Reading in a Foreign Language    ISSN 1539-0578
Volume 19, Number 2, October 2007

picture of book cover

Reviewed work:

Literature in Language Teaching and Learning (2006). Amos Paran (Ed.). Virginia: TESOL, Inc. Pp. 192. ISBN 1931185247. $35.95

Reviewed by
Karim Sadeghi
University of Urmia
Iran
http://www.tesol.org

Literature in Language Teaching and Learning is a volume in the Case Studies in TESOL Practice Series edited by Jill Burton. The series is intended to provide practical examples of matters related to teaching (and learning) English in second and foreign language contexts. The present volume has been compiled to illustrate the relationship between literature and language learning and to offer practitioners ways to integrate literature into English classes whose main focus is not teaching literature per se. The book consists of 12 chapters, each authored by a teacher or teacher trainer. The work presented is of international scope and interest, with contributors from countries such as the UK, the USA, the Netherlands, South Africa, Japan, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and Turkey. As in other volumes in the series, all chapters, apart from the first one, are organized around the following headings: Introduction, Context, Description, Distinguishing Features, Practical Ideas, and Conclusion. Examples of materials or texts used appear at the end of some chapters.

Chapter 1 functions as a general introduction as well as a linkage among the ideas discussed throughout the rest of the book. In this chapter (“The Stories of Literature and Language Teaching”), the editor, Amos Paran, takes a historical perspective, identifying the place of literature in language teaching classes in the past, present, and future. He then argues that literature should be a powerful tool in the hands of any teacher of English as a second or foreign language (ESL or EFL), especially because language learning (including literature) is above all an educational undertaking. He views language and literature as interrelated entities, with teachers as users of literature rather than as teachers of it. The chapter ends with a call for more research on various aspects of teaching and using literature in language classes.

Chapter 2 links theory with practice by providing an example of an attempt to incorporate literature into language classes in a South African context. In this chapter (“A Brighter Future? Integrating Language and Literature for First-Year University Students”), Ian Butler describes the context of the University of North West where he implemented his programme. The course he describes, English 100, is made up of four components: ENG 101 (introduction to English studies), the aim of which is to develop language awareness, with literature being used to introduce ideas and concepts; ENG 102 (introduction to textual analysis), which is meant to help learners to recognize different styles of language, where literature is used to provide a variety of registers; ENG 103 (introduction to literary genres), which focuses on literature itself, at the same time providing rich and authentic input for language analysis, which is the focus of ENG 104 (grammar awareness). Examples are provided in each case to show how the modules work, but readers would have been helped to understand the context better if the English 100 course had been clarified when it was first introduced on page 11. Teacher and student responses were positive: “86% [of students] were in favour of it [i.e., the integrated approach introduced in this chapter]” (p. 24). The chapter concludes with practical ideas about selecting text types.

Drawing on the observation that good literature not only improves language learning but also inspires motivation, which results in broader understanding, Natalie Hess argues for the use of short stories in the third chapter (“The Short Story: Integrating Language Skills Through the Parallel Life Approach”). The approach she adopts for teaching literature skills at the University of Arizona in the USA focuses on interaction between the passage and the reader. The approach was used in a multilevel reading class with students of various language backgrounds. The author has illustrated her approach using the short story “Eveline” by James Joyce. She claims that teaching short stories involves all four language skills and developing opinions, reflection, and language activity. Integrating the four skills, using visualization that helps readers “to convert print into living color” (p. 39), and adopting open-endedness to let readers use “the full potential of their present language skill” (p. 39) are the distinctive characteristics of the parallel life approach introduced here. The chapter concludes with further practical advice on teaching literature using her approach. Although the approach is motivating and promising for teaching literature, more language-related analysis could be added to make literature a genuine means for acquiring enjoyable language, and additional language practice would help to fulfill the ultimate aim of integrating language skills. 

Chapter 4 is a report on a case study in a French context. This chapter (“Talking it Over in Class”) is an account of the challenges in implementing a literature course with business students at the Nantes School of Management. As an ex-business major rather than a specialist in literature or language, Philip Minkoff sets out to justify the place of an elective literature and language course for students majoring in business management. Using Barnes’s (1991) book Talking it Over to illustrate his approach, he describes the structure of the sessions. Although business students might seem to have little need to gain fluency in literature, the students evaluated the course as a great success. Minkoff advises teachers following his approach to select texts that they themselves enjoy, to motivate students to contribute by creating a friendly atmosphere, and to analyze how language is used to bring about certain effects in the text. Comments on theoretical frameworks for the role of literature in developing language abilities, especially in non-English majors, would have been useful in this chapter. 

Aimed at incorporating literature into an MA TESOL programme in Hofstra University in the USA, chapter 5 (by Gordon, Zaleski and Goodman) takes a constructivist perspective on the definition of literature. This perspective encourages teachers to reconstruct and reflect upon their own language learning experiences (hence the title “Stories Lean on Stories: Literature Experiences in ESL Teacher Education”). The literature course is justified on the grounds that the cultural backgrounds of the would-be teachers will not match those of most of their future students; the course therefore aims to broaden their views on other cultures by provoking reflection, evoking feeling, and stimulating action. The course content for an introduction to literary studies includes poetry, children’s literature, biographies, and fiction. Literature is linked to other TESOL courses such as assessment and sociolinguistics. Useful suggestions like using stories to which learners can relate appear at the end of the chapter. However, including an element of linguistic analysis in the course might have furthered its intrinsic value for future TESOL teachers, whose main concern would be teaching the language rather than the culture or literature.

With a similar purpose in mind, in chapter 6, Stuart McNicholls proposes using juvenile literature with trainee teachers who will be teaching at primary schools in Spain. The chapter (“Using Enchantment: Children’s Literature in an EFL Teacher Education Context”) introduces the course “English through children’s literature,” part of a diploma in foreign languages for primary school teachers. The author argues that the course helps teachers to have a broader understanding of the needs and characteristics of students. As well as being a tool for improving their own English knowledge, the course assists learners in gaining not only communicative but also creative competence. A model teaching unit represents the activity types and describes them and the objectives for each task. The special features of the course include its dual focus on teachers and their prospective students and on a wide definition of children’s literature, which includes playful use of language and a focus on the imaginative function of language. Suggestions are made about deciding on the right type and level of literature. Indicating how a similar course would be fruitful for EFL teachers in an adult context would add to the validity of the general claims made and practical ideas presented.

A similar scenario for primary school teacher trainees in Germany is introduced in chapter 7, “Terms of Integration: Educating Primary EFL Teacher Learners,” by Isabel Martin. She describes her Primary English Module (for which she provides a sample outline) as innovative because it integrates various dichotomies: language and literature, theory and practice, learning and teaching, books and the Internet, and work and fun. The distinguishing features of the course are motivating teacher trainees to work to the best of their abilities, allowing the trainees the pleasure of learning to stand in front of their peers and make presentations, and giving feedback to the presenters on their English. Some interesting techniques are recommended at the end, which are aimed at making the educators’ and the trainees’ experiences more enjoyable. Some readers may feel that the lack of an assessment component (as is the case with the course described in this chapter) is a disadvantage, especially in teaching situations where the teacher, the students’ learning, the syllabus, and the educational outcomes and processes would be judged using such an assessment. 

The language-centred approach described in chapter 8 is aimed at building a linguistic component involving grammar and vocabulary activities into an existing literature classroom. The chapter (“Exploring the Literary Text Through Grammar and the (Re-)Integration of Literature and Language Teaching,” by Benedict Lin) is set in a secondary school in Singapore, where English is a second language for 70% of the school population and where English language and literature are typically taught as separate courses. The author proposes the pedagogical need to embed literature into the larger framework of the language teaching syllabus. He argues that lexicon and grammar are necessary elements for comprehension (the foundation for appreciation of thematic meaning and response in literature) because comprehension is in part a matter of the interplay between the reader’s linguistic knowledge, the writer, the text, and the context (see Sadeghi, 2007). An example lesson is provided to show how the approach works; for each step, advice is given on how to implement it. The positive features of the approach are the teaching of language through literature and literature through language, implicit learning and explicit teaching of the process and content, following clear steps in teaching, and the greater confidence reported by teachers using the approach to ensure systematic learning. In this chapter, the author was the supervisor of the teacher involved in the case study. Including the teacher as an author might have strengthened the description of the experiences presented in the account (Sadeghi, 2005). 

Patrick Rosenkjar introduces a stylistics-based approach to the analysis of a poem in chapter 9 (“Learning and Teaching How a Poem Means: Literary Stylistics for EFL Undergraduates and Language Teachers in Japan”). He introduces the approach taken to analysing literary work in an undergraduate and a postgraduate literature class in a TESOL course at Temple University (Japan Campus). The author explains his approach to teaching and analysing poetry stylistically, illustrating it through an example poem, Kumin’s “Woodchucks.” A variety of tasks are introduced for investigating the relationship between vocabulary items in the text that help the students to develop different interpretations and gain more pleasure from poetry. Teachers are advised to choose appropriate texts, analyse them stylistically, and use relevant task-based follow-up activities. Although illustrating how a literature course can be incorporated into a TESOL major is advantageous, putting the future application of teaching poetry into a logical educational context would help readers to see the relevance.

In chapter 10 (“Theory Into Practice: Teaching and Responding to Literature Aesthetically”) Nazan Tutaş compares two approaches to teaching literature and their effects on readers’ responses. The focus of this chapter is the use of Rosenblatt’s (1978) transactional reader-response approach to teaching literature aesthetically (where readers focus on personal thoughts and feelings) in an EFL context at Selçuk University in Turkey. After discussing the present status of foreign language education and English literature in Turkish schools and universities and pinpointing the problems of traditional teacher-fronted literature classes, she draws on the findings of her research on students’ views of traditional literature courses. She makes a strong case for a different approach to teaching literature, which would involve the students and help them become better teachers of literature. The findings of the study, in which students and teachers were questioned about their attitudes towards efferent (where the attention of the reader is to extract information from the text) and aesthetic reading and the teaching of literary texts, indicate that the aesthetic approach led to greater enjoyment and engagement and better performance: “aesthetic teaching encouraged the students to respond at a more mature level” (p. 142). Practical suggestions are offered for teachers wishing to use the approach. Giving clearer examples of how teaching a text aesthetically would differ from teaching the same passage efferently would make the replication task easier for interested readers. 

Putting the teaching of classical British literature into a modern, real-life context, chapter 11 (“Stepping Into the Shoes of Romeo and Juliet”) is an account of how Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet can be made more relatable to young teacher trainees in the Czech Republic. Milena Vodičková explains the history of foreign and English language teaching in Czech schools and university programmes especially for primary school teacher trainees. Courses for primary school teachers include lessons on both British and American literature. This chapter introduces a structured drama approach to teaching Romeo and Juliet, an approach claimed to be suitable for lower-level learners. Comparing an experimental group using the structured drama approach with a more advanced control group to whom the same play was taught traditionally shows that the former is more effective. Advice is offered about how to make the teaching of drama stimulating and appropriate to the level of the learners. Explaining how language work could be incorporated into the task of drama presentation either as a pre- or a post-activity would have been a useful addition to this chapter. 

The final chapter of the book, “Collaborative Producing of Digital Learning Objects for Language and Literature Instruction in the Netherlands,” is an example of how a project was designed across the country to help Dutch teachers to produce digitally enriched materials for secondary school pupils. After briefly referring to the state of information and communication technologies in Dutch schools, Frits Schulte introduces a programme called SABEMA, which involves Internet-based web quests and is also available in the form of CD-ROMs. The criteria for digital learning objects are listed, followed by an elaboration of the distinctive features of the project, which is collaboratively produced by teams of teachers, teacher educators, and teacher trainees and includes elements such as learner independence. Suggestions are made about ensuring web quests’ quality, making schools multicultural, and encouraging multimedia environments where language can best be learned. The chapter tackles the important question of how language and literature courses can be delivered digitally and therefore differs somewhat from the main concern of the book Literature in Language Teaching and Learning

Overall, this edited volume offers highly valuable advice on adding literature to language classes and shows how learning English can be a pleasurable experience if some degree of literariness is used to flavour the process. The examples of innovative approaches that have been successfully tried should persuade language and literature teachers at any level to have a copy of the book on their library shelves. I strongly recommend that TESOL professionals study this book if they care about their students and their profession. 

References

Barnes, J. (1991). Talking it over. London: Picador.

Sadeghi, K. (2007). The key for successful reader-writer interaction: Factors affecting reading comprehension in L2 revisited. Asian EFL Journal, 9(3), 198–220.

Sadeghi, K. (2005). Researcher research: An alternative in language testing research. The Reading Matrix, 4(2), 85–95.

Rosenblatt, L. M. (1978). The reader, the text, the poem. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

About the Reviewer 

Karim Sadeghi obtained his doctorate degree from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. He presently teaches at Urmia University, Iran. His main research interests include language teaching and testing, alternative assessment, and reading comprehension.
E-mail: k.sadeghi at urmia dot ac dot ir

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