In this post I would like to discuss my approach to teaching literature at ALevel. As a department we decided to teach a film in Y12, in our case, El Laberinto del Fauno and a text in Y13, La Casa de Bernarda Alba. We chose this text because the themes portrayed in it are easy to understand and still relevant nowadays, so it is easy for students to relate to.
When choosing a text it is important to choose something that you feel comfortable with but, a text that has quite a lot of resources available for you to cover it, confidently, and which is not too long for students to read!
Similarly, reading the text in class, aloud, is extremely powerful! As we chose a play, students play the different roles while reading during the lesson, which makes the reading interactive, while getting lots of oral practice!
I also advocate for a bilingual edition, if available. When tackling a literary text, there will be lots of new vocabulary and having a page, translated into English by the side, saves valuable time while empowering students to learn new vocabulary.
A holistic approach versus a linear approach
In a linear, traditional approach, students would read the text and then, the teacher will teach, via key passages, worksheets featuring short summaries and reading comprehension tasks, the different aspects of the play. In a normal sequence that would be: Historical Context, Main themes, Literary Figures, Characters, Structure, Style, Message etc.. Although this approach is perfectly valid, I like to use it, only, at the end of the learning process.
At the beginning, I want my students to have a holistic approach to the text, which I believe, makes them understand the literary work much more thoroughly and puts them right in the centre of the learning process!
In a holistic approach, students would also read the text in the classroom and prompted by the teacher, they will analyse the play, page by page, orally, in a class discussion.
For this to happen, these are the type of questions I would ask them:
What do you think this means? What does this represent? Why is this written the way it is? Which theme can we see here? What does this say about this character? How is the tension achieved? etc..
Students will take notes, highlight their text, look at the translation by the side, if needed, and will start creating Flashcards with our class discussions, incorporating key quotes/references to the text to back up their ideas.
Why is this holistic?
Because we study many themes at once as they keep appearing throughout the play. Students start creating a corpus of flashcards for the different elements of the play, which may appear at once and certainly not in a linear way! From lesson one, students create their own study guide in the shape of flashcards. Students tend to make these flashcards for homework after key ideas have been discussed during lessons. By the time we finish reading and analysing the book, students have created themselves, a valuable, learning document full of thorough analysis and quotes! These lessons are carried out mainly in Spanish with the support of English, when needed. We also use mini whiteboards to put difficult ideas into Spanish. Students take photos of the ideas in their mini whiteboards, and will incorporate such information to their flashcards as necessary. Up to this point, we do not make use of any specific resources, just the book!
After this process, we study the text again, in the linear more traditional way! At this point, students bring their flashcards to lessons and using these, they lead the linear discussions: talking about and analysing the different traditional topics, guided by me, of course! At this stage we start using other external resources, such as the Zig-Zag series or the Hodder/Oxford Literature Guides as well any materials online.
It is at this point that students start writing essays.
This approach allows students to be the centre of the learning process, and be an active part of the lessons:
- They read the text
- They come with the ideas through discussions and my support, of course!
- They create their own study guide, through flashcards!
- They can, quite successfully, analyse the different themes of the play, which we study in the traditional approach to literature in a second round! By this point, students have become the experts!