Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How do we teach English?

For my Ed.D, I'm looking at English, culture, books, why we think all these are important, how we teach them and ultimately, do we need our children and young people to have prior knowledge of well, just about everything or a certain set of things in order to get the most out of their reading experiences? 
Thirty odd years ago, an American academic, E D Hirsch published his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.  This makes for an interesting read; setting down everything that American children should know which will allow them to get the most out of their education and become successful and useful citizens.  This notion of needing to know things, that we get the most out of learning when it links to something that is already known, is something that many conservative (also labelled, traditional) educationalists over here in the UK, believe to be key in teaching English in our schools. In this case, familiarity does not breed contempt and certainly, in modern children's and YA literature, series fiction along with  novels derivative of so much that has gone before are fantastically popular. 

Hurrah, young people are reading!  it doesn't matter what they read, as long as they are reading.  Right? That's what I've always been told and it is certainly something that I have told parents, worried that their children never read 'proper books' but are content to read online gossip and comics or football and style magazines. But actually, maybe this is not the case.  What if, in not encouraging children to read a 'canon' of literature which will set them up to really get the most out of everything that they read, what if we, as educationalists, are actually dooming them to never being able to gain control of their own language and reading experiences?  This is certainly an accusation laid down by Michael Gove at the door of Michael Rosen after he (in an eloquent register, edited to an acceptable degree so that he was communicating in a discourse universal to educationalists and politicians), suggested that it was wrong to subject children to rigorous grammar, testing and an assumption that there is a correct sort of English that should be used - a canon of 'good' literature that has merit and worth in its study.

As you know, I love YA novels and I love their film adaptations.  I can argue for their place in any young person's personal literary canon until the cows come home.  But now I'm beginning to wonder if my ability to stand up for Twilight and see the best in The Bunker Diaries and Divergent, to marvel at the ingenuity of Malorie Blackman and the twisting gender roles in the Chaos Walking trilogy is because I recognise in them many elements of older writing and authorship.  I can bring a prior knowledge that makes the 'new' seem tangible and solid where their detractors see fluff and poor plotting.  I am beginning to think differently and I like it.  The more I read, the more I find out.  So it's back to the reading.  And the finding out.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

That guilty feeling...

Witch, hearts, fondue, Glitch, Almost, Thimble.

I feel guilty a lot of the time.  It is ridiculous and definitely counter productive but I just can't seem to help it.  In a self-help kind of way, I'm going to mention all the great new things that I now have time for in my life, what with working 'part-time' and all...  Dropping the children at school and being there to collect them; more study time where I actually go somewhere scholarly to focus and don't just sit around thinking that I should be doing the hoovering or something equally tedious but necessary; I've started running (again) and it is feeling sustainable right now; cycling to work instead of wasting petrol and wrecking the environment by sitting in traffic, stressing out; time to help out at a friend's stable yard and just enjoy being outside and not having to talk to anyone.  In addition, I have two new jobs and have the prospect of doing some freelance writing, now have a website, and have sent two short stories off to magazines, an article to an online magazine and have had an article on teaching published in a parents' magazine.   I'm also getting back into the swing of cinema once a week and not having so much to do after school (but more at the weekend) plus having some gardening time.  And did I mention I've already booked the holiday for next year?  Just so organised.

However, now I'm feeling guilty because I haven't finished the poetry task Maria and I set ourselves, I think I may end up with more work and less study time than is good for me and I'm not writing as much as I would like because I end up either reading (The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, excellent) or planning for my Ed.D or having lots of literary ideas but not getting anything actually down on paper!  Time to address the lack of poetry -

You were almost a glitch,
A thimble in my fondue,
You made my witch's heart melt,
And I love you.

Of course, life always humbles you and there are times when I am reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am to have so many things that could be taken for granted.  There are so many terrible things that happen in the world and it is impossible to be ignorant of the lives of others that make mine seem like a dream.  There is always room for improvement and self assessment but acknowledging that you are happy and blessed must be something for every day, not just when reality taps you on the shoulder and holds a mirror up.