Literature defines and defies us in many ways. It recommends our lifestyle and various schools of thought and at the same time, it rejects the ways of the world as well. It might mock the world or stand for it. It may cross the line and hail someone as a superhero.
We can even see literature assassinating the system and bringing reforms, that masses may fail to bring. There has been a culture to place short stories in the curriculum of various streams of Higher Education in India and even in other countries of the world. One thing is quite clear to the education world that the presence of 'literary taste' helps in delivering balanced education to all. History, sometimes, cannot be taught directly so, literary works bring the understanding of Social History.
We teach stories that have moral lessons or have some ethical message to turn the mind of a child into a 'disciplined' system. We teach short stories to them in the schools to make them READ. Following the Four-Dimensional Communication Model of 'Listening-Speaking-Reading-Writing', we bring Reading as the first thing before they can draw the scripts of a language. When they are old enough in the secondary and senior secondary classes, the purpose of literature changes from 'imparting fluency in reading' to 'Understanding of Life and Development of Critical Thinking'. We want them to compose stories and present them so as to develop their Presentation Skills and Creativity as well. Make them dependent on us and not making them explore their own competence to Read is a sin. We can not even buy the argument that they don't have anything to do with literary reading in their future. Literature is the only thing which is immortal for the human generation. One who can self-read is never alone.
Now, the question is, Should we teach Stories 'WORD by WORD' when the students have crossed over to graduation. It is the stage when the foundation in a language, e.g. English is supposed to be present in them. If Reading to Understand is not part of their skills that they have derived from school, the teacher at the HigherEd stage seems to be in a fix. The solution does lie in reading the stories pointing the finger to the words and creeping the eyes word-by-word.
Can we justify the need for one such method which brings the cart to the front again and takes the horse away? Participation and Project Based Learning gets challenged again because the teacher is going to read word by word and will surely spoon feed the lesson. Students are made to read in three ways:
- They read by connecting letter to letter and thus making words and pronouncing them or reading them to themselves.
- Students read word to word and thus make sentences but the focus remains on the word, not on the combined meaning of the words/sentence.
- They are reading what has been prescribed to them by teachers or parents.
None of the above gets them the joy of reading. If we will adopt the same vicious methodology of teaching in higher education, we shall never achieve the primary goals of teaching a language- LSRW. The benefits of reading word by word to the students are:
- They get to read the whole text, as there is no other option available. Being in the class, they have to look at the text and move their reading finger on the pages and lines.
- The teacher teaches in the class and while the teacher reads the stories to them, they listen. There might be a gap in understanding but the topic gets covered.
- Reading word by word truly helps those who have been challenged by their Skills in English Language Learning. It helps them as the teacher is tempted to simplify the meaning for them and sometimes tells the meaning in the native language as well.
The other side of the coin now:
- If we read the stories to them in the class, it kills the chances of Self-Reading and the actual purpose of Literature in the curriculum at this level is not imposed reading but the inculcation of reading habits.
- While the students know that the lesson/short-story will be read in the class they do not adapt to the modern concept of Flipped Learning. It says that the students read the lessons and bring their queries to the classroom and the conference in the class makes them all real Complete Learners.
- Literature in the HigherEd, if taught the same unavoidably unfortunate way, will usher the same results of 'Failed Language Skills' that we get at the schools.
- By not teaching the stories word by word and by assigning the Self-Reading of Literature is the rational way to enforce 'reading discipline' among students. Ready-made solutions must not be the purpose of reading as it is done for its own sake. The rewards are far greater than what we visualise now.
- The learners who are slow or have less interest in reading by self, for any reason, need to be placed under check. When we kill the option of 'cliche reading' the possibility of their coming out of comfort zone increases.
Readers (Students) should learn to critically analyse the stories rather than falling for the judgements they are tempted to make. Understanding the Author's life, Purpose and Context of the story, Knowing the characters, Remembering the Plot and Occurrences along with the contemporary relevance of the work are some of the 'Objectives of Reading' a work of literature while you read that for academic purposes.
It is advised that in the higher education courses, a teacher of English Literature or Communication Skills, should focus more on 'Delegating Responsibilities' to the learners. And those, who don't find time to self-read, are the ones who have not stretched themselves beyond their procrastination zones. Assistance to the slow-readers must be given but that should be limited to facilitating only. Now, the empowered generation has internet, smartphones with dictionaries, libraries and friends who can definitely bring solutions once they see the learner doing efforts to break the taboo of NOT READING.
We can still try to correct the ways of Literature Teaching by expanding the horizon of resources. Participation remains the key to teach a language and self-reading is the divine feature that enables self-confidence.