Using Literature in the Upper Secondary EFL Classroom
Termin: Vårterminen 2011 Handledare: Johan Wijkmark
Karlstads universitet 651 88 Karlstad Tfn 054-700 10 00 Fax 054-700 14 60 Information@kau.se www.kau.se
Titel: Using Literature in the Upper Secondary EFL Classroom Författare: Ståhlberg, Sophie
Engelska C, 2011 Antal sidor: 33
Abstrakt: The Swedish upper-secondary level curriculum defines the English language as a necessary skill that the students need to be able to take part of the world around them, to participate in different social and cultural contexts and to learn about the world and broaden their horizons. In the curriculum, it is also stated that English literature is to be illustrate the different aspects of the English language. Literature is, in fact, introduced as a vital tool for the teachers of English. The purpose of this essay is to explore English teachers’ reasons and goals for using literature when teaching English, as well as their opinions on how literature should be used and is used in the English classroom.
The results show that teachers see literature as a strong pedagogical tool that they use to help their students develop social and cultural understanding, as well as a tool for learning and studying the language itself. The problems encountered are the students’ negative attitude towards literature and their lack of motivation as well as planning and conducting literature-based teaching within a restricted time frame. All the teachers that took part in the study wished that they could use literature in a more extensive way and saw it as a great source for teaching a foreign language.
Nyckelord: English Literature, foreign language classroom, literature-based teaching.
1. Introduction ... 4
1.1 Aims ... 5
2. Previous research ... 5
2.1 The English Curriculum for Swedish upper secondary school ... 5
2.2 Approaches to teaching literature ... 6
2.3 Literature as the source of knowledge for cultural and social understanding ... 8
2.4 The teacher´s role ... 9
3. Method ... 12
3.1 Informants ... 12
3.2 Interviews ... 13
4. Analysis and results ... 13
4.1. What is the value of using literature in the English classroom? ... 13
4.2 How do you think literature should be used when teaching English? What methods have you used? ... 15
4.3 To what extent do you feel that literature is used in the teaching of English today? .. 17
4.4 Do you feel that you reach your goals when using literature in your teaching? ... 19
4.5 How do your students respond to the use of literature in the literature classroom? .... 19
4.6 When choosing the literature that you will use in your teaching, what are your reasons for choosing? ... 20
4.7 Do you use literature from both the literary canon and from current popular fiction? 22 4.8 When it comes to reading, do you let your students select their own books or do you choose for them? Are there any benefits or disadvantages with either of these scenarios? . 23 4.9 When you have weaker students, do you allow or encourage them to read adapted versions of English book/texts? ... 24
4.10. In a group of students there can be a great difference in the level of the students and also in their personalities and interests. Do you take this into consideration when teaching English literature? ... 25
5. Discussion ... 27
6. Conclusion ... 30
List of references ... 32
Appendix ... 33
4 1. Introduction
“Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, 'Lighthouses' as the poet said 'erected in the sea of time.' They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind, Books are humanity in print. “
- Arthur Schopenhauer
The English language is sometimes said to be “the language of the world”, the new Lingua Franca, something that is emphasized in the National Curriculum Guideline for upper secondary schools in Sweden. The curriculum defines the English language as a necessary skill that the students need to be able to take part of the world around them and have the opportunities to participate in different social and cultural contexts, as well as to learn about the world and broaden their horizons. It is also stated that English literature is to be used in order to teach the students the different aspects of the English language, and when looking at the purposes and goals presented in the curriculum, we find that literature is stressed as a vital tool for the teachers to use in their teaching of English. Literature is the gateway to social and cultural understanding, in a historical as well as a present perspective, and helps students towards a better understanding of the world and its people.
Although the curriculum encourages the use of literature as a tool for teaching the students different aspects of the English language, as well as social and cultural understanding, it does not state how the teachers are to use literature in order to achieve their goals. The curriculum leaves a lot of room for the teachers to approach literature in the ways that they feel suitable and with the methods that they prefer. The teachers have the opportunity to adapt their teaching of literature to a great extent, according to their students´ needs and to their own opinions and preferences, which has the result that the approach to teaching literature tends to vary significantly. As a trainee teacher/student, I have seen several different approaches to teaching literature, as well as observed the difference in teachers’ attitudes towards using literature in the English classroom. The aim of the study is to explore English teachers’
5 reasons and goals for using literature when teaching English, as well as their opinions on how literature should be used and is used in the English classroom.
This study was performed in two upper secondary schools in a small Swedish town where teachers were asked a number of questions in order to find out how they used literature when teaching English. Six teachers were interviewed, three at each school. The aim of this study is to investigate how teachers in upper secondary school view literature-based teaching and how they use literature in their classroom. The intention is also to see what benefits and advantages the teachers saw in the use of literature as a tool for helping students develop their
understanding of the language and cultural understanding of the countries where the language in question is used.
The research questions that are explored in this essay are the following:
What are English teachers´ opinions on how literature can and should be used in the teaching of English?
How do teachers use literature in their teaching of English?
What is their purpose in using literature?
How should literature be used in the English classroom according to theories of literature in language learning?
2. Previous research
In this section I will present previous research and theories on the use of literature in the English classroom.
2.1 The English Curriculum for Swedish upper secondary school
The English language surrounds us in everyday life and is used in various fields such as culture, politics, education and economy. Knowledge of English increases opportunities for individuals to participate in various social and cultural contexts and to participate in global
6 study and work. Proficiency in English can also provide new perspectives on the world, increased opportunities for contacts and greater understanding of different ways of living.
(Skolverket, Ämnesplan, Engelska, 2011)
This quote is taken from the National Curriculum for English in Swedish schools. The English language is regarded as a necessary skill for students to experience the world around them. English is widely regarded as the language of the world and to function outside the boundaries of our country, our students need to be proficient in English. The curriculum also states that the English subject helps our students towards a better understanding of the world as well as broadening their horizons and perception of the world. In the national English curriculum for upper secondary schools in Sweden, it is made clear that literature is an important part in the teaching of English. The curriculum states that literature is to be used to teach the students how to read and assimilate different texts and their content, and also to help them acquire knowledge about social conditions and cultural traditions in English-speaking countries as well as knowledge about historical aspects and literature of different eras. As shown in the quote above, the English language is considered to be a vital skill, and the curriculum emphasizes the importance and benefits of using literature as a pedagogical tool when teaching students the different aspects of English. Literature can be used to provide the students with genuine examples of the language in question, reinforcing examples of
grammar, phrases and vocabulary that they have already acquired, as well as presenting opportunities to acquire new phrases and words and extend their vocabulary (Skolverket, Ämnesplan Engelska, 2011).
2.2 Approaches to teaching literature
So how should teachers approach the teaching of literature? The curriculum gives teachers the guidelines for what they should teach, but not how they are going to achieve it. In his book Läsa på främmande språk [Reading in a foreign language], Bo Lundahl (1998) presents and sums up some of the most fundamental principles for working with texts and also presents his theory that working with literature must be based on the students´ understanding, experience and expectations. He describes reading as an active process in which the reader constructs meanings from the text based on their previous experiences and expectations. The words on the printed page make the student create internal images and ideas that can go far beyond the
7 words´ literal meaning, based on their understanding, experience and understanding. Lundahl (1998) describes the understanding of the text as a triangle where the student’s language skills are connected with the student’s knowledge about the world and ultimately connects with the text. The students´ language skills and knowledge of the world help them understand and decode the text, which in return furthers their language skills as well as teaches them about the world. With this triangle in mind, Lundahl claims that the choice of literature should be based on the students’ experiences, understanding and expectations in order for them to be able to process and understand a text.
Lundahls´ (1998) theory that reading and working with texts need to be based on the students’
background knowledge is supported by many studies and by the opinions of other researchers that have studied the use of literature in the English classroom. In her book The Culture of Reading & the Teaching of English, Kathleen McCormick (1994) explores the question of what it means to read. McCormick writes that many have the view that reading is the simple process of taking in information from a text printed on a page. But McCormick argues that reading is so much more.
People read for pleasure, comfort, intimacy, some read as part of their profession, to respond and comment on texts in order to help others read them more fully. People read for
instructional purposes, to relax, to find out about the weather, to study for an exam, to escape, to catch up on the news, to get a driver’s license, to determine the proper usage of their cold remedy, to gain entry into a particular culture, to learn how to perform their job. And in the broadest sense, people read many things beside printed texts. They read each other, music, film, the television news. What one reads is significantly influenced by the reading context – literally by where we read. (McCormick, 1994, p. 1-2)
Like Lundahl (1998), McCormick (1994) argues that reading is an active and complex process. Reading is not seen as a simple abstract skill, it is rather seen as a social action that occurs in specific social circumstances which is the basis for the students´ previous
knowledge that, according to both Lundahl (1998) and McCormick (1994), is the foundation for the student’s ability to understand and decode the text. The message that McCormick (1994) sends with this statement is that studying literature should be, and is, so much more than reading a text and taking in the information that is printed on the page.
8 In her book, Literature as Exploration, Louise M. Rosenblatt (1938; 1995) presents two different approaches to literature which she calls the aesthetic and the efferent stance. In the efferent stance the approach is towards reading in order to acquire information about the subject that the text in question addresses. With this approach, the reader concentrates on the information to be gained from the reading. In the aesthetic stance, the focus is on what happens during the reading. The content of the text forms the starting point for the understanding. The difference between the efferent and the aesthetic stance is that in the aesthetic stance the reader is seen as a participant and not only an observer. She also points out that these are not separate modes of reading and emphasizes the fact that they are interconnected approaches. Most often a combination of the two is used since the two approaches lean towards each other in most teaching approaches and the approach will vary depending on the reader, text and situation (Rosenblatt 1938/1995). This is a theory that is very similar to what Lundahl (1998) and McCormick (1994) advocate.Lundahl and
McCormick both express the opinion that literature should be approached with the reader´s experience, understanding and expectations in mind, as well as the importance of being aware of what the text itself brings into the reading. McCormick (1994) and Lundahl (1998) both advocate the use of a mix of the two approaches. In the teaching of literature, a mix of the two is often used, based on the situation, the reader and the text. When using textbooks and non- fictional texts, a more efferent approach is used, and when dealing with poetry, prose and fiction a more aesthetic approach is used but most often there is a mix of the two, depending on what the goals are with using the text (Lundahl, 1998). When working with a text, Lundahl (1998) points out that content and context should always be at the center of attention and the students should be encouraged to go beyond the literal meaning. This aim is achieved by focusing on the context and content of the text. But a content-oriented reading requires a basic knowledge of the language, and if the content is unknown to the reader then it needs to be introduced properly. The less a person knows about a subject, the more it needs to be prepared (Lundahl, 1998).
2.3 Literature as the source of knowledge for cultural and social understanding
Lundahl (1998) expresses the opinion that texts and literature should be used as a source of knowledge about different countries and their cultures. Lundahl presents a set of fundamental principles that a teacher should always have in mind when teaching literature in a foreign
9 language. One of these is that the cultural content of the text needs to be considered and that the cultural content of a text is a great source of knowledge of cultural and social
understanding. Lundahl also emphasizes the important role that the teacher has in the selection of literature when studying cultural and social aspects in literature. In his study he has found that many who have studied the impact of literature in the teaching of language have shown that the cultural content of a text has a significant impact on students’ ability to learn about it and to understand it. The greater the cultural distance is, the harder it is for our students to understand what the text is about. But if we recognize the cultural setting or environment where the story takes place, it is easier to read and understand the text. So, when teachers choose texts to work with in the classroom, they need to consider their students´
cultural frames of reference and the cultural content of the text.
In her book, Att läsa skönlitteratur med tonåringar [Reading literature with teenagers], Gunilla Molloy (2003) expresses the opinion that literature and other media mirror and discuss conflicts and issues that are a big part of students’ cultural and social understanding.
Molloy emphasizes the value and benefits of using literature as a way to teach the students and promote their social and cultural understanding, of life and its possibilities and conflicts.
By reading, talking and writing about different texts, Molloy believes that the teachers can help the students towards a better understanding of themselves from a social and historical perspective. Rosenblatt (1995) also shares the opinion that teachers of language and literature have a significant role in teaching the students about the world. Rosenblatt writes that teachers of language and literature have always been much too modest in their ability to contribute to our students’ way of seeing the world. Studies of language and literature have long been regarded primarily as a way to make students aware of the language and to introduce them to our literary heritage, but the teachers have the opportunity to do so much more than that.
Teachers of language and literature reinforce even more than other teachers their students’
cultural and social understanding of human nature and behavior (Rosenblatt 1995).
2.4 The teacher´s role
Rosenblatt (1995) talks about the teacher´s position in the English classroom and as a teacher of literature in her book Literature as Exploration, where she emphasizes the importance of teachers being aware of the impact that literature has on their students and their perception of
10 the world as well as the possibilities of learning about different cultures through literature.
She states that even though the teachers are teaching the English language, they are also dealing with areas that are normally dealt with by sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and historians. Rosenblatt was of the opinion that teaching literature is so much more than just teaching the students how to process and work with what they read, to give them insights into literary forms and to teach them about literary history, an opinion that is shared by other researchers and teachers that have studied the use of literature in the language classroom.
When working with different texts, teachers should also have in mind that different texts demand different approaches, not only when considering the students but also the text itself.
Not all texts are suitable for all kinds of exercises and assignments, neither are all students able to understand all texts so the selection of texts is something that is a very important part of a teacher’s responsibility. Teachers do not only have to choose texts suitable for the student; they also have to choose a text that suits their own goals with their teaching (Rosenblatt, 1995). In order to maximize the understanding and the reading itself, Lundahl (1998) recommends working with texts in writing and discussions in order to gain as much understanding as possible. Again, Lundahl emphasizes the importance of teachers taking the students’ personal experience and ability to read under consideration when choosing texts as well as the content and structure of the text in question in all aspects of their literature-based teaching (Lundahl, 1998). Many teachers find it difficult to choose literature for classroom use. Should they use literature from the literary canon or should they choose books from current popular fiction? Or should they use a mix of the two?
In Teaching Literature to Adolescents, Beach et al (2006) discuss the reasons for choosing literature for the classroom. They express the opinion that when teachers choose literature, they should consider the fact that they are not only teaching books, they are teaching ideas.
When choosing literature, whether it is from the literary canon or from current popular fiction, the content and context of the literature are much more than just words and grammatical structures. A text can help students understand cultures, attitudes and social conditions of different countries as well as help them reflect on their own culture, attitude and the social conditions in the society they live in. Teachers should not ask themselves what book they should choose, but rather ask themselves what book can lead to the most productive and compelling discussion of a theme or topic (Beach et al. 2006). In Young people reading:
Culture and Response, Charles Sarland (1991) points to the importance of the teacher´s role in the teaching and studying of literature in the English classroom. Sarland has interviewed
11 students about their reading of books that their teachers have chosen as well as books that they have chosen themselves. About the reading of the teachers´ chosen books Sarland (1991) states: “ In a frequently formulated point of view, pupils were simply `not interested` in the book. They found it boring” (p. 99).
The most common reasons for the students to reject the literature that was chosen by the teachers were not that they did not understand them, quite the opposite. Sarland (1991) writes:
“Having understood, they then reject the text on experiential grounds, on ideological grounds, on grounds of lack of emotional satisfaction: because, in my shorthand, they do not find themselves in it” (p. 101). With this in mind, Sarland draws the conclusion that it is the teacher’s responsibility to see to their students´ interests and opinions as much as they consider their colleagues´ and critics´ opinions. Another issue that Sarland brings up is the question of what literature that should be used in the classroom and that literature teachers often feel hesitant about bringing in new and controversial texts into the classroom such as works of current popular fiction. Sarland (1991) writes that even if we as teachers feel
insecure and hesitant about using new texts, our students are going to read it anyway. He then argues that “as the popular arts should be proper subjects for study in any well-balanced English course, then such texts is bound to be included somewhere along the line” (Sarland 1991, p. 132).
Sarland (1991) here advocates the use of new texts and popular fiction in the teaching of literature as it appeals to the students and as it is something that we cannot avoid dealing with.
This kind of literature is useful in order to bring up cultural and social conditions in the English-speaking countries as well as current issues and topics worth discussing in class. But the value of the literary canon should not be forgotten. Beach et al. (2006) highlight the value of using the literary canon in literature-based teaching. They emphasize the fact that the very existence of the canon is a statement to the notion that there is a wish to preserve a cultural representation and in the cultural representation that the literary canon is, we can find works that represent a nation, its people and the literature of this culture.
Sarland (1991) presents his study regarding teachers´ objectives when teaching and using literature in the English classroom. In his study, he emphasizes that it is the teachers’
obligation, when teaching literature, not only to focus on the form of literature, environments and time periods, but also teach issues and topics that deal with human behavior or ethical
12 issues. Sarland also suggests that our students, when dealing with literature, want to feel a connection to what they learn, to learn about life and the society that they live in. With this in mind, it is obvious that they believe that the teacher´s role is to help the students discover literature and create exercises and assignments that bring up the questions that they want and need to discuss. As Rosenblatt (1995) puts it “It is practically impossible to treat any novel or drama, or indeed any literary work of art, in a vital manner without confronting some problem of ethics and without speaking out of the context of some philosophy” (p. 16).
The main purpose of this study is to gain insight into how literature is taught and how it is used by English teachers at upper secondary schools in Sweden. The purpose is also to investigate the ideas and attitudes that English teachers have concerning the subject. The method used is semi-qualitative interviews with teachers currently working as English teachers at two upper secondary schools in Sweden.
Six teachers were interviewed, three currently working at a school with academic programs, and three working at a school with vocational programs. In the result part of the study the schools will be referred to as School 1, which refers to the academically oriented school while the vocationally oriented school will be referred to as School 2. The teachers at School 1 will be referred to as teacher A-C and the teachers at School 2 will be referred to as teachers D-F.
Teacher A had worked as an English teacher for 30 years, teacher B had been a teacher for only 6 years, and teacher C had been a teacher for 22 years. At School 2, teacher D has been teaching English for 10 years, teacher E for 12 and teacher F had been teaching for over 27 years. The schools were chosen on the basis of the difference in orientations and the teachers were chosen based on the programs in which they teach. The teachers were approached via e- mail and meetings were set up at their workplace. The interviews took approximately 45 minutes each and were recorded and thereafter transcribed on the same day that the interview took place.
13 3.2 Interviews
A selection of core-questions was used to allow the teachers to freely reason on the use of literature in the English classroom. The subject and a draft of the questions were sent to the teachers in advance to give the them the opportunity to prepare and to reflect on their answers.
My intention with using a number of core-questions was to allow the teachers to freely interpret the questions, which led to topic-related but varied answers. Other questions were added during the interviews when needed to help the them clarify their answers.
4. Analysis and results
Each of the ten questions will be presented in a subsection of their own, together with the teachers´ answers.
4.1. What is the value of using literature in the English classroom?
When asked about their opinion on using literature in the English classroom, the teachers at School 1 and 2 were all unanimous in the opinion that literature should be used to a great extent in the teaching of English. They all believed that literature could be a strong
pedagogical tool, if used correctly. Teacher B expressed the opinion that she believed that by using literature in the classroom she could create more variety in her teaching and in her lessons. “I really like the variety that literature brings to my lessons and my students; I do not only have to rely on the textbooks for finding examples of language when I can use literature that the students themselves can find in the library”. Her hope was that the students would feel a better connection to the language if she used sources that they could find outside of school.
Teacher A felt that one of the greatest benefits of using literature in class was that it gave her students genuine examples of language, a more “realistic version of the language” as she put it. “By using literature in class, I can show my students how the language is used in the real world, not only the more formal and structured English that you often find in textbooks”. This was an opinion shared by the other teachers at School 1 and at School 2 who agreed that literature gives better examples of genuine language than the examples provided in the textbooks, not saying that these are bad, but that genuine literature gives more “natural and
14 realistic” examples. Teacher E expressed the opinion that he felt that the language used in literary texts is very varied , and thus these show the different variations in the English language in a better way than any other texts can do. It can also be very different from the normal language that we use, not only in literary texts, but also in poetry and song lyrics, which “gives my students an insight into the variety of the language, both spoken and written”.
Teacher C preferred to use literature rather than the ordinary textbooks that were provided by the school, as he felt that the texts in the textbooks often feel too constructed and do not give the complete story as literature does. Examples of texts in textbooks are often just a fragment of the real text and therefore a lot is left out that he felt reduces the value of the text. Teacher C saw a great value in the possibilities of using literature as a starting point for other
activities. He often used literature, not only to give genuine examples of the language, but also as a tool to give the students a background for different tasks and assignments:
“Literature offers my students, and myself, topics of discussions and themes that can be used in class to create other assignments and tasks”. The teachers at School 2 all pointed to the importance of using literature as a tool to help the students acquire general knowledge of culture, traditions and attitudes of the different English societies that literature can be examples of. As teacher A said: “Literature can be used as a tool to show our students different examples of the English culture, both present and historical”.
When asked if the teachers saw more than a linguistic value in the use of literature in the English classroom, all the teachers agreed that there was more than a linguistic value in using literature when teaching English. They all saw the benefits of using literature as a tool for teaching the linguistic features of the language, but they also put a lot of emphasis on the use of literature as a way to teach the students about cultural and social understanding, and also about human attitudes and behavior. By using literature they felt that they could introduce their students to different cultures and teach their students about different countries, their social conditions and people. Teacher B at School 1 in particular emphasized that teachers, through literature, can help their students towards a better understanding of the world and also help them analyze human behavior and therefore help them towards a better understanding of themselves. All teachers, at both schools, felt that literature had more than a linguistic value in the English classroom, but as Teacher F at School 2 stated, “Literature is a great source for our students to use in order to acquire social and cultural understanding, but we must not
15 forget that literature cannot be understood if we do not understand the language”. He wanted to emphasize that even though literature absolutely had more than a linguistic value, we must not forget the linguistic aspect and that “we need to master the language before we can start analyzing what lies beneath it”.
4.2 How do you think literature should be used when teaching English? What methods have you used?
Teachers at School 1 had the opinion that literature should be used to challenge the students, but it should be done gradually, to help them develop their language skills and the general knowledge that literature offers. The teachers in School 2 often work with classroom-sets or shorter texts, while the teachers at School 1 prefer to use longer texts and let their students choose their own books from a selected assortment. But they all agree that what is most important is to inspire the students when introducing literature, and in order to do that the teachers need to have a passion and interest in what they teach and feel inspired by the texts that they present to their students. As teacher A in School 1 said: “If we are not interested in what we teach, why should our students be?” Especially the teachers at School 2 pointed out that the introduction of the texts is a very important part in their literature-based teaching.
They felt that their students often had a tendency to feel overwhelmed and negative towards the use of literature since it demanded a lot of time and effort, but by making sure to give them a good introduction to the literature, as well as starting off with easier and shorter text, the students had an easier time with the following work. The teachers at both schools felt that they mostly got varied results in their literature-based teaching, very much because of the varying level of the students, but they also felt affected by the limited time frame that they have and also of the limited texts presented at the school.
Teacher C said that he mostly works with classroom-sets of books at the beginning, just in order to gauge the students. And when he feels secure enough of the students’ ability to read and analyze the content of a text, he lets them read books of their own choice, of course from a selected assortment. When reading, he uses the method of reader diaries where they get to report their progress in their reading and he also lets them present their diary to the class a couple of times. The diary is, according to him, a great way to keep track of the students´
readings and also to do something else than a simple book review. He does not believe in
16 giving his student the task of doing a simple book review since he believes that this is the simplest way of dealing with literature and not a very challenging task. It is also too easy for the students to cheat when doing this, and he has no way of knowing if the student has read the book or simply found the information on the Internet. He also expressed the opinion that you do not have to like the book that your students are reading yourself; he feels that it is more important that the students are interested in the book as this helps them to keep up their motivation and encourages them to finish it.
Teacher A also uses classrooms sets of books, as well as gives her students the opportunity to choose their own books. Her reasons for this is that when the students are reading and
working with the same book, she feels that it is easier for her to keep track of their progress in their readings as well as construct more interesting assignments since she can go deeper into the work in question, instead of creating assignments that can be adapted to all books. When every student has a different book, she feels that it is much harder to keep track of their
progress, an opinion that she shares with most of the other teachers both at School 1 and 2. By letting the students work with the same book and assignments she has observed that the students’ results are more even and when they get to work with a wide range of titles the results are often more varied. She feels that using classroom-sets helps the students go deeper into the book in question and she is able to get a higher quality into her teaching.
The teachers at school 2 differed slightly in their approach to how they usually use literature in the classroom. Teacher D is of the opinion that you should work with literature in an analytical way, so as to let the students analyze the text thoroughly and truly understand it while the two other teachers feel that the students should read as much as possible and that shorter texts and lyrics are preferable since they are more accessible for the students as well as easier for the students to work with. The three teachers all pointed out that the introduction of the texts is a very important part in their literature-based teaching. Teacher E often uses song lyrics as an introduction since those texts are often very similar to prose and poetry. He explained that he often starts off with bringing a song lyric to class, which he then makes an example of and shows his students how to analyze a text and in what ways it can be done.
Then he lets the students bring their own lyrics to class to work with; an exercise that most of the students appreciate since they feel that they can influence what they learn and can choose something that fits their own personal interest.
17 Teacher E remarked that some students give up even before they start reading, as the thought of reading an entire book is so threatening. But there are also students who come to him and ask for more literature as they find it interesting and challenging. So the levels of the students can differ greatly. Because of this, he feels that the texts that he most often prefers to use are short texts and song lyrics as this is most suitable for most of his students. Most of his students cannot handle longer texts when doing in-depth analysis, so he believes that it is more feasible to use short texts so that the student can complete a task and get a sense of closure. And in the case of using song lyrics he feels that the students become more motivated since they can bring their own and feel that they are involved in the decision-making process.
Teacher E and F expressed that they prefer to work with literature in a more “straight forward” way, meaning that they usually used assignments like book reports, group
discussions and questions on the text instead of in-depth analysis since they experienced that, in their experience, students responded better to these kind of assignments. When asked what they do when a student needs or wants a more challenging text or assignment in order to reach the higher grades, the answer was that they encourage the students to read more on their own, and take a little more responsibility for their own development. But the teachers should of course give the students some directions and extra tasks that can help them achieve at a higher level.
4.3 To what extent do you feel that literature is used in the teaching of English today?
Regarding the question whether the teachers feel that they are able to use literature to the extent that they wish, the teachers at School 1 and 2 all felt that they do not get the
opportunity to use literature as much as they would want to and wished that they could use it more than they do. . The teachers also felt that there is too little literature in school today, not only in English, but also in general. The problems seemed to be time and the varied level of the students in the classes. Teacher B at School 1, in particular, felt that she had problems with the varied levels of knowledge among her students as this situation requires a more individualized approach in helping the students finding suitable literature for their level and challenging them separately. In order to do this, she said that teachers need to be familiar with the literature that they bring into the classroom in order to provide the individual student with texts that are suitable for their level. However, time is an issue here: “Regretfully, I do not have the time to do this as often as I would like in the time frame that we have been given to
18 achieve our goals”. She believes in individualization and that through individualization, the students often become more motivated and are sometimes able to choose a subject of their own interest.
Teacher D in particular stressed that she feels that literature should be used more in the English classroom and advocates the benefits of using it when teaching a language. She also teaches Swedish, a subject where literature is a big part of the curriculum, and her opinion is that literature is like a living texts and it should be a natural thing to work with in the language classroom as well. She agreed with the other teachers that literature should be used more in schools today, but she also believes that the literature that is used, particularly at the school she is working at, is used in the wrong way. In her opinion, this is a big problem. She does not use much of the modified and constructed texts that can be found in the textbooks, and the sample texts that are provided by the school since these texts often appear constructed and sometimes artificial, which can give her students a negative example of literature. She emphasized that it is the teachers’ obligation to expose students to quality literature, to use more authentic texts and to construct tasks that will help their students to develop and learn.
She does not believe in using tasks as book reports, since this is an assignment that requires as little effort as possible of the students: “Working with literature should challenge the students, as every other assignment, in order for them to learn anything”.
One problem that Teacher B had observed was that many teachers had problems finding what literature they should use in order to capture their students´ interests. She thinks that teachers should strive to further educate themselves, in order to follow the changing literature genre, to learn about alternative forms of literature and texts to be able to reach students and adapt to their individual interests and levels: “You will never find a class where all your students are at the same level academically or share the same interests”. To be able to reach her students, she prefers to use shorter texts since her opinion is that shorter texts have a more manageable level for the students and are also more flexible to use in the classroom. One of the biggest problems was, according to Teacher C, the amount of text that the students had to process:
“When choosing literature, you should choose literature according to the level of your students; it is important to choose literature that they will be able to finish, in order for them to be able to complete their tasks”. With this, he wanted to emphasize that he thinks that it is important for the students to feel that they are able to finish and complete a task. During his years as a teacher, he has experienced that if he used a text that was too long, he would most
19 often have lost the student halfway through. He also thought that if for a weak student, you might need to change the text.
4.4 Do you feel that you reach your goals when using literature in your teaching?
The teachers at School 1 and 2 all felt that they do not reach all the goals that they have for their literature teaching and shared the opinion that they only partially achieved their goals with their teaching of literature. The teachers at School 2 mainly experienced the problem of motivating the students and finding texts that would spark their interest in literature. As teacher D said: “The students that are attending a vocationally oriented program do not have literature high on their list of interests”. Teacher F regretfully admitted that she does not reach all her goals, and she also expressed her concern with her students´ motivation in the English classroom. She felt that her students have the opportunity and ability to reach higher levels and grades, but they have such negative attitudes and preconceptions towards English and literature in particular that it prevents them from reaching their full potential.
For Teacher A the biggest issue lay in the problem of students not being interested in the literature that was presented in class. Many students have a negative attitude to working with literature and she feels that that she sometimes has a hard time motivating her students to participate. Teacher B and C also feel that they do not fulfill all their goals when using literature in the classroom, even though they feel that most often they are satisfied with the results. Usually, it depends on the attitude and level of the students if they reach their goals or not. Teacher B said that she almost never have expected to reach all goals to her full
satisfaction, but she usually has high expectations and most often just tries to achieve as many of her goals with her teaching as possible.
4.5 How do your students respond to the use of literature in the literature classroom?
The teachers at School 1 felt that most of their students responded quite positively to the use of literature in the English classroom. There were of course exceptions, but many of the students seemed to understand why the teachers and the curriculum brought literature into the classroom. There were of course some students who did not realize the benefit of using
literature; they often felt that they could achieve the same results by using other texts. Teacher
20 B believed that this is because the students at the school are very ambitious, and are always aiming for a higher grade. When the teacher then used literature in the classroom they had a hard time to see the different achievement levels. The students want to have clear-cut guidelines and instructions to what they need to do to reach a certain grade. And this can be very hard to give when dealing with literature. Exercises like the ones used when teaching grammar and spelling etc. are more straightforward and the students can clearly see what they need to do to reach their goals. However, “When working with literature the lines become fuzzy, and when I tell them that sometimes there are no right or wrong when analyzing literature, they become frustrated”. All the teachers saw this tendency of frustration among their students, which could cause confusion.
The teachers at School 2 gave quite different answers to these questions. They felt that they most often got a negative reaction from the students when they introduced literature in the classroom. Teacher E said that “the initial response when I say that we are going to use literature is often quite negative, but I believe that it all comes down to sort of easing them into the subject, it won´t work if you just give them a 300-page book and tell them to start reading, you need to have a good introduction”. He promotes using shorter texts and lyrics when introducing literature as a starting point and thereafter moving on to longer texts. He also expressed the opinion that the students’ negative attitude towards literature is a result of their preconceptions: “literature does have a bad reputation amongst the students”. He does not know where this bad reputation comes from, but he feels that as soon as the students realize that they are not going to be forced to read Macbeth or Jane Eyre, they often realize that literature “might not be so bad”. The teachers at School 2 also feel that their students have a hard time understanding the purpose of using literature in the classroom, even though they do realize that it provides them with examples of the English language, they often air the opinion that this could be done with other texts as well.
4.6 When choosing the literature that you will use in your teaching, what are your reasons for choosing?
The teachers at School 1 and 2 all said that when they choose books, they mostly try to choose from both the literary canon and the current popular fiction, even though one of them leans more towards choosing literature from the literary canon. Also the teachers at School 2 try to
21 choose from both categories and even though the teachers at School 2 lean more towards using shorter texts when teaching literature, they still feel that it is important to choose literature from both the literary canon and from current popular fiction, in order to keep up with the developing language and also to learn the history of the language. The teachers at School 1 also stated that they take into consideration the needs of the group and of the individual students. They evaluate the students’ level and thereafter choose books that are appropriate and meet the student´s interests. One opinion that all three of the teachers emphasized is that they feel the pressure of finding books that challenge their students to achieve their goals. This school has a reputation of having very high-achieving and ambitious students, as well as teachers, and the teachers feel that there is a constant pressure to live up to this reputation, as also the students feel. The teachers at School 2 agreed with the teachers at School 1 that it could be very stressful when deciding what books are suitable for their students and what books will challenge them to achieve their goals, as well as the teachers’
goals, without pushing them too hard.
Teacher A expressed the opinion that she feels most secure when dealing with literature from the literary canon. She strives to use books of good value that bring a lot of opportunities into the classroom and she has found this mostly in the literary canon, even though there are some texts from more recent authors that she sees as very useful and of good value. Teacher B said that she often uses books that she has used before and that she knows will be appropriate for the students, both from the literary canon and from current popular fiction. She focuses on finding books that suit the needs of the class as well as books that can be a basis for themes and discussion topics which is a method of teaching literature that she enjoys very much and think is very good for the students as well: “By using texts that bring up different issues and topics you can use this as a starting point for an endless assortment of exercises that can cover almost all of the areas that the curriculum wants us to cover”. Teacher B sees literature as a tool for working with all areas in the English curriculum, and feels that her students tend to respond positively to this since this gives them a background to everything they do in class and it also helps them understand why she has introduced certain exercises. Teacher C also points out that he uses literature from the current popular fiction to bring up certain issues and topics that might be interesting and useful for the students to be aware of and discuss. If society and media are currently discussing politics, war, homosexuality etc., he tries to use literature that can be used to deal with these different issues. So he is constantly bringing in
22 new literature, as well as constantly going back to the books from the literary canon that can be used to display current issues and events as well.
Teacher D had a different approach to choosing literature than the other teachers. He said that he has had most success with choosing books that also can be found in other forms, like film and as dramatizations. He often encourages his students to find books that they want to read and then present their reasons for choosing them, and thereby he feels that he keeps himself updated with new literature and is also given some tips on what the students might want to do in his class. He felt that this was a great way to get the students interested and motivated to work with literature, by letting them read and work with a text, and then watch the film or the other way around depending on the level of the group. He felt that by doing this, the students had an easier time since they had something to look forward to. And that they by using other media to explore and understand the text in question, he felt that the students got a better understanding of the text itself.
4.7 Do you use literature from both the literary canon and from current popular fiction?
The teachers at School 1 all said that they used a lot of texts from the literary canon; they saw it as meaningful examples of both language and of culture. They used literature from the literary canon in order to give examples of language style, of historical aspect and how the language had evolved and changed through time. Teacher C especially felt that his students should learn about the “great authors of old times”, and of their high quality work. Teacher B felt that even though she appreciated the value of the literary canon, she often used more books from current popular fiction since she “has a passion for classrooms discussions and to work with different topics and themes in literature”. She felt that the students were more motivated and interested when she used literature from the current popular fiction than if she used books from the literary canon. This is not to say that she did not use texts from the literary canon, but she admitted that she often used extracts from these works when dealing with the literary canon. Teacher A used literature both from the literary canon and from current popular fiction; even though she felt that she used more texts from the literary canon.
She mentioned that she felt that current popular fiction was very useful when showing her students the differences in language and how it had changed through time.
23 The teachers at School 2 felt that it was important to use literature from both the literary canon and from current popular fiction, not only from the language aspect but also from the reading aspect: “Literature has changed a lot through time and by using literature from several different time periods we can see and explore these changes as to show our students why the language looks the way it does today”. The teachers of School 2 also mentioned the benefit of using literature from different time periods to analyze and work with the different cultures and social issues that are dealt with in the texts, which show the different aspects of the different cultures in the English-speaking countries and time periods, an opinion that is shared by all teachers at both School 1 and 2.
4.8 When it comes to reading, do you let your students select their own books or do you choose for them? Are there any benefits or disadvantages with either of these scenarios?
The teachers at School 1 as well as School 2 all share the opinion that the advantages with the teacher choosing the literature is that they can see to that the students get books that are appropriate and suitable for their level, as well as being able to control and create exercises that help students get the most out of working with literature The advantages they see in the students choosing their own texts to work with, be it from the literary canon or current
popular fiction, is that they often feel more motivated and interested in working with literature if they feel that they are allowed into the selecting process. Then they are hopefully also able to choose texts that is in their area of interest. Teacher F pointed out another benefit that he sees with students choosing their own texts, and that is that by letting them introduce their choice to the class and to the teachers, they get to learn from each other and perhaps introduce both the students and the teacher to literary works that they did not know about, which will hopefully result in some students becoming interested in reading one of the books that are presented.
Even though they saw the advantages with students choosing their own books, many of the teachers, especially at School 2, were a little hesitant when it came to letting their students choose their own literature. They felt that the students had a tendency to choose thin books that were too easy in order to finish their reading as soon as possible with as little effort as possible. They did not see any disadvantages in letting the teachers choose the literature and felt that it only gave them the advantage of helping their students to choose books that are
24 suitable for them and that will challenge them. They often encountered students that had a hard time finding books that they wanted to read since the interest in books was not so high in their classes. Teacher D expressed her concern that the students seemed to have lost interest in reading over the years and that the Internet and television had taken over the place of books which affected the students’ ability to read in school: “The students have to read at home in order to be able to process all the information given to them in school. If they don’t they will have trouble coping when they go on to study at the university”
Teacher A at School 1 admitted that she most often chooses the literature that the students read in class. Her reason for this was that she felt that when they were to work with literature, she wanted her students to read books of good value, and she had seen many cases where the students had chosen books that were not suitable or below their level. When they were to do in-depth analysis of books, she often resorted to books from the literary canon, but when they were to do book reports she would let her students choose their own books, even though she has to approve their choice. The advantage she sees in her choosing the books that will be used in class is that she will have better control over the students work, she will be able to help them since she is familiar with the literature and will know how to best use it to create the appropriate exercise for their level. The disadvantage is that the students are often quite negative to teachers choosing the literature they will read. She recognizes that the literature that she chooses might not be in all her students’ interest but by trying to adjust to the students and their interests she can avoid this. Teacher C on the other hand was very positive to the students choosing their own books. He often let the students choose their own books when they were to focus on reading, but when he wanted to work with literature on a higher level, he most often controlled the selection of books.
4.9 When you have weaker students, do you allow or encourage them to read adapted versions of English book/texts?
The teachers at School 1 said that they are very reluctant to use these kinds of texts in their classroom. Teacher A stated that they have much higher expectations on their students and that they should be able to handle a normal text; the only exception that she might make is if the student is really weak and she needs to focus on the more basic parts of the curriculum.
She then feels that the student can be allowed to read a simplified version of a text so that they
25 can focus on other aspects of the language instead. Teacher B and C were more often prone to use shorter texts in order to help their students instead of letting them use a simplified text.
“The value of the text is lost when it is simplified, it almost feel a bit fake and constructed when modified in this way”. This statement was made by teacher C who said that he had never used these kinds of texts; he believed that there is a text that all students can manage and that it is his job as a teacher to identify his students’ weaknesses and strong points and help him/her find a text suitable for them. He also expressed the view that teachers need to get to know their students on an individual level in order to do this. Teacher C agrees with teacher A that these kind of texts can be used to help the weaker students, although she feels that these kinds of texts should be used as a starting point in order to help the students move on to longer and more complicated texts.
The teachers at School 2 had a more positive attitude towards using simplified texts in their teaching of literature. Even though they all felt that the quality and depth of the text was somewhat lost when using these kinds of texts, they felt that the advantages were bigger than the disadvantages. Teacher E expressed the opinion that even though the texts were
simplified, he saw the advantage of using these texts since, by using them, he got his students to read a wider selection of texts and with this they got a broader perspective of the language.
He still used longer texts now and then in his teaching of literature when he wanted to do in- depth analysis but he used the simplified texts most of the time. They all also had the opinion that it is better to use these kinds of texts as many students would otherwise not read anything.
4.10. In a group of students there can be a great difference in the level of the students and also in their personalities and interests. Do you take this into consideration when teaching English literature?
The teachers at School 1 state that they certainly try to some extent to adapt their teaching to their students and their needs when necessary. Most often they feel that only small
adjustments are necessary, and in some rare cases they have to individualize their teaching to some students that are weaker than most. The best opportunity to individualize their teaching is when they allow their students to work with books of their own choice. By providing their students with a wide range of books to choose from, the students can choose a book suitable for their level and their own personal interests. In their classes they have noticed that it is