In light of the change that is happening in the way we access reading content (of which these last
I am often asked to lecture on new ways to teach literature.
I usually begin such lectures by distinguishing between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, as these terms were first defined by Marc Prensky.
I then quote the late Victor Ordoñez, who said, “We cannot equip the youth of the future with the tools of the past.”
Prensky and Ordoñez set the mood for my showing the YouTube film entitled “Shift Happens,” more popularly known as “Did You Know?” Since the film has several versions, I choose the one that fits the audience, not necessarily the latest one. (I do not particularly care for the October 2009 version of the Media Convergence Forum.)
Then I go into my mantra: “The world has changed, the world is changing, the world will change.” I then surprise my audience by quoting a French saying (translated into Filipino or English, of course): “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
That allows me to point to one thing that has not changed despite changing through the centuries – the teaching of literature.
I then trace the teaching of literature to 2150 BCE (Before the Common Era, the politically correct way of referring to the years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth), when the Epic of Gilgamesh started to be taught in what were the equivalent of our schools.
I go very quickly through the history of the teaching of literature, through India, China, Greece, and so on, until I reach the Philippines (where the first university was the 1898 Universidad Literaria de Filipinas, though that “literary” university was really a medical school). That history holds at least two lessons: first, that the teaching of literature is a very old specialization, and second, that since all those millions of literature teachers surely tried and tested all imaginable teaching techniques, we should learn from them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
There is no reason nowadays to try to think up of a new way of teaching literature, because all the effective ways are now documented in thousands of lesson plans available on the Web. (Digital natives do not ask for web addresses; they just Google.) I show some websites devoted to reprinting lesson plans that have worked. (If the auditorium is not wired, I use PowerPoint slides.) I also show the covers of some books that deal explicitly with the teaching of literature. Between the Web and the school library, a teacher has a wealth of practical and tested lesson plans to use in the classroom.
Expectedly though not modestly, since I wrote and hosted the Literature lessons in the Continuing Studies via Technology (CONSTEC) series of the Foundation for the Upgrading of the Standard of Education (FUSE), which has been showing on Knowledge Channel for a couple of years now, I talk about the “Teaching Literature” lessons now available on DVDs from the FUSE office in Ermita or on television. I list the teaching strategies taught in the series, as well as the literary works used as texts by the demonstration teachers.
I then discuss the two theoretical principles underlying the FUSE series.
First, students in a literature classroom should talk at least half the time, while the author through the text should “talk” at least 40% of the time. That leaves a mere 10% of the time for the teacher to lecture, to give instructions, or to answer questions. One of my advocacies in teaching literature teachers is to bring back the focus on the author. I advocate, instead of teacher-centered teaching techniques, student-centered learning and author-centered lessons.
The second theoretical principle is my sample outline for a literature class, a paradigm that I have christened FREE. First, FEED THE TEXT by talking about the author and the tradition to which the literary text belongs. I then ask teachers to READ THE TEXT in class, either alone or with some or all of the students. The reading is important, because it not only enables the author to “talk” but it also allows students to hear the words (if the text is a poem, to feel the meter and appreciate the rhymes, if any).
Then, the teacher has to ENHANCE THE TEXT, which really means giving students insights into the text that may be derived from Literary Theory, pedagogical experience, or current events. (A good literature teacher always relates a literary text, no matter how old or foreign, to today’s newspaper headlines.) Finally, the students can ENJOY THE TEXT as they reread it with greater understanding.
Then I use film clips as examples of good or bad classroom teaching. I discuss what the fictional teachers do correctly or badly. It’s easier and safer than talking about real-life teachers.
I start off with the large lecture class of Barbra Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces, where she gets her students interested in medieval courtly love by delivering a magnificent lecture.
I follow with Dead Poets’ Society, to show that teachers do not have to lecture.
I then use Freedom Writers to show how innovative teaching strategies can work even with an unruly and underachieving class.
Finally, if there is time, I show an entire episode of my FUSE series.
And that’s the way I do a public lecture on how to teach literature.