Literature in CBI.
Even though CBI has prompted several stances and proposals, it is best comprehended if we illustrate it with one example from a particular context. Therefore, I will turn to explore how Literature can facilitate the integration of language and content (August, 2004) in the light of sociocultural theory, SCT.
Gallimore and Tharp (1990: 184-187) identify four stages in the zone of proximal development, ZPD, stages which can be used to guide the teaching of Literature and Creative Writing (table below):
ZPD in a Literature course
Stage 1: performance is other-regulated and located in the social or intermental plane of the process.
On the topic of Magical Realism, the teacher reads a story and stops before the ending. He invites the class to discuss possible endings. Then, in pairs, learners write an ending to the story.
Stage 2: performance is self-assisted, that is, self-regulated.
Learners exchange endings and individually they are asked to write another ending by inserting a twist. They finally hear the original ending to the story in focus.
Stage 3: performance is developed, automatised and fossilised.
Learners are asked to read a story attractive to them and write another ending for it following Magical Realism conventions.
Stage 4: deautomatisation of performance may lead to recursion through the ZPD where other-regulation or re-scaffolding may be needed.
Those learners who fail to illustrate Magical Realism are grouped in order to revisit the theory by asking each other about their understanding of the topic. They can also go over their sourcebooks. Finally, they share their ideas with the teacher and begin the writing process.
It goes without saying that there exist many ways of teaching Literature. When Literature is introduced within another content subject, it is an excellent way to provide a historical and cultural context so that learners narrow the gap in both their language and content knowledge as it provides facts, events and vocabulary which can be recycled if it appears in several texts related to the topic. For example, Holten (1997:380) reports how Literature can provide an EAP course with motivating content and context. Moreover, it can remedy gaps by unifying reading topics, presenting a broader and deeper range of language in a rich context (Holten, 1997:387).
On the other hand, Literature can stand alone and be taught following a theme-based syllabus so that learners, as Stoller and Grabe (1997) suggest, can confront the same topic from different texts and, as a consequence, such a variety of sources will enable them to analyse, integrate, compare and develop their critical thinking skills (August, 2004). In addition, a literary text should also be studied as an end in itself. As Wells and Wells (1992:139) point out, literature is part of the re-creational mode; thus, we should also undertake texts for the pleasure of constructing, exploring and interpreting, that is, bringing new meanings into a product of literary discourse, a world through words, words of one’s own or of another author.
In my professional experience I have introduced the teaching of Literature in the last two years of a bilingual secondary school where learners’ level of English is between upper-intermediate and advanced. As part of my explorations with a literature syllabus and personal interest in creative writing, I have designed different syllabi. One type of syllabus is mainly structured following a theme/topic-based approach. However, learners are firstly introduced to the foundations of Literature with particular emphasis on figures of speech. This unit in the syllabus serves as a bridge to build up new knowledge based on learners’ knowledge on the subject as a result of Literature instructed in Spanish. Therefore, their previous experiences mediate between their cultural capital and the contents proposed in the curriculum. Once we set a common framework, students are invited to become more involved in content selection by bringing stories, song lyrics or short extracts meaningful to them so as to analyse figures of speech and react to ideas relevant to their interests. Next, we move on to group readings according to topics; these can vary as well as the literary examples, but the main purpose is to facilitate a wide range of views and styles so that learners have a broader context at their disposal to write reaction papers or essays comparing some specific features or themes. Activities tend to be carried out in pairs so as to promote collaboration and peer-peer scaffolding. This pattern, in addition, allows students to have more chances of exchanging opinions and negotiating meaning as sometimes they are asked to report to the class answers based on content, comprehension and interpretation. On rare occasions, I direct students’ attention to linguistic items. The aim of the class is, after all, to explore Literature through the English language.
Another type of syllabus which I have devised organises Literature in four broad areas: Creative Writing, Prose, Drama, and Poetry. This order is not arbitrary, it responds to some particular situations in the context where this experience occurs. We start by exploring different literary techniques from a hands-on perspective allowing learners to try for themselves creative ways of producing a short-story while looking at language as a whole. Such an approach is generally adopted in Spanish Literature; therefore this unit in the syllabus acts as a transition between both Literatures. Following this creative writing experience, prose is introduced by means of some focus on theory and texts they can choose from a wide range of genres. Even though, it is their responsibility to choose texts according to their interests, sometimes, students decide for themselves not to leave any option unread so that they know what those texts are about and, according to the reviews presented, they might read them out of personal interest. The same structure is applied to drama and poetry. Normally, poetry is left for the end of the school year to reduce stress on students, and secondly, to revisit theory and apply it once more to the creative writing of poetry.
What these two approaches share is that, even though language and content are equally important, content is in focus, and language is not taught explicitly but it might be referred to within the rich context Literature provides. Furthermore, literary concepts are presented by the use of everyday concepts and consequently applied to authentic tasks and materials. Selected readings are unabridged and learners have them compiled in the form of a sourcebook.
In conclusion, CBI could be considered an approach to integrate language and content since, in general terms, it seems to meet the principles and concerns present in sociocultural theory, a theory which suggests a new way of viewing the social processes of learning and teaching. Moreover, Literature could be regarded as an example of how subject content can materialize concepts such as mediation, scaffolding, ZPD, motivation and autonomy. This latter will eventually allow our learners to become aware of the fact that in society they can fly together with others, but, if they decide it, they can also fly by themselves.
August, C. (2004) ‘Literature Facilitates Content-Based Instruction’. Academic Exchange Quarterly 8/2. Available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3325/is_2_8/ai_n29117621/print?tag=artBody;col1
Gallimore, R. and R. Tharp (1990) ‘Teaching mind in society: teaching, schooling, and literate discourse’, in Moll, L. (ed.), Vygotsky and Education: Instructional Implications and Applications of Sociohistorical Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holten, C. (1997) ‘Literature: A Quentessential Content,’ in Snow, M. A. and D. M. Brinton (eds) The Content-Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. New York: Longman.
Stoller, F. and W. Grabe (1997) ‘A Six-T’s Approach to Content-Based Instruction,’ in Snow, M. A. & D. M Brinton (eds.) The Content-Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. New York: Longman.
Wells, G. and G. Chang-Wells (1992) Constructing Knowledge Together: Classrooms as Centers of Inquiry and Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.