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Choosing an Approach

Once the judge and the probation officer (PO) have chosen a group of students to participate in the CLTL program on a campus (or other location), the professor or facilitator needs to consider the "approach" he plans to use. Once the program actually begins, the approach will be adjusted, of course, but it is valuable to have an overall plan.

The approach is determined, at least in part, by the make-up and mix of the group chosen. Men or women? African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Native American? Suburban or inner city? Middle class or working class?

But the approach is also shaped by the interests and passion of the professor and the other team members. It is often the energy and clear commitment of the facilitator, together with the vision of the PO and the judge, that inspires members of the group to move forward toward their own meaningful engagement with the texts and in discussions.

In this sense, whatever approach is chosen, the goal is to arrive through literature and language, through texts and discussions, at shared moments of self-realization and insight, at moments of surprise and of bonding with the group, at a moment of communal working together around the table. That is the challenge, and it is not an easy one, although it is basic.

The facilitator does not need to know the details of each offender's biography, but, together with the PO, she needs to think about the overall make-up of the group in this context: the demographics, such as gender, ethnicity, range in age, etc.

The professor is not there to teach moral lessons, to impose his value system on the rest of the group, but to help evoke deep discussions about issues important to the group, issues the students are wrestling with, issues often locked deep within the human heart.

The facilitator, in particular, needs to consider an approach that will allow her to listen for openings and opportunities to inspire further discussion and to validate the diverse voices and range of perspectives at the table. Through the reading and discussion of stories, each member of the group discovers him- or herself and the relationship to others, and the facilitator needs to be ready to make connections and to help that process along.

The initial approach, then, must be flexible and subject to easy change as the literature sessions actually get underway. But once the group has been selected, questions such as the following should be considered:

  • Given what we know about the group, what themes and issues seem most relevant and important to consider with this group?

  • What books will work best to help us wrestle with the issues and build a coherent series of discussions over time?

  • Should we break into small groups regularly to give everyone the best opportunity to voice personal perspectives?

  • In addition to reading, should we also use writing to help enhance the discussions?

  • How often and how frequently should we meet? Every two weeks for twelve weeks? Once a week for ten weeks? Two hours each time?

  • Should we use primarily short stories or complete novels? Should we assign complete novels for a single session or read and discuss a novel over several sessions?

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