Literature and storytelling are part of teaching methodologies that touch the core being of the learner making the process of education fulfilling and learning eternal. They play an important role in the inculcation of the love of learning; instil values of mutual love and cooperation and above all leave an impact that is cherishable throughout life. The piece explores the tremendous potential of the method.
Sonali Bhatia is a freelance writer and an educator.
To understand Literature and its deep appeal for students, and for teachers too, we must first remember a very basic fact – students and teachers are human beings. Human beings – with emotions, attention spans, memories, likes and dislikes. Each one of us is unique; each one of us has a different way of absorbing and using information. Why does this make literature a powerful tool in the classroom? Literature is about characters. These characters could be humans, animals or cartoons, but the common factor is that all of them have human characteristics. They think, they feel, they plan and scheme, they win and lose just like the people who are reading about them. This makes them relatable. And something that is relatable is something that is understood, remembered and put in to practise. This then means that literature can be used to teach facts, as well as to impart values and life skills.
Let us take the topic ‘Dinosaurs’. Why are these creatures such hot favourites with students of all ages? The simple answer is – because they have been glamourized by literature, in stories involving human beings. Thus, we follow the adventures of human beings through dinosaur territory; we gasp, we laugh, we cry, we wait with baited breath for the next incident to unfold, all the while learning facts about that era in time, that geographical location, those massive denizens of the earth. And because we have felt the emotions, because we have shared in the adventure, we relate, understand and remember.
Another example would be stories and novels that talk about visiting a particular country. It is much more pleasurable to read about a child visiting the Taj Mahal, for example, and being overwhelmed by its beauty, than to read a list of dry facts about the monument. The architectural features, historical anecdotes and other aspects can be brought out through someone narrating them to the child, and the child responding, rather than as a list of statements. Still not convinced? Let’s pause to do a simple test. Do you remember the definition of an isosceles triangle, offhand? Unless you are someone who actually teaches the subject, it is doubtful that you would remember. Now – do you remember the story of the Ugly Duckling? Whether you actually teach literature or not, chances are you do. So – literature helps with imparting facts, in a palatable, memorable way. And it has other uses in the classroom, too.
Values mostly imply the doing of ‘right’ things whether by ourselves or by others. Whether we’re talking of being healthy, or being honest, or loyal or kind or helpful, we’re talking of taking our long-term needs and the needs of others in to account. This can be achieved with stories that bring out the negative consequences of the wrong values, and positive consequences of the right values, through emotional connection. A current example of this would be the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling has created memorable, relatable characters. Thus, when a character dies, the reader actually feels a sense of grief. A major death in the books is the death of Cedric Diggory, a student, who is killed by the villains. JK Rowling uses his death to impart to students the importance of unity, and of making the right choices. I give below excerpts from the speech the Headmaster of Cedric’s school gives his students, after Cedric’s death.
I must acknowledge the loss of a very fine person … Cedric was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker. He valued fair play. His death has affected you all, whether you knew him well, or not. I think you have the right, therefore, to know exactly how it came about.
Cedric Diggory was murdered by Lord Voldemort … Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.
Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open … Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good and kind and brave because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory. (FROM: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling.)
In my own school days, I was passionately fond of Enid Blyton’s school stories. I remember, on at least one major occasion, making my choice according to what her characters had done. I was part of a team of four, making posters, and we were going for a competition.
When we received the rules for the competition, however, we realised that the maximum number in a team was three. Remembering a similar situation in an Enid Blyton book, I promptly offered to give up my place on the team, so that the institution could qualify for the competition. This was a decision of mine was on based directly on an incident in a book, but I’m sure the literature I have read has also influenced me subtly in many intangible ways.
Teaching Life Skills Literature teaches various coping skills and day-to-day skills. Using characters that go through experiences, with all the emotions attached to them, literature helps the reader find ways to survive, learn and improve. Thus, there are stories which enhance parenting skills, communication skills or work skills. At a very basic level, for small children, the Bernstein Bear books deal with issues like a visit to the hospital, or the birth of a new sibling, or how to behave while out in public with one’s parents. This takes the reader in to the situation and is almost like a role-play, where the reader puts him or herself in the character’s place and imagines achieving what the character is achieving. There are books that help deal with bereavement and grief, and other topics which are difficult to talk about otherwise. When told in a story format, from a third-person’s point of view, such stories can help take the sting out of talking about these subjects to a class full of children.
To sum up it all up, literature is a tool that helps students relate – and therefore, remember and put into practise what has been studied. It is a very valuable teaching aid for all subjects in any syllabus and at any level.
This article is published in The New Leam, JUNE 2017 Issue( Vol .3 No.25) and available in print version. To buy contact us or write at firstname.lastname@example.org