English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Two Theory of Knowledge
Canon meaning (1): a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged. Or meaning (2): the writings or other works that are generally agreed to be good, important, and worth studying. (Meanings interpreted from the Collins, Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries)
Module 2 mission:
|I: theory of knowledge debate about the canon, the prescribed book list, and international-mindedness. Before building the course: What do you believe? Note: conceptual/flexible/international-mindedness core values (IB mission; allows freedom and exploration). Must be a connection between course of TOK and Language & Literacy.|
Questions that spring to mind are:
Is there a difference to gaining knowledge from literacy, language or other methods of learning?
What do we actually learn through the study of text?
Is there a scientific method to language and literacy study?
What is the purpose of non-literary text and why is it often compared to fuller literary text types? How is it best to interpret these different forms? Any clinical ways to explore them?
Who understands and comprehends a text best?
Do clashes exist in interpretive strategies? How can you review such diverse viewpoints?
The word canon brings to mind William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, or Mark Twain. Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and many others make up a largely male list. Jane Austen, the Brontë family, Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Gaskell often make the list to offer a feminine perspective. Gwendolyn Brooks is the only writer of a different racial group that I recall reading in secondary school. That was because Mr Mack, my year 9 English teacher, loved poetry and wanted us as students to understand the world beyond England.
Western writers always appear elevated over often-so-called new world, African, Asian or other regional writers. I have found myself in China, reading translated pieces by Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子) or as he is known globally, Confucius and trying to follow Sūnzǐ (孫子) or Sun Tzu, so I can relate to Chinese students trying to master Shakespeare or other works set and written in a different world! For me, text without Confucius and Sun Tzu needs to be accompanied by the interpretation of other writers. Canon writers are predominantly the popular and classical writers that A-Levels and GCSEs have covered. Those modelled courses and their American and Australian equivalents have travelled through international schools to far flung places and huge populations like India and China. It surprised me on arriving here in Dongguan, China to see Jack London’s Call of The Wild and O. Henry’s The Gift of Magi. The latter is on my reading list but struggling to find its way off it. I found it odd that English classics had more perspective than translated versions of domestic Chinese literature. Surely, writing an essay on such relatable matters would boost comprehension of western writing interpretation?
IB curriculum schools open doors to places around the globe lesser known. I wandered into a class earlier this year themed around Persepolis. Inspired by this choice in MYP, I found a transcript of writer Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken with Plums translated from French to English. I introduced the lesser graphic edit to my PYP Grade 4 students. Later, one of the students advised they had seen the movie and didn’t know there was a book! We were there and then led to Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (Doris Pilkington AKA Nugi Garimara), and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner – under slight edits to remove scenes unsuitable for ten year old students! A unit of inquiry about migration, refugees and where we are in place and time had been connected, all because of one literature piece’s indirect influence.
I’m a firm believer in diversity and multicultural integration. I’ve seen first-hand the horrors of divide, but also the beauty and magic of inclusion and togetherness. Access and exposure to literacy and language has the power to close divide and bring people closer. It can open discussion and encourage dialogue or understanding. Remake a Shakespeare play as a movie or live action theatre by all means, but make sure those watching know their stories and the stories that are relevant today.
Increasingly there is an element of pick and mix to reading texts. Newspapers, online media, word of mouth, social media and movie adaptations are highlighting international writers, giving readers chance to develop international mindedness. With that young learners are blessed to have education bodies and influencers that can modernise and expand Prescribed Reading Lists. Context that can easily get lost to the wrong audience should not be overlooked or ignored. It should be connected and explained.
English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Two Learning Engagement
“What are the three things you want to make sure you do when you design your own course?”
Having reviewed the concepts that underpin the syllabus content, I began to unpack the course syllabus. Below is a work in progress. I am creating my tailored course outline to reflect the flexible nature of IB teaching and learning. Through freedom of design and under continual improvement, I hope to have a course outline ready for use and continued modification to enhance my learners and their learning experiences. I want to ensure that students can connect through their own identities, cultures and find a suitable perspective. The students must be offered a place to display their creative talents and all texts must represent both popular and obscure examples. In short, trio of design demands must engage, inform and educate in a natural flow.
|CONCEPTS (underpin syllabus content)|
|1||identity||Reading a text, for a student, or by a student, will see them make their own narrative and perspective. They may imagine the voices and characters, each in differing ways. They may imagine a deeper backstory or be influenced by movie or television adaptations. They may connect the characters to previously explored texts. This is normal. The writer and the reader each place part of their identity within the story. Sometimes the author doesn’t make reading easy to follow or understand. Their identity can bend, shift, change and be quite complicated. This complexity can make an understanding difficult to follow. Reading across texts may even deepen that mystery – or paint a clearer picture. Reading texts by James Herriot or Colin Dann gives a reasonable interpretation and insight into the writer’s background. The World War II fighter pilot, Roald Dahl, may be clear in some of his closer autobiographical books, but his children’s texts are far further from his life experiences. Or, are they not? Readers will have their own interpretation and it’s important to know that diverse responses to perspectives are possible.|
|2||culture||JRR Tolkien penned the epic ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of The Rings’ books. These works and his other compendium of titles reflected his life story in some shape and form. He was born in an independent nation the Orange Free State (now part of South Africa). The landscape of the African continent was complex and difficult. Family circumstance saw his widowed mother move to England. Place names from his upbringing, a spider bite, the tragedy of World War I and countless other stages of his life influenced his writings. Here was a man propelled into his first job at the Oxford English Dictionary and fell in love with language. His translation of ‘Beowulf’ showed considerable international mindedness, a theme that slips in and out of his Middle Earth adventures. Beliefs, values and attitudes shape a writer. They target an audience willing to lift open the pages. Quite often the writing follows a similar style to that read in the years before it. A connection between the familiar and the new is important for a reader. Does text reflect where it was formed and when? The place and time of a text can often be acknowledged from the feel of the text.|
|3||creativity||Imagination is key. Creating something and engaging it has to be in reach of the reader. The writer’s role within a text is to paint a canvas vividly enough to make the words leap from the page. The often written cliche about transporting the reader to another place is important. Interpretations can take multiple forms and transcend that of a simple text. The writer and the text will be heavily original in ideas, shapes and forms. Originality will make a work stand out.|
|4||communication||Both non-literary and literary text have the problem of getting their message across loud and clear. Does the writing aim to convey a message to the reader? How can the writer know that the reader will see the message? The audience must be assumed to be in on the writer’s previous works, or of a particular kind that can easily access the text. Some readers may struggle to follow the messages hidden or directly thrown at them from the text. Some may ignore the bias of a message and value their own views more highly. Cooperative readers may follow more closely, but even so, text meaning is not always definitive.|
|5||perspective||Authors can also write in ways that do not follow their views in any shape or form. They may take the role of devil’s advocate just to sell more books, or open a debate. This is one example of literacy devices available to writers that readers may or may not be aware is being used on their perception of a text. The reader may or may not bring their own complete perception which clashes with the views in the text. Before you know it, there’s critical thinking, attention and a discussion as the reader tries to interpret the text. What will the end result be? Will it influence the reader or not?|
|6||transformation||Intertextuality: the connection and relationship across texts, especially that of literary ones. One text can lead to a heavy influence on the next text. Sometimes it is the creation of new ideas from one text to another. Some texts may follow one another, across authors, or not. Some may be reimagining or taking elements of a story into their own works. C.S Lewis penned ‘Perelandra’ which is often cited to be a reworking of John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and the biblical ‘Book of Genesis’. Some texts will influence a reader changing their perception of reality. Reading Michael Crichton’s ‘Congo’ as a teenager opened my mind drastically to interspecies communication and in later years whilst volunteering at a zoo, I found myself communicating with an orangutan, like you do. Potentially, personal interpretations can be hugely transformative.|
|7||representation||Some texts are abstract. Some are relatable to reality. Some are every step between. Accurate reflections of reality, potential futures, to artistic imaginings are central to a reader connecting the text to meaning. The form and structure of the story must connect between both the author and the reader. The largely popular space soap opera epic ‘Star Wars’ started out under the pen of George Lucas. His dog, an Alaskan breed would find itself as a relatable humanoid representation in that of the character, Chewbacca. Throughout his writing he represented characters using human touches.|
With the above in mind, the course can be further dissected and placed in the required syllabus areas of explorations. They can be supplemented by the Prescribed Reading List.
|AREA OF EXPLORATIONS|
|1||readers, writers text||#0.1 Why do we study language and literature?|
#0.2 How do we study language and literature?
#0.3 How does text affect us? [Use real world examples]
#0.4 How does text affect us? [Use variety]
#0.5 Meaning: constructed, negotiated, expressed and interpreting
#0.6 language use variation: text types/form/genre
#0.7 Building confidence through structure
#0.8 Non-literary and literary differences
#0.9 Language & literature: an introduction.
#1 Breaking down the complex
#1.1 Text type: style & structure – the affect on meaning
#2 Investigate texts, the various forms & types – pay close attention
#3 What choices do writers make to communicate meaning? (e.g. images, sounds and words)
#3.1 Texts: an insight? Form a response
#3.2 Texts: a challenge?
#3.3 Personal vs. academic responses
#3.3. expand your response
#3.4 metacognitive awareness
#4 What role do readers make to understand meaning? (e.g. images, sounds and words)
#5 The role of creative language.
#6 How does creative language relate through literature?
#7 The power of texts/perspectives
#8 Linguistic and literary messages: what are the authors communicating?
|2||time and space||#A social capacity: connect to community, culture & history (advertisements, poems, etc)|
#B variety of cultural contexts (places, cultures, times; insights?)
#C Do texts reflect or refract our world? (Is there a social or political agenda? How do we approach older texts? Still relevant or obsolete?)
#D How do cultural conditions affect language? (Any representation of social, political and cultural concerns? Do meanings and impacts change over time?)
#E How are cultural conditions a product of language? (Bound by societal framework and the implications? Do they represent cultural practices?)
#F How is identity and culture influential to how text is received?
#G Explore cultural and historical perspectives (Open, plural or cosmopolitan?)
#H The role of text to oneself, local and global connections (Does it provoke influence of raise questions?)
#I Is a text complex or dynamic? (Is there a hidden story of reality?)
#J An exploration of the author’s background (historical events, narratives in terms of critical reception; is it important?)
#K Who is the author’s audience? Obvious or unapparent?
#L The intricacies of relatable places and times across generations and boundaries (Is a society or identity represented reflected in language use?)
|3||intertextuality||Relate: past to present. |
Engage: literary & linguistic traditions.
#i Connections between text and audience (ideas and traditions in respect of diversity; is a classic text still valid?)
#ii Making a comparative (deeper appreciation; how can different perspectives highlight an issue, topic ore theme? Can a comparative and an interpretation be transformative?)
#iii Unique characteristics and complex systems as a connection (Similarities & differences? Can diverse texts share points of similarity?)
#iv How to and when to openly discuss your interpretations (create a critical lens; expand on a meaning; question it; what’s your view? How does a system of reference evolve over time?)
#v Mode & genre of text, literary form, chronological development, topic or concept, debate or theoretical perspective. Do texts deviate from literary forms and genre? Why? How?
“What two principles of course design spoke to you personally, why, and how will you use that to design your syllabus?”
Integration and variety will enhance interest. I believe as a teacher our heaviest influence sits in these two areas. Students are mostly familiar with autonomy and accountability. These should be well-trod paths across IB subject areas.
|COURSE DESIGN PRINCIPLES|
|1||variety||Students can connect, compare and contrast across multiple texts. This can include translated texts and those in an original target language. The traditional canon and the voices of emerging voices can strike a balance to form a varifocal view of the world at large. The bigger the lens, the deeper the understanding? The text students are exposed to should reflect global society, local society and multiple cultures. The protection and preservation of texts should be side by side with literary forms, places times and most importantly voices. Is less more? Or, is in terms of literary form more diversity essential for diverse understanding? Linguistic and language evolution is ongoing, and tied to literary developments. Students must understand that they are the master of their own exploration. Their individual selection of texts will open new doors for others within the classroom cohort. “Variety is the spice of life” – William Cowper, British poet.|
|2||integration||A learner profile needs more than reflection. How can a student look at each current and previous text to form a connection? Do students need to form spider webs and mind maps to draw and illustrate connections? Will as Minecraft-style virtual map help relate and show their connections? Lines can be drawn across areas of exploration and through the seven concepts. Organisation skills will be needed throughout.|
Everything should connect. Compartmentalisation has little value to complimenting the study of multiple texts. Inherent, context-related and comparative text studies should be integrated to demonstrate to students that references from outside of the classroom cohort’s own research are relevant and supplementary to their development.
Why is integration important? Oral assessment / Paper 2 – meaning elaboration required.
“Integration happens when all your parts of your being are in harmony.” Amy Leigh Mercree, author.
|3||autonomy||Students must be empowered. They’re the keepers of their destiny. They prepare their likely routes of study individually. They work towards assessment, formative (self-assessment and peer-assessment will encourage evaluation skills) and summative. They must make decisions with care. They will need pushing through positive encouragement. A variety of materials and access to research tools, the right syllabus components, how an assessment is made, and full scaffolding support (in the case of students new to the IB or international schooling). A teacher’s role is to guide and ensure texts are appropriate to the short-term and long-term study at hand. Is the text connected to the concept or issue? “I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” – Rumi, Persian poet|
Whole class awareness of the course requirements.
A plan of action that is clear and achievable: the pathway to assessments.
Individual assessment components must be used on a sole occasion, keeping it fresh and balanced.
“Simplify, slow down, be kind. And don’t forget to have art in your life – music, paintings, theater, dance, and sunsets.” – Eric Carle, author and illustrator
“What one question do you still have about the philosophy or the practicalities of designing a course syllabus?”
I want to think mainly in terms of reflection:
Is my course fit for purpose? Are all the outcomes specific, attainable and measurable? Does the content and method match the outcome? How well can students achieve the necessary outcome? How can I make the course a better fit for the differentiated learner? Are my course syllabus learning outcomes reasonable in relation to the contextual issues? Are all the outcomes going to be theory-based or will it be possible to draw on transdisciplinary skills to highlight skill-based outcomes?
I should hope any student on the course has a level of English that’s appropriate but I’m willing (as is the school) to intervene and develop that level. The level of interest is something I half-worry about. Parent power in China is strong. Some students may feel pushed into the more traditional areas of education and lose sight of their personal interest. A student studying English, here in Dongguan (China), is often a source of pride to family and face. Developing and maintaining an interest in era heavily flooded with video game, social networking and other distractions takes time and patience. As a teacher we must adapt and evolve with the times. Discouraging a student will only create a barrier. How can we integrate their other interests to reinforce interests in literature and language?
“How did your thoughts about what you might teach change based on the TOK debate?” The understanding that knowledge is a reconstructed or constructed representation as opposed to a perfectly symmetrical mirror image of life and reality.
“What are you most excited about teaching and why?” Engaging students in their time and place and uncovering their viewpoints. Watching as they evolve confidence in understanding the viewpoints of others. I’m excited to help our learners at TWIS develop inquiry and critical thinking skills alongside literature and language. I hope that they can recognise the value of reflection, transferring their skills into other disciplines. Explorations should be shared. Are we told by the author to read their text in a certain way? Can we choose to interpret their work in terms of our own cultural assumptions? How do communities of students, academics, teachers or other groups view a text? The same? Differently? Constructing knowledge around text will be enjoyable. Meanings shared are often enlightening.
As a teacher the challenge is monumental. Explaining things sometimes lost in translation will be challenging. Exploring how a text may have been written for a completely different audience (ethnicity, location, time etc) will determine how open-minded a learner can be. Perhaps, there will be absence of an international viewpoint that can be explored. Charlie Hebdo,a French publication known for satire have experienced extreme examples of how an approach to place and time could be considered divisive and unhelpful in international outlooks and mindfulness. Poets, bloggers, cartoonists, and journalists must all take careful approaches. The learner too. They are each subject to their interpretation techniques.