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Presented at Liberlit 2016, Tokyo Christian Women’s University, February 22nd, 2016

Abstract

The obstacles to the teaching of literature in a foreign language are many. Learners can struggle with lexical and grammatical complexity, idiomatic or metaphorical expressions, and contextual misunderstandings. These obstacles should not prevent teachers from introducing literature, however. This presenter suggests a three stage approach to literature in language classes. In the first stage, the teacher introduces the source material by recasting it via its adaptations (such as comic books, graded readers, television, radio or cinema versions). In the second stage, the learners recycle cultural and linguistic elements to demonstrate their understanding of the literature. Finally, the learners respond to the piece by remixing it and creating a version of their own, in relation to their own cultural context. By allowing the learners to understand foreign language literature on their own terms, we can provide the liminal space for intercultural development.

Introduction

Lazar (1993) identifies three models for working with literature in language classes.

1. Language-based literature teaching, which uses literature primarily as a source for language to study and analyse.
2. Literature as content, in which the students cover specific literary texts in much the same way that they might in their first language.
3. Literature for personal enrichment, in which learners use literature in order to become more intellectually and emotionally involved in language learning.

Does the teacher focus on literature through language, or language though literature? If literature is the focus of academic study and the goal is better understanding of the themes and theory of literature in English, the teacher will need to provide language support – perhaps very little at the graduate level, but maybe a great deal for undergraduates. I would posit that the average university undergraduate in Japan lacks sufficient English proficiency to study literature without significant scaffolding. Thus it may be more profitable to switch our focus and teach language through literature. I would suggest that many of our undergraduates are potentially capable of thinking critically about literature, it is just that they lack practice. Lazar’s models are not mutually exclusive. By using a creative multiliteracy approach I believe we can enable our learners to reach a greater understanding of literature in another language.

What is Literature?

Unsatisfactory as it may be, much like ‘art’, ‘literature’ can anything named as such. If it is deemed so by cultural arbiters, it may be recognised as literature. We can also say that literature foregrounds language and / or has an aesthetic element. In comparison to other texts, literature tends to leave space for interpretation (consider the importance of clarity and precision in an instruction manual or a train timetable as a counterpoint). Finally, I think literature contains the possibility for universality. To quote the theme for this conference..

“Literature conveys subtle truths universal to the human condition. The best study of literature engenders personal responses in student readers and allows them to achieve moments of epiphany, discovery and personal transformation.”

Bringing Literature to the Learner

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There are many ways in which learners can be supported linguistically and cognitively in their efforts to learn from English literature. I propose a three stage cycle.

Recasting
Activities for activating schemata and preparing the learner for the source material. These activities may use reference materials (such as news videos or short biographical readings) to support contextual or content knowledge, or may involve pre-teaching challenging but significant vocabulary.

Recycling
Activities for exploring the source material together. These activities could focus on the dramatic aspects of the work (such as readers’ theatre) or look at the text critically (as with reading circles).

Remixing
Activities for expanding on and responding to the source material. These activities may be personal (such as asking the learner to write a letter to a character), or collaborative (like staging a recreation of a scene or making a trailer for a cinematic version)

Case Study One: Never Let Me Go

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, the reader follows narrator Kathy H and her classmates Tommy D and Ruth C as they leave the ‘protective’ environment of their boarding school, Hailsham, and make their way in the world as carers and donors.

Recast

There are some complex ethical, cultural and scientific aspects to this story, and in order to help the learners approach the book / film with confidence these can be introduced through discussion and short video clips. We considered images of the traditional English boarding school, organ donation and cloning and the students were asked to speculate on how these may be connected in the novel. We concluded by watching the trailer for the film and discussing the opening quote.

The breakthrough in medical science came in 1952.
Doctors could now cure the previously incurable.
By 1967, life expectancy passed 100 years.

The uncomfortable truths in ‘Never Let Me Go’ are masked by euphemisms (death is ‘completion’, for example), and there are other terms used frequently in the book which have a special significance . I collected these into simplified glossaries and had students explain their lists to one another.

Recycle

Hailsham, the school which the main characters attend as children, dominates the narrative as a place of both comfort and fear. I selected three passages from early in the novel, in which Kathy H discusses the pavilion, the woods and the sales. Each student read a different passage, then presented it to their classmates.

Remix

Students are asked to respond to the story with short creative writing pieces. They also dramatise short passages from the script and stage them in their own context, or record short conversations between characters which didn’t take place in the book (for example, a discussion between Miss Emily and Madame, after Tommy and Kathy leave their home with Tommy’s artwork).

Some of the materials used for ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘Emma / Clueless’ can be found at the website I developed for the film class I teach. You can also find more information on student film making there.

Further Reading

Ali, S. (1993). The reader-response approach: An alternative for teaching literature in a second language. Journal of Reading, 37(4), 288-296.

Day, R. R., & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Culler, J. (1997). Literary Theory: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks.

Cumming-Potvin, W. (2007). Scaffolding, multiliteracies, and reading circles. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue canadienne de l’éducation, 483-507.

Erten, I. H., & Razi, S. (2009). The Effects of Cultural Familiarity on Reading Comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 21(1), 60-77.

Gersten, R., & Jimenez, R. T. (1994). A delicate balance: Enhancing literature instruction for students of English as a second language. The Reading Teacher, 47(6), 438-449.

Hedgcock, J., & Ferris, D. R. (2009). Teaching readers of English: Students, texts, and contexts. Routledge.

Lazar, G. (1993). Literature and Language Teaching: A guide for Teachers and Trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lazar, G. (1994). Using literature at lower levels. ELT journal, 48(2), 115-124.

Liu, J. (2000). The power of readers theater: From reading to writing. ELT Journal, 54(4), 354-361.

An Interview with Robert O' Dowd from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I met with Robert O’ Dowd at the EUROCALL2015 Conference in Padova, Italy in August and had a really interesting conversation about telecollaboration. If you know anything at all about the topic you will have heard of Dr. O’ Dowd, as he is amongst the leading figures in the field. If you don’t know anything about it, then watch this short video and learn!

Dr. O’ Dowd has been involved in the INTENT project and the development of UNI-Collaboration amongst many other projects. Although I had heard of telecollaboration (and it’s variants) I was surprised at the number of projects in progress in Europe and beyond. For example, I learnt about TILA and SOLIYA as other examples of teachers and students striving to build linguistic and intercultural understanding.

If you like this interview, please visit the interview index to find many more. I’ll be posting more in the coming weeks. You can also subscribe to the audio podcast version via iTunes. The updates are sporadic, but the archive is building!

An Interview with Claire Kramsch from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I spent a very enjoyable half an hour talking with Claire Kramsch at the 2014 JALT National conference in Tsukuba, Japan, and here it is for your perusal. Professor Kramsch is the director of the Berkeley Language Center, a teacher of German, and a researcher with an extensive body of work related to culture and language, discourse and language pedagogy.

If you like this interview, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes to hear more as soon as they are released, and tell your teaching friends!

Searching the Cambridge CELTA syllabus for ‘culture’, I discover the following.

Unit 1 – Learners and teachers and the teaching and learning context

1.1 Cultural, linguistic and educational backgrounds

Demonstrate an understanding of the range of backgrounds and experiences that adult learners bring to their classes

A quick scoot around the Trinity CertTESOL site yields similar results….

Learning objectives

Successful trainees will be able to demonstrate the following on completion of the course:

b. awareness of the learning needs of individuals or groups of learners, and of the motivation of learners in a variety of cultures and environments

These organisations are the prominent international providers of entry level TEFL qualifications, and many of the trainees on these courses will go on to their first teaching jobs after receiving their certificates. A fairly large number, I would predict, would be NEST’s , and a lot of them would be going on to their first extended forays into foreign cultures.

I am at the preliminary stages of work on a paper at the moment, and I wonder if I could draw on the expertise of teacher trainers and trainees out there. Some questions, to help me get a feel for the topic.

  1. If you train NESTs on either the Cambridge or Trinity certificate, how do you interpret the excerpts reproduced above? What kind of input sessions do you give on ‘culture’, and how do you assess whether trainees have gained cultural understanding?
  2. It would appear, from the syllabi, that cross-cultural training focuses on what happens in the classroom. How well are trainees prepared for life / work abroad? (Or is that beyond the remit of a four-week course)?
  3. If you are a NEST who has taken an initial training course before travelling to a teaching job abroad, did you feel sufficiently well prepared?

These questions are very broad but any feedback is welcome. If you would like to answer but would rather not respond in a public forum, please feel free to contact me directly at darrenrelliott@gmail.com. Any response will be confidential and identities will be protected. If you want to forward this to colleagues who are not active in the blogosphere, please do so.

Thanks in advance and your help is much appreciated!

An Interview with Jeannette Littlemore from darren elliott on Vimeo.

It was great to see Jeanette’s workshop, and to talk to her afterwards about the research she has been engaged in regarding metaphor and gesture. As teachers, we need to be aware of the ways in which our gestures may be interpreted… whether they support or contradict the words coming out of our mouths (which are quite likely to be metaphorical themselves). We also need to understand the messages our students are sending through gesture. It’s a fascinating topic. Some things you might like to comment on.

Teachers who gesture more are perceived to be better teachers.

The idea that gesture can betray an ‘accent’ in L2 users, or conversely, that adoption of an L2 physicality can give a more positive impression.

Incorporating gesture into teaching may enable learners to connect more powerfully to the target language.

You can find a list of Dr. Littlemore’s work here.

UPDATE Dr. Littlemore kindly sent me a copy of the article she published in the pre-conference edition of The Language Teacher, which includes further readings. The original can be found at…
Littlemore, J. (2010). Metaphor, gesture and second language acquisition. The Language Teacher, 34.4, 35 – 37

This is the first of four interviews from the JALT conference in Nagoya, Japan…. more to follow!

(Written as a NEST, working in a foreign country, but hopefully of interest to all)

How did you learn cultural awareness? Assuming you did, of course….

For an industry which pitches different cultures together with such force and frequency as ELT, there is very little teacher training devoted to cross-cultural communication. On the CELTA? Sorry, to busy cutting up cards to practice the past perfect. DELTA? Well, can we do it after I’ve transcribed this into phonemic script.  Masters? Perhaps, but who knows what people get up to on those things. No, most of us have to figure it out for ourselves…. new job, new country, new people, new language… well, here goes nothing!

Of course, for many of us that is part of what makes teaching exciting. For others, it may be what forces them out of the profession early on. Is there more that we could do for new teachers in training to prepare them for life abroad? Especially if we have no idea where they are going, or might go in the future? Can we give any better advice than “Look, listen and learn?”

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Geert Hofstede’s research has been taken up as a business tool, but it has applications to the ELT classroom. He assesses five aspects of culture; Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long-Term Orientation.

Here is a comparison of my home culture, and my host culture. I should expect to come up against a greater reliance on rules than I am used to (Japan is an uncertainty avoiding culture), and I am also likely to notice a greater gap between gender roles (based on the masculinity index).

It is an interesting starting point, but rather simplistic. There is little mention of how the different dimensions play against each other, and the categorisation into national cultures attributes homogeneity where there may be none. Even a country like Japan, not generally considered diverse, has enough difference to be significant. Perhaps the iPhone app (Cultural GPS) advertised on the site gives us a hint – this is a handy tool for the business person flying in and out, but maybe not much more.

Culture Bumps

Carol Archer first coined this term for the unexpected outcomes, foiled expectations or unpleasant surprises which are not uncommon in cross-cultural encounters. The idea is not dissimilar to that of Critical Incident Technique theories. Unlike Hofstede’s model, these techniques suggest that we extrapolate backwards from what has actually happened to reveal something about a particular culture, group or individual, rather than make an assumption based on research about what might happen in real life.

Contrast Culture Method

As opposed to the previous two methods, CCM is very precise in how its sessions are conducted. Two players perform a role play based on an incident – one acts as a reference player, supposed to be closer to the audience’s own culture. The other is the contrast player, who reacts against them. After the role play, each player is interviewed by a facilitator, still in character, while the other player waits outside. Both players then return, and come out of character to discuss what has transpired. There are similarities to Critical Incident Analysis, but in this case players are at great pains not to identify as any particular nationality or culture, rather as a pair in reaction to one another.

I have been loosely affiliated to the CCM Special Interest Group of SEITAR Japan (Society for Intercultural Training, Teaching and Research) for a while, and have taken part in a few sessions. Here you can see an edit of our workshop at the JALT PanSIG in Osaka in May…

CCM Long from darren elliott on Vimeo.

(There is a short version here)

Choices

Which of these models, if any, do you think would be most useful for the novice teacher preparing for their first overseas posting? Have you ever received any training? Was it any good? Do you have any epiphanies to share, of culture bumps that taught you something you needed to learn?

Further Reading

Carol Archer’s website offers free downloadable materials for English language classes, as well as further information. This article on handling culture bumps from the ELT Journal by Wenying Jiang is freely available with a bit of googling…. and this one from the APA explains CIT from in earliest incarnation.

Cultural differences are a mainstay of ELT coursebooks, but this one does it with a bit more style and depth. Joseph Shaules, one of the authors, is also a member of the CCM SIG, but I haven’t met him yet.

Geert Hofstede’s ideas can be explored on the cultural dimensions website here.

You can learn more about CCM in this great reader.

Whether it qualifies as a fully fledged language is very doubtful. It may be a lexicon, but that doesn’t really give it the full sense of social gravitas it deserves. It’s not really a dialect, a pidgin or a creole. To call it a jargon would imply that it was a technical or professional form, so we should probably refer to it as an argot.

So what is it?

Polari was a language spoken predominantly by gay men in the earlier part of the twentieth century. A mixture of Italian, backslang, Pig Latin and who knows what else, it had its roots in the slang of outcasts through history, from theatre, from the circus and from the criminal underground – linked especially to the actors form Parlyaree, and Cant, an underground language of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries used to obscure meaning and cover up illegal activity from the general public. Of course, homosexuality was illegal for many years too, and dropping the occasional Polari word or expression into a conversation was a great way to tell if a new face was trade or naff.  Polari was popularized by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick as the two out of work actors Julian and Sandy in the 1960’s.

Transcripts available here.

But almost as soon as Polari entered the mainstream, it died. Partly because it had entered the mainstream – a savage blow for any slang. And partly, too, because it was no longer necessary – once homosexuality was legalised there was a movement in the community to take pride in one’s sexuality, and to shun the camp language of Polari (and the figure of ridicule represented by mainstream media).

What is interesting about Polari is that it served to both declare and obscure the user’s membership of a tribe. It acts as a particular reminder of the way in which language is selected for an audience, to ingratiate or distance ourselves from a listener, and that a single word can convey an entire biography for the astute listener.

As English teachers we often ask ourselves what motivates our learners. One classic understanding is the  integrative / instrumental paradigm, which sees the learners orientation towards the target language group as important. I imagine that, as a proportion of learners worldwide, those who have a particular desire to join a native speaker group, and thus need to attain certain native speaker norms in order to gain entry to such groups, are limited. Even amongst ESOL students there may be a stronger desire to succeed in everyday transactions (instrumental motivation) than to become a member of the local English speaking society. In language learners studying in their home countries, with little likelihood of extended stays in English speaking countries, integrative motivation will probably be non-existent.

I know a number of students who, having spent parts of their childhood in English-speaking countries, retain native-like pronunciation. Yet when talking to another student, their English becomes thickly Japanese – membership of the group they are with is more important at that moment than displaying their ‘true’ English voices. Many students will choose to retain or emphasise linguistic elements from their local context, phonological, grammatical or lexical. So are these learners failures, or merely asserting their pride in their own biographies?

This post leans heavily on Paul Baker’s work, particularly his book…

Baker, P. (2002) Polari – The Lost Language of Gay Men. London: Routledge

…which I stumbled across whilst trolling around the basement of the university library, snuggled up next to ‘Negro Orators and their Speeches’. How lucky I am to work here! You can see an interview with Dr. Baker here, and read an article of his on the topic here.

I also read Quentin Crisp’s well known biographical work ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ recently. You can see Britain’s stately homo here, in an interview which helps one understand, perhaps, why Polari was swept away as a reminder of a time when homosexuality was even more of a dirty secret than it is now. The title of this post means ‘How lovely to see your pretty face again’ … or something like that, anyway!

Wife and children abed, the teacher was scratching his way through a stack of conversation transcriptions that his students had handed in earlier that day. “Hi, how are you” began one. “So-so” was the reply. The teacher lifted his pen to strike through the unnatural phrase in blood red ink – after all, don’t we native speakers usually say “not bad” or “okay” – but then paused. The pen hovered above the page, as the steady tick of the kitchen clock marked time.

“so-so”

He understood the meaning.

It made sense.

It wasn’t technically wrong, was it?

“so-so”

It’s a very Japanese response, but one I have rarely used / heard in the UK. The temptation is, then, to strike it out as incorrect. There are many more such examples, and I’m sure you have your own from the contexts in which you work. Aleks Kase has a great list of ‘Konglish’ expressions over on his site which is worth looking at.

There are two debates which draw particularly impassioned discussion across the ELT blogosphere. The first is the use of technology in education, and the second is the ELF / International English / ‘standard’ English bunfight. But I wonder if the question of whether the teacher accepts an expression, a usage or a pronunciation feature as ‘natural’ is of any importance whatsoever.

I suggest that there are two people who have an interest in the learner’s English, and neither is the teacher.

  1. The first person is the learner themselves. Many learners are not aiming at a ‘native-like’ English. Perhaps they accept that such a goal is often unrealistic. Maybe they want to retain certain linguistic features as a part of their own cultural identity (they wish to use English, but not be changed or defined by it). For many, a certain functional level of attainment is sufficient for their purposes – for tourism, for reading documents or for online interaction.
  2. The second is whoever the learner will be using their English with outside the classroom, in authentic communication. The non-native speaker should be concerned with two aspects of their English, in this regard. To start with, they must be intelligible – certain features of non-native Englishes may be more or less intelligible to those they interact with. The other issue is the image that the speaker creates with his or her language. If the non-native speaker is percieved negatively due to their English, they may have a problem. Of course, people can (do) have pre-concieved notions of others before they even open their mouths, based on racial or cultural prejudices. This is something over which the speaker has little influence. But learners need to be aware, perhaps, which turns of phrase or phonological features are likely present a negative professional or social impression.

In all likelyhood, your learners will either be learning English to interact in fairly narrow and specific contexts, or they will be learning general English because they have to. In the first case, the teacher and the learner will be able to negotiate, at the learner’s lead, based on the learner’s potential audience. If a learner is planning to attend a British university, then native-speaker academic norms are obviously worth focusing on. If the learner is doing business with her collegues in the Bangkok office, perhaps not.

Realistically, the vast majority of learners in state education are learning without a particular audience in mind. However, most of them are likely to be at the beginner to pre-intermediate level and the variety of English they learn is somewhat moot – the struggle with basic grammar and vocabulary is enough to contend with.

The student needs to know what kind of English world they are stepping into, what they can expect to achieve from their starting point, and how they are likely to be recieved by their potential audience. What the teacher thinks about English norms means nothing.

Or “cultural diversity is a wonderful thing (within the framework of western liberal democracy)”

Sara Hannam has just contributed yet another excellent post to the blogosphere, prompted by a horrific bit of teaching in the movie ‘Donnie Darko’. In this case, the teacher stifles the expression of a bright young man by sticking to her lesson plan… which also supports a hidden  dubious agenda.

But what do we do when the teacher is ‘right’ and the student is ‘wrong’?

This morning, the listening in our regular textbook was a discussion between a school principal and a concerned mother, about a teacher who was scaring the children with his enthusiastic lectures on environmental catastrophe. Rather than pursuing the ‘green’ angle that the textbook then took, I thought we might get some value out of educational policy issues. I played about with intelligent design, Darwinism and creationism, but then decided to have a look a something else.

Take a look at this clip (don’t feel obliged to watch all of it, I think you’ll get the point soon enough)

This is a typical representation of homosexuality in the Japanese media. Probably not so different from when I was growing up in England in the seventies and eighties – gay people were objects of derision and ridicule, or dangerous perverts to be feared (perhaps they still are). A prime topic, then, for a challenging Tuesday morning class about ‘What teachers should teach’. And this is the worksheet I put together.

So here is the problem. What do you do when the students express ideas or beliefs that could be considered homophobic… that is, when students are ‘wrong’? Or, more broadly speaking, what do you say to students who say something sexist or racist? How do you respond to students who put forward opinions you feel uncomfortable with? At a party, you might challenge the speaker, or avoid them? Doesn’t really work in a lesson though, does it?

The teacher has a distinct power advantage which makes a direct challenge extremely unfair. The first advantage is linguistic – the teacher is more skilled in the use of the target language than the student. The teacher is also in a position of (perceived) authority, and although they may not intend to abuse their power the students may fear for their grades. In some contexts, the learners are considerably younger than the teacher. This may also put them at a disadvantage in a disagreement, either culturally (with respect shown to elders), intellectually or experientially. Students will often back down if challenged, for these reasons. But they will resent being put in that position and grasp their beliefs yet more firmly.

If the student is in alignment with his or her cultural norms, where do we draw the line and openly state “I believe your society is wrong in this case”?

Please express yourself freely in this class, as long as you are ‘right’.

In a previous post I mentioned an article I had read on ‘nativised’ reading materials – readings which are adapted to include local (and familiar) names, places and foods (for example) whilst retaining the vocabulary and grammar structures of the original. In the article, the researchers took a story based in New York and transplanted it to Canakkale, a coastal Turkish city. The authors reported that students’ reading fluency was best with a combination of pre-reading tasks and ‘nativised’ readings. I had a little correspondance with Salim Razi, one of the authors, who is kind enough to allow me to reproduce some of his insights here.

Recently I have been reading a book titled ‘Acts of reading: Exploring connections in pedagogy of Japanese’ which was edited by Hiroshi Nara and Mari Noda (2003). It might help me answer your question, I suppose. Nara gives an example of a tofu recipe in the book (I think, you are familiar with tofu soup as you are living in Japan but I am not as a Turkish resident). It is important to make an awareness of the topic by providing essential background knowledge in case of lack of relevant prior knowledge; however it is also important to provide the balance between teaching culture and reading comprehension. The teacher needs to consider his/her aims in asking students to read the text. If the aim is comprehension then is it really vital to spend much time on culture? I do not mean to imply that we should not teach culture in foreign language classes; but I try to stress that culture should be taken into consideration when it is necessary. Especially if we are teaching English which has more non-native speakers than native ones and called as franca lingua. The case might be different for Japanese language teaching as Japan is the only country in the world speaking it. We have Japanese language teaching department here at Canakkale and I know that they integrate much more cultural elements into their curriculum.

It’s a point I think we have to consider. If we learn the Japanese language, we need to study the culture too. I don’t disagree with that. Is English different from other languages in this regard? Is there even an ‘English’ culture? And how do teachers of Spanish, French, Arabic and other languages with a wide range deal with it? Is it a debate for them too?