About this blog

Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Culturally responsive story choices

My Anxiety.

It's the end of first term for my experimental Literature class, and I'm taking a moment to reflect on how I think it went. The students have been assigned a writing task over their holidays (they voted for this option themselves) and I literally have no idea what things will come back to me in two weeks time.

I must confess I'm not feeling positive. For all my ambitions to make the classes accessible, relaxed, and open in many respects for students to engage and learn in creative ways, only half the class turned up on the last day to get their assignment, and to engage with the preparatory writing activities I had worked hard to develop for them.

Sometimes I reflect that my approach might well be counter-productive. Am I going too slowly? Are the texts too difficult despite my efforts to find ones which I felt would enable these particular students to feel their way in to the ideas more easily? I'm trying to locate the "average" zone of proximal development for these students. After seeing their presentations, I got a much better sense of what they might be able to understand. The challenge is for them to translate that understanding into a written piece, in an unfamiliar discipline, in a second language. I really don't know what that's like.

The Students' Anxieties

The assignment isn't the usual argumentative essay assigned to the general cohort. I'm building on the basis I've tried to establish. Here is a word - an idea lies behind it - and an image may also be conjured (out of imagination or cyberspace) to fill in the ambiguities.

I think this is easy enough in everyday discourse: the complication comes when the word is located in a context where meaning is not immediately evident - such as in a story. To ease the strangeness which my other students have reported feeling when confronted with a literary text in English, I chose one which was, in my view, both accessible and meaningful. The story I chose has a contemporary Indonesian setting, and tells a story which goes from the present to the past, and back to the present. The visual, auditory, and sensual images which supported the story were vivid, and had clear connotations - at least, I thought so (I might well be wrong, and will be pleased to understand the difficulty). The subject matter is contemporary, relevant to a growing proportion of the world's young people, and had multiple levels of possible engagement for the students' varied abilities.

The task is to write 400-500 words on the role of one of the repeating images in the story. What is the image? How is it described? What is the role the image plays? How does the image contribute to the overall meaning of the story? Many in the group have expressed anxiety and concern that they won't be able to write well enough - mainly based on their lack of experience, or past efforts in literature in their home countries. "But this is just a preparatory, non-assessed course," I remind them. "Don't worry so much." Strained, fearful faces peer back at me - half terrified, half amused.

If you are interested to read the rather wonderful 1500 word story being studied, "The Pilgrimage" by Tim Hannigan, you can see it here at Indonesiamatters.com.


A slide show of images accompanied my presentation of the story to the class. You can look at it on Slideshare. I aimed to find location credits for the pictures, and have author/publisher permissions. The excerpts are from "The Pilgrimage," by Tim Hannigan (Timdog).


When I get the assignments back, I'll have a grounds more relative than this reflection to base evaluation upon. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment