Review: Writing About Literature

image.phpW.F. Garrett-Petts’ second edition of Writing About Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic is exactly what the title proposes: a manual to help undergraduate students to write more critically informed essays on literature. Although there is quite a lot of such supposed guides available both in book form and on the internet, most of them fall short of addressing the real issues behind the composition of essays, being no more than lists of formulae and tips on academic writing.

The author’s comment right on the introduction of the book definitely rings a bell for me and my literature and language students. He points out that the ‘great irony of our field’ is that students ‘spend a great deal of time discussing literature’ whereas ‘relatively little direct instruction is offered in how to write about literature (Garrett-Petts, 2013, p. xiii). Last term I tried to minimize the problem by introducing a writing tutorial done via our VLE right in the first week of the course; however, reading his book made me realise that there are still aspects that need to be addressed and that are missing in the course.

Particularly relevant is the concept of the four contexts for learning or the four critical stances proposed by the author and which serve as a framework for writing a critical response to texts: the social, institutional, textual and field stances (pp.1-11). First, the social stance is taken when students compare and discuss with other students their personal reactions to the text, their notes on vocabulary, metaphors, themes and issues raised by their reading. The institutional stance requires students to learn the series of writing conventions we adopt in academic writing, such as what constitute evidence, and attitude and tone expected by the department. The textual stance requires students to become familiar with the tools of trade in literary criticism, such as  the features of an academic essay, the organization of a paper, the use of quotations and the field vocabulary. Finally, the field stance means that students have to learn how to think critically about literature by adopting a critical approach to their analysis.

The writer adopts throughout the book a quite clear and didactic approach to writing  and carefully maps the terrain of literary criticism scaffolding the writing process so that students can have a solid basis to start with. The proposed six common places of literary criticism (pp.51-57) and his summary of the critical approaches to text (pp.57-68) could be considered reductionist and boarding oversimplification but for dazzled undergraduate students they can prove to be quite helpful and a clear starting point for future explorations. This is especially true for international students who may come from academic cultures that have a different approach to literary academic writing.

Clear examples and samples of students writing based on a sample text provided in the book help readers to see how the theory and the strategies suggested are put into practice. The section on poetry at the end is not as well-developed as the one on prose analysis but insightful nonetheless. A glossary and suggestions for further reading at the end can also prove useful to students wishing to go further in their understanding of academic writing in the field of literary studies.

All in all, I found the book a welcome addition to the field and I will definitely review the writing tutorial I offer to my students next term and incorporate to it some of its ideas and tasks.

Garrett-Petts, W. F. (2013) Writing About Literature: A Guide for the Student Critic. London: Broadview Press.

Creativity in language teaching

I see teaching and learning as intrinsically creative activities. They require from all those involved the capacity of thinking in different ways, taking risks, and changing a present situation into something else because, otherwise, there is no learning. Nevertheless, it is no unusual for teachers and learners to get stuck in classroom routines and be driven by the need to perform well in examinations which take the novelty, experimentation, creativity and fun out of the process. Having these things in mind Alan Maley and Chaz Pugliese have  brought a group of like-minded people together to think of ways of promoting creativity in language teaching, we are calling ourselves the C Group.

One of the first initiatives of the C Group was to organize a symposium on creativity at IATEFL where six of us presented on different aspects of creativity in teaching and learning. Here is a summary of the presentations.

Creativity – for a change Alan Maley (Freelance) Creativity is much proclaimed but little practised. Teachers suffer from the twin plagues of routine and institutional control. In his presentation, Alan suggested  that more creative forms of learning and teaching are possible. He  focused on constraints, heuristics, improvisation and the random principle as ways of rendering our teaching more creative.

Getting our students in flow: the creative teacher’s ultimate challenge Chaz Pugliese (Freelance) We’re in a state of flow when we’re so immersed in what we’re doing that we become oblivious to anything and anyone around. But what can a teacher do to promote flow? In this session, Chaz analysed a few useful strategies to design activities that are rich, enjoyable and may help the students pay attention and stay focused.

Why do we still need creativity in a language class? Hanna Kryszewska (Pilgrims Language Courses, Humanising Language Teaching Magazine) Humanism and other schools of thought considered creativity a vital component of learning and teaching. At present, creativity seems to be less prominent. Has it become obsolete? This talk focusesed on reasons for and ways of promoting creativity in EFL in the 21st Century, with reference to Gardner’s recent theory of education (Five Minds for the  Future).

Putting the human centre stage Mark Almond (Canterbury Christ Church University)
Mark talked about how the focus in language classrooms around the world has moved from
person-to-person interaction to person-to-screen interaction. He argued that, though much of the new technology available to teachers is quite staggering in its innovation, more meaningful, richer and creative communication should be going on between the people in the room.

Creative reading in teacher development Chris Lima (University of Leicester) In this talk, I discussed how integrating the reading of literary and creative material into teacher education and development programmes can give ELT professionals the opportunity to better understand the role of literature in language learning, participate in discussions of relevant issues, engage with different points of view, and develop their own language skills.

Creative use of the coursebook Brian Tomlinson (Anaheim University) Brian demonstrated how teachers can stimulate their learners to be creative by using their coursebooks in creative ways. He showed how consciously articulating principles of creativity can generate a menu of creative activities which can help the teacher and the students to come up with ideas for using each coursebook unit in novel ways.

Alan Maley also gave an interview to the British Council Harrogate Online where he talks about the importance of creativity in the ELT industry and introduces the C Group:

To visit the C Group website, click here

Hornby Scholars at IATEFL

‘The name of A.S. Hornby is highly regarded in the ELT world, not only through his publications and ideas on teaching methods but also through the work of the A.S. Hornby Educational Trust, set up in 1961. This was a farsighted and generous initiative whereby a large proportion of Hornby’s income was set aside to improve the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language, chiefly by providing grants to enable English teachers from overseas to come to Britain for professional training.’

The Hornby scholars this year presented How assessment influences the classroom teaching and learning of English. Research over several decades into the test washback and impact agrees that the content and format of English language assessment may influence classroom English teaching and learning in complex ways. In their talk the current scholars discussed how English language learning is assessed in schools in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. they looked at the influence of assessment on classroom teaching and learning, examined common factors and differences between the countries, and proposed how assessment practices might be best used to promote learning in these contexts.

The Hornby scholars this year are: Simon Ruiz Hernandez (Venezuela), Saraswati Doradi (Nepal), Tomas Andujar (Cuba), Zainab Cengiz Umaru (Nigeria), Santi Budi Lestari (Indonesia), Deepa Ellepola (Sri Lanka), Dame Diop (Senegal), Abayneh Haile Mengesha (Ethiopia), Patrick Musafiri (Rwanda). Facilitated by Martin Wedell (University of Leeds).

Here are two interviews given by some of the scholars for the British Council IATEFL Online. In this first video Hornby Scholars are talking about their experiences and the processes they had to go through to become scholars. They also have some helpful tips for anyone thinking of applying for a scholarship.

Dame from Senegal, Yasir from Sudan and Simon from Venezuela give an overview of some of the issues affecting English teachers in their countries, and what is being done to support those teachers.

Dame from Senegal, Yasir from Sudan and Simon from Venezuela give an overview of some of the issues affecting English teachers in their countries, and what is being done to support those teachers. – See more at: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-04/interview-simon-ruiz-dame-diop-and-yasir-el-hag-hornby-scholars#sthash.hppo6Wr3.dpuf
Dame from Senegal, Yasir from Sudan and Simon from Venezuela give an overview of some of the issues affecting English teachers in their countries, and what is being done to support those teachers. – See more at: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-04/interview-simon-ruiz-dame-diop-and-yasir-el-hag-hornby-scholars#sthash.hppo6Wr3.dpuf

Three Hornby Alumni will also be presenting. The alumni are: Kuheli Mukherjee (India) presenting on Hornby Scholarship Impact on Teacher Education in West Benegal and May May Win & Tara Siddhartha (Burma) presenting on Leading Teacher Development Programmes in Burma.

Hornby Alumni have been quite active during the conference indeed. As the culmination of a discussion process started 2 years ago at IATEFL Glasgow between former scholars  Laxman Gnawali and myself and the Trustees. A working committee has now been established to carry out establishment of the Hornby Alumni Association.  The official announcement of creation of the Association was made  during the Hornby dinner on 3rd April at the Jinnah Restaurant in Harrogate.

The working party consists of Harry Kuchah (photo), Laxman Gnawali, Natalya Eydelman, Kuheli Mukherjee, Kalyan Chattopadhyay, and myself. More news on this soon.