seems from the articles I'm reading, high schools are doing projects on the various pilgrims, perhaps also reading the General Prologue. 

I think the General Prologue is a pretty amazing piece of writing, but the amazingness isn't readily apparent unless you've read a little estates satire and probably some historical contexts, especially about religious folks.

So I'm wondering what other folks have either experienced or done with Chaucer in high schools (I never read Chaucer in high school, not a word)?


I've never taught high school, but I think if I wanted to do a Chaucer unit in a high school class, I'd teach one of the tales, and then only teach the description in the general prologue of the pilgrim teller.  And the tale I'd teach?  Totally The Franklin's Tale.

And I have to admit, I'd teach Gawain and the Green Knight rather than most of the other tales.  Then, um, probably the Pardoner's Tale.  Or the Summoner's Tale, or the Friar's Tale.  (I guess I'm confessing that I'd try to avoid some of the more sexally disturbing tales.)


  1. Hiya! I haven't taught the Canterbury Tales in HS (yet!), but I believe our tenth-grade teachers teach the GP and two tales--I want to say the Knight and the Friar?

    They have the students do a poster project on a contemporary pilgrim "type," such as the Jock, the Goth, the Coach, the Gamer. I believe the poster has to include a verse introduction to the pilgrim (in rhymed pentameter, of course).

    For me, the big problem is that the modernization bites. I, too, would prefer to teach Gawain, in Merwin's translation (though I remain fond of the Borroff). We did teach it in ninth for a couple of years, just before Christmas--it's a fast, fun read. If the ninth grade doesn't want it back, I'm strongly considering adding it to AP Lit.

  2. Anonymous7:53 PM

    checking in as one who was a student in a HS that did at least a bit on the Canterbury Tales... the AP English class got assigned major parts (I was the Prioress) and the Honors and regular classes got assigned to be other people in the groups (like there was another group of girls who were nuns) and we AP English people had to get up and summarize our portions or some such. I don't actually remember learning ALL that much - but everyone was always excited because it was a big day-long event with food and costumes and all. (That was also the day that one of the other "nuns" informed me that I really looked like a "nun" - apparently my costuming skills were too good (fabulously frumpy black polyester dress of my grandmother's, habit made of cloth sewn to a white headband) - except that she clearly wasn't really complimenting my costume...and so because of that what do I remember about that day? being told I looked like a nun, that the boys doing some portion had coconut halves so we had a fabulous reference to Monty Python, and absolutely nothing about the Canterbury Tales themselves...)

  3. I mostly remember (hah!) that we memorized the first fourteen lines of the prologue, with proper pronunciation (we listened to a tape), and were tested on that. But I do think we also covered 3-4 of the tales.

  4. I think my little sister had Gawain and the Green Knight when she was in high school (at a Catholic school).

  5. We didn't read any medieval lit in high school (and I had really, really good high school English classes for the most part). We didn't read anything pre-Shakespeare except in AP, where we went straight from the ancient Greeks and the Bible to Shakespeare and Voltaire. I remember taking Epic and Romance as a sophomore in college, and it was kind of a revelation that there were two whole millennia that had just gotten glossed over in my previous education.

  6. I do a survey course that earns 6 humanities credits for my HS seniors through our state uni system.

    They do Bible, then Greeks, then Romans. Then, by luck of the draw, each reads 3 of Boccaccio's Decameron, and we look at that shift in narrative voice and structure--the frame. Then each reads Chaucer: GP, The Knight, the Miller, the Wife and the Pardoner. They are expected to recognize Chaucer's shift toward authenticity in characterization with heed paid to distinctions in characters' VOICE--That, like Boccaccio, Chaucer uses a frame and simply "steals" from the great trove of stories passed orally from far gone times, but that he creates paper people from across the social strata from whose mouths these tales are delivered...and that the tales each "chooses" to tell as well how each words his/her tale serves to further characterize these far-less-flat paper people. It works well. The kids enjoy reading him.

    Then to Shakespeare and back to the typical student's comfort zone.

  7. I did the Canterbury Tales twice in high school; both times we did the Prologue & one tale, and both times it was the Wife's tale.

    It was an all-girls' school & I think they thought the Wife's tale was feminist. It was the 70's; they were trying.

  8. Our kids do Gawain and the Green Knight then they have to write an Arthurian legend (properly and showing attention to things like genre and historical/cultural concepts). They do read some chaucer. General prologue and one of the tales.

  9. In high school we read the general prologue in order to get a sense of the various pilgrims, then we read The Pardoner's Tale.

    It was all translated into Modern English, though. I much appreciated reading it in the original as an undergrad and think that as high schoolers we may have been underestimated by the teacher.