Teaching Literature: “To be, or not to be: that is the question”

This is an article review in one of my subjects in the graduate school. To access the reviewed full text, click this link.

Synopsis

“Why do we teach Literature?” and “How could we do it better?” are the main questions explored by Michael LoMonico (2006), the author and a veteran teacher of English. He said that students should appreciate Literature as the way teachers do. Discovering the beauty of Literature, teachers are challenged to stay away from the old school of teaching: discussing plots, studying of characters, and knowing author’s biography, but to make their teaching methods innovative and creative. To make teaching better, LoMonico (2006) highlighted “performance”, letting students be creative and have fun like exploring how expressive they can say the lines. Then, in the context of teaching Shakespeare, he listed ten philosophy of how teachers can help students be Literature lovers and their class be more active.

Critiquing

“To be or not to be…” is the famous opening phrase of a soliloquy in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. Using the line as the title of this article review gives readers an opportunity to see the aesthetic beauty of how noble Shakespeare created that phrase—the reason why teachers aim to teach (the first argument). In the context of teaching Literature, the title hints whether teachers’ approach is well suited to students or not—how teachers can make their approach more meaningful (the second argument).

LoMonico’s (2006) main concept in this article is why teachers teach Literature. Beforehand, they face great challenges in how they introduce Literature to students in an interesting way because students are hampered from appreciating it because of anxiety and being uninterested in the subject. In a study on language anxiety, Kondo and Yang (2004) acknowledged that anxiety is always a problem in language learning, which Horwitz and Young (1991) and other researchers supported. It is given that Literature is taught in class, so that students can learn to improve their vocabularies and language (Eagleson & Kramer, 1976). The main author lacked this support for his article, but he mainly focused on aesthetic beauty: stressing how notable authors choose the veracious words and create those enticing sentences that students must see for their own benefits. With regard to evidence, he, being a veteran teacher in English, sufficiently provided enough support on the basis of his experience (methodology).

Considerably, the way he created his opening sentences (putting some lines from the works of Shakespeare, Salinger, and other great authors) is a great venue to make readers see and realize how exciting it is to study Literature. To answer his first argument, teachers of Literature aim that students can see what Literature has to offer.

Moving to the second argument, LoMonico (2006) clearly separated his two objectives or central arguments by using bold lines and introductory phrase “The second part of my title is: “How we can do it better”.

As given as an example, in high school, teachers discuss every detail of a story, its plots, characters, and summary of chapter-by-chapter and assures students know this. Sadly, many teachers are still sticking to this method in their teaching. LoMonico (2006) made a good point that he recognized that nothing is wrong with this approach, but doing this, he explained a value—“we end up teaching about the novel instead of teaching the novel itself.” Nevertheless, LoMonico (2006) believed that this is a challenge that teachers should overcome and emphasized that they are afraid of focusing on the language of the text itself, which is a gap for researchers to explore. On the basis of one study, students grow their interest in text-based approach particularly through performance—close reading and integration of language and Literature or the Language Model (Carter & Long, 1991).

Making students read books is the greatest problem of teachers. This is caused by the lack of interest and readiness of students, and takes effort from both parties. LoMonico (2006) said that teachers give solution through activities, wherein students first realize why and how authors used these beautiful words and its uses. That is why some research have focused on strategies/approaches employed by teachers. However, a problem arose, found by Hwang and Embi (2007), in their study on teaching strategies, which is that some teachers are in dilemma which approaches are best suited to their students. In contrast, one of the activities that teacher can give to students is letting students say that words out loud, which makes them more excited inviting them to read more (LoMonico, 2006). In the result from Hwang and Embi’s (2007) study, teacher-based approach dominates the classroom, but it should be “student-centered, activity-based, and process-oriented” instead (Carter, 1996).  On the basis of the latter claim, LoMonico (2006) advised to use technology strategically (eg, assigning every group to focus on one area such as dialogues, sounds, props, and shots).

Many teachers look back to how their teachers in high school teach Literature for inspiration. LoMonico (2006) positively asserted that they should not because they have to adopt a new approach where kids can be more active, performing, creating videos, and a lot more. The main author used Shakespeare works an example. He was able to put the books to lower shelves because he used implicit and easy examples. More importantly, he was successful explaining that student can understand his texts. Then, he stressed that the teacher’s role is to find out a way to demystify a text. Considerably, every teacher has his/her own strategy to stimulate students’ interest. In the text, LoMonico (2006) advised that performance is a key to unlocking Literature.

As noticed, he emphasized the term “performance,” which advances and supports many research. He exampled a student finding his way to say the lines as if he owns these, and a group of students editing a scene, and memorizing and acting out the lines. Aside from fun, these activities support that interpretation of students and language-literary response are essential in teaching Literature (Shahizah & Nackeeren, 2003, p. 198).     Students have to know “close reading,” giving students to have a closer encounter with text, deciding which lines are essential that is language-based approach of Carter and Long (1991). Teachers skipping parts of a story to move on to the better ones is also part of collaborative learning, which is paraphrastic approach of Carter and Long (1991). The author of the article is aware that making the story short is still beneficial in contrast to some claims that doing such can lose the essence of a text.

The following big four: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet are taught in American high schools; as far as the author is informed, these are not required. LoMonico made a good point of suggesting that there are some other stories that students can understand and relate more. Teaching easier texts to students that helps teachers be more confident is advantageous than teaching the Big Four that increase anxiety not only in students but also in teachers.

To make teaching Literature more meaningful, a full commitment is highly desirable from teachers. He said “the focus on all teaching of Shakespeare must be on his language”. Carter and Long (1991) support that teachers should focus on this, so student can improve language proficiency more. Lastly, LoMonico (2006) stated “Discuss the words. It’s worth the effort.”

Note: LoMonico (2006) had no citations of any published articles in this article, and his claims are based on experience as a professor for more or less than 40 years.

Implication to the teaching of Literature

Teaching literature is not about knowing the work of authors and obtaining facts or information, but it is about contributing personal development to students as individuals. How teachers make their way to integrating language and literature and connecting these works to students’ lives are contributory factors. Thus, in every class, a teacher must assure that s/he takes every chance to develop students’ appreciation to Literature and transform them into Literature lovers.

Based on studies, there are many approaches available, but the use of these varies depending on the needs of students. However, one approach, which guarantees holistic learning, is the one valuing performance because it gives students a venue of having fun and learning in the same time—student-centred activities. Hence, teachers must be full committed, creative, and explorative in choosing the best strategy in demystifying a text.

References

Carter, R. & Long, M. (1991). Teaching literature. London: Longman.

Eagleson, R., & Kramer, L. (1976). Language and literature: A synthesis. London: Nelson.

Kondo, D. S., & Yang, Y.-L. (2004). Strategies for coping with language anxiety: The case of

students of English In Japan. ELT Journal. 58(3). Retrieved from

http://203.72.145.166/ELT/files/58-3-5.pdf

LoMonico, M. (2006). Why we teach literature (and how we could do it better). Minnesota

English Journal. Retrieved from http://www.mcte.org/journal/mej06/8LoMonico.pdf

Shahizah, I. H. & Nackeeran, S. (2003). Teaching Malaysian poetry through reader-response

approaches. In Ganakumaran, S. and Edwin, M. (eds). Teaching of Literature in ESL/EFL

Contexts. Petaling Jaya: Sasbadi Sdn. Bhd.

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