Appropriating Literature in Foreign Language Classrooms

By Mantero, Miguel | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Appropriating Literature in Foreign Language Classrooms


Mantero, Miguel, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

This paper suggests that second language classrooms need to account for the discourse processes involved in learning a second language as well as in the fostering of an interactive reading of literature (Liaw, 2001). Implications for classroom teaching and curriculum planning are further discussed in terms of allowing students to appropriate the literature being studied (Kramsch,1985) in relation to reading from a cognitive perspective (Beach,1993; Hynds,1992) of second language learning. This investigation proposes a new stance on literature in the foreign language classroom based on the Defamiliarization Theory (Shyklovsky,1965), and also incorporates the importance of discourse in developing language proficiency.

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Literature and Language Classrooms

An underlying premise of sociocultural theory is the importance of the role of the mind and cognition within situated social action (Vygostsky, 1978; Lantolf, 2000). In other words, individuals gain knowledge of how to think, act, learn and react within specific social contexts. Wertsch (1991) believes that "The basic goal of a sociocultural approach to mind is to create an account of human mental processes that recognizes the essential relationship between these processes and their cultural, historical, and institutional settings" (such as classrooms) (p.6). As noted, sociocultural theory isn't necessarily a theory of / for only the foreign language classroom. That which makes sociocultural theory so applicable to the foreign language classroom, the role of cognition and an individual's mind in learning and mediating one's world, pivots on the role of language in shaping understanding while interpreting text.

Floriani (1994) considers "text" as the written and spoken language produced in discursive event which generates as well as has meaning. This stance on text envelopes classroom talk and literature with the hopes of providing all of those involved opportunities for appropriation. Also, as Floriani pointed out: To interact, members (of a class) must actively monitor their own and others' actions and language and interpret these interactions in order to select from their repertoires possible ways of interacting that meet the local demands of the situation(s). Fillmore (1982) offers a summary of the main functions of language in a 'literature-focused' language classroom:

1. To convey the information of what is to be learned: concepts and facts, language use in context, and information about the language itself.

2. To provide opportunities for students to receive linguistic input and to generate linguistic output in order to acquire a second language. (p.43)

Attempts to make sense of literary works require that students take a particular stance (Iser, 1978). This stance, as explained further by Liaw (2001), allows the reading to come alive in the student's mind over time. Also, the incorporation of a reader-response approach to the teaching of literature assists in building motivation in the classroom setting because the literature is being brought into the classroom as a work of art instead of a lesson plan that originated in guidelines and curricula (Liaw, 2001). If we take these claims and transfer them into the foreign language classroom, it becomes necessary to add a linguistic level to the patterns of communication. Unfortunately, some foreign language teachers may be focusing on the linguistic complexity of their questions and not the cognitive skills or abilities that students may need to understand and respond to the questions in the second language (Mantero, 2002). Chou et al (1980) observed that within the past decade or so teachers' questions in a literature classroom only moved into the realm of inference relatively few times during the course of a lesson. More than 20 years later, the present perspectives suggest that after all of the attention that has been placed on reader-response in first and second language classrooms, the pattern of communication has not changed very much, if at all. …

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