(INTERIOR. BIG ROOM WITH A HUGE, CIRCULAR TABLE OCCUPYING THE CENTRE. THE DIM LIGHT OF THE SUNSET POURING THROUGH THE SEMI-CLOSED BLINDS.)
(Around the table we can see five people seated in the following order: Mr. Cultural, Ms. Language, Head Teacher, Mr. Personal and Ms. Transactional)
(A balding, obese man wearing a suite with some stains, clearly stressed)
I guess you are wondering why I called all of you here. I'll cut straight to the case: all of the archives regarding the syllabus of previous years have been lost in a fire and a sudden case of collective amnesia has left us without any idea of what texts to use for this year's English classes. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to elaborate a new list of texts that we can use in our English classes.
(An slender old man wearing a spotless, formal suit. White hair combed and waxed so it remains fixed. Seating upright)
Ha! Easy peasy! We just need to get a copy of The Western Canon by Harold Bloom and shortlist those texts which are the most beautiful and representative of our lengthy and rich culture.
Well, maybe "easy" was an exaggeration. There's so much to choose from! From Shakespeare's poems to A Modest Proposal by Swift or-
(A business-looking woman. Wearing clothes that favour utility over anything else. Neat notes placed in front of her)
Excuse me, what? How would we be doing our students any favours by having them read texts whose vocabulary and grammar are no longer in use? What are they supposed to learn from them? We need to give them real-life examples of uses they can apply to the world around them.
So what would you propose, having our students read some sort of whatsapp emails? I believe there's a reason canon literature is regarded as highly as it is, our students will be able to appreciate this and connect with the wisdom imbued in these works. Language learning can come later after we explain to them how to read and use these texts.
(A young man dressed in casual clothes and with his phone in a hand. He is almost more lying than sitting and has his hands behind his head)
See? That's your problem, man. You can't wait to throw some lecture at your students and have them memorize it word by word. That's not how you get your students to learn, that's how you get them to feel as if they were in a Pink Floyd music video.
Preposterous! I can hear your complaints but do any of you have something to offer?
You have to make it about your students, you have to be a facilitator rather than a lecturer. Forget the canon, forget what "proper literature" is. How your students react to the text, how they feel and relate it to their personal experiences: that's the whole point. Have them think and feel over the texts instead of memorizing data and sitting through explanations. Get them to share their experiences and that's when the learning comes: when students make the text their own and use it as a tool to communicate in a real, humane context. It's all about this aesthetic stance, my man.
Sounds like a bunch of hippie mumbo-jumbo just so you can sit through the class and do nothing.
Also, how do you plan on assessing it? Are you going to pass or fail students based on their feelings? I think-
I was saying I think you are both missing the point. We are not here to teach literature, we are here to teach our students how to use the language as an effective tool of communication. We have to be practical: we can't romanticize these activities and get distracted by the beauty of the texts or our students' personal stories. Our text has to has practical examples of the structures and vocabulary we are seeing during the unit and the activities related to it have to support the use of this language. It's a simple workflow: expose the students to the language, call their attention to it so you can analyze it, provide exercises to reinforce these new uses of the language and move on. That's it, no fluff.
(A sweet-looking, old lady wearing big glasses and drinking tea from a cup placed in front of her)
Oh my! In my experience you shouldn't underestimate your students. If your texts are just lists of vocabulary in disguise they will soon stop paying attention to the rest of the text and focus on the underlined words only. Minimum effort: it's true for nature and it's true for students.
How else do you expect them to use the text to learn language then?
Well, students reactions to the text and how they relate to it are important-
Told you so! Tell 'em, lady!
Calm down, young man. That's only half of the story. You need to understand that the relation goes both ways. We are influenced by the book and the book is influenced by us.
Not this again. A classic is a classic, it doesn't change and that's it.
Oh, that may be true but one never sees a book twice through the same eyes. Any change in ourselves will have an impact on how we perceive the book, and the only way we have to interact with a text is how we perceive it. We seem to understand this when talking about poetry but we resist the concept when it's applied to other instances of literature. Maybe we should stop calling our tools "texts" and start calling them "poems", would that make you feel more comfortable?
Still, I don't see how that methodically teaches our students any language.
You see, honey, that's part of the process but it isn't everything. You first go through the efferent stance: your students need to get factual information out of the text and, I'm sure you will agree with me, they need a good command of the language to do that. That's your language teaching right there.
But you yourself said students will see through that?
Oh, but we don't stop there. Then we go into what you called the Aesthetic stance: if we are able to break the language barrier for our students then they can start to enjoy the reading. That's when we can ask them to relate their feelings and experiences to the text as a native would. Focusing only on this part? That's putting the cart before the horse.
Alright, we need to wrap it up. So basically we need a text of socio-cultural interest...
...which shows good, clear examples of vocabulary and grammar structures...
... let students react to it and share their feelings about it...
...but taking into account that these parts are all intertwined and affect one another.
And where do we find such a perfect text?
(All the teachers look at one another, then at the Head Teacher and shrug)