Literature – into the classroom
My first encounter with Amos Paran occurred in a thoroughly enjoyable workshop on teaching literature at the ETAS Annual Conference and AGM in Appenzell in 2002. One of the activities he presented at the time, an engaging approach to Wendy Cope’s poem “Lonely Hearts” that I have successfully used with a number of students, actually resurfaces in a side remark in the book reviewed here (pp. 44-45). Reading Amos Paran and Pauline Robinson’s Literature – into the classroom, in fact, is very much like attending an intensive workshop on teaching literature in the EFL classroom. This is actually one of the great strengths of their book.
There already exist several resources on teaching literature and in their acknowledgements the authors themselves mention their indebtedness to publications by Carter and Long (1991), Collie and Slater (1987), Gillian Lazar (1993), John McRae (1994), and Duff and Maley (2007). In addition to this selection from the book, teachers interested in bringing literature into the classroom can also access a number of websites, such as the British Council’s (2009) which provides an e-book on the subject that can be downloaded for free at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/BritLit_elt.pdf
Teachers looking for arguments to introduce literature into their EFL classrooms will find ample reasons when perusing Literature – into the classroom. The book is the product of a number of classes on literature and language teaching that the authors themselves have taught all around the world. Hence the activities suggested in its pages emanate a positive aura of the ‘tried and tested’. Paran and Robinson do not only address teachers like myself who are passionate about literature and use every opportunity to draw on it in their classrooms, they also want to motivate teachers who love literature but are more sceptical about how they are going to successfully implement it in their language lessons.
Literature – into the classroom is divided into nine chapters. After arguing for the positive role that literature can assume in the language classroom, and after discussing approaches and techniques, the authors state their belief in putting the learners as readers at the centre. This clear commitment to the reader-response theory is underlined by the conviction that each “reader brings to a text their own experiences and their own imagination, so that each person, in a sense, ‘writes’ their own text” (pp. 32-33). Following these introductory chapters, Paran and Robinson proceed by focussing on the traditional genres of literature in the following order: short stories, poetry, novels, and drama. The last two chapters address related studies of Literature and Film and Literature, Art and Music. By means of drawing on related art forms it is suggested that students can be introduced to a multimedial approach to literature.
Paran and Robinson offer an exemplary approach illustrating with sample texts and activities that may be adopted immediately for classroom use. They include ‘Getting It Right’ boxes within the text with tips to help the teachers to succeed in these activities. Thus, teachers are equipped with the tools they can use to adapt these techniques for other literary texts they may wish to introduce. Literature – into the classroom is a comprehensive and hands-on book. It provides sound advice for teachers, amongst others that the authors stress how important it is for teachers to be really enthusiastic about the text they want to read in class (p. 89).
On a more critical note, in the chapter on film one could question the authors’ approach to adaptation. Discussing the quality of an adaptation, usually from text to screen and in a multimedial age where adaptation seems to be the norm rather than the exception, may strike some readers as a bit old-fashioned. It is understandable that they give priority to literature as a book than a film with the eponymous title. However, a focus on how narrative functions across the screen media might have been more rewarding. Teachers who are familiar with the resources available for teaching literature might realize that on occasion the authors are necessarily economical – and in such instances a cross-reference could have opened a vista on additional available materials. These are, however, minor points. In all, the book can be thoroughly recommended to any teacher, whether a beginner or an expert, who would like to explore literature with their learners. I will certainly try out some of the activities they have suggested and look forward to observe how my students engage in them.
British Council. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/BritLit_elt-pdf
Carter, R. & Long, M. (1991). Teaching Literature. London, UK: Longman.
Collie, J. & Slater, S. (1987). Literature in the language classroom: A resource book of ideas and activities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Lazar, G. (1993). Literature and language teaching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Duff, A. & Maley, A. (2007). Literature: Resource books for teachers. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
McRae, J. (1994). Literature with a small ‘l’. London, UK: Macmillan Education.