For our new column, Ask an Educator, we turn to educators, whether teachers, tutors, or principals, to answer frequently asked questions from parents. To send in your question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, our question is:
“How can I help my child improve in literature?”
Answering for us is Amjad Majid, Advanced Language and Literature Teacher at Hyde Academy
Help your child understand the importance of literature
To help a child improve in literary studies, one would have to consider the implications of studying literature so as to explain to the student the importance of literature. I tell my students we study literature because human beings, as individuals and as collectives, ask three key questions: 1) Where did we come from? 2) Who are we? 3) Where are we going? Literature aids us in tackling such deep questions by bringing us closer to explaining and exploring the human condition and the world that surrounds us.
Letting children understand that most literature, much like philosophy, deals with being and the world. By being, I mean the self vs. the other/others and the individual vs. the collective. In terms of the world, there is the inner world vs. the outer world and the subjective vs. the objective.
The aforementioned questions and ideas are used to help students think in abstract and concrete terms about life, the environment, the world we live in, different societies, individual and collective struggles, and the relation of power to the self and others, as well as the way a variety of relationships function in a given society. I use this approach because I tend to instruct high school students who often ask me for a framework or formula for the study and analysis of literature. As a result, I have been thinking about what the common elements are across literary traditions when considering any topic, theme, or idea.
Teach your child to question everything
Assisting a child with literature involves helping them develop critical thinking skills and the ability to ask basic questions. Asking “why?” is perhaps the most important of these questions. Fortunately, the way literature is read in schools has changed, and now most teachers use “close reading”as a technique that involves relying on the meaning making and interpretation skills of each student. After all, a fundamental part of teaching literature involves eliciting answers and helping them form questions that they themselves can find the answers for. All interpretations and meanings that a student can derive from a text are welcome (and correct) as long as a student can justify them and use the text as evidence to back up their ideas and observations.
Another element to question is language. Students should ask why certain language is used, why certain characters speak in a certain manner, and why certain characters and surroundings are described in a certain manner. Again, asking “why?” is essential to understanding the way literature can be studied. Also, the question of representation can be used to address parts of literary texts. One can always ask a student,“why is such and such character represented in such a way?”Or,“why is such a situation or place represented as such?” Having students accustomed to asking these types of fundamental questions makes the analysis of literature easier for them as the questions are applicable to the majority of the works studied in school.
Finally, I think coaching children to ask fundamental and specific questions when engaging with a text is necessary to help students with literature. The idea that any single sentence, phrase, or verse in a text can be questioned and problematized leaves enough room for students to explore literature in innumerable ways, making reading literature a worthwhile learning experience.
Photo: Courtesy of Amjad Majid