Literature is a crucial part in a person’s overall education.
Smith and Hillocks (1988) wrote “Sensible Sequencing: Developing Knowledge about Literature Text by Text” to explore the necessity of teaching background information for better comprehension. They quoted E.D. Hirsch’s work that maintains that the reader’s own knowledge is essential part of the text. Smith and Hillocks supports Hirsch assertion but go a step further by adding that there is more to literature comprehension and that includes understanding important concepts, familiarity with genre and using interpretative strategies.
Literature instruction is a huge part of Language arts. There are different purposes for teaching literature. These are:
First is the academic or philological tradition. Second is to preserve traditions, customs or “upbringing”. Third is teaching literature enables the students to read more and express their views openly. This is especially true in class discussions where students can express their interpretations of the texts based on their experiences. Fourth, literature also gives the students the chance to understand constructs or words, metaphors, images and plots. This exercise, of course, is instrumental in developing the student’s imagination. Lastly, literature has the power to instruct and provides insight in one’s experiences in life especially social order. This is often true in literary works where there are hidden messages implied their texts and the students learn to discover the meaning of what the author tries to portray.
Literature circles or groups that allow book discussion are an important part of learning literature. Literature circles enable the students to own their learning and control it. The purpose of these groups is to allow students to experience reading the way adults do. First they read a book then they group together and discuss what they read.
Literature circles fit a high school curriculum best. It is important for the students to know what to ask during discussions, how to move forward when they have a standstill in a discussion and others.
Choosing the books to read is important in literature circles because this would allow the students to read different genres of books. A variety of books should be available to students when engage in this activity.
Each student should choose a role. These roles are only necessary to help the students get started. Once they get the hang of it, these roles can be abandoned later on. The workshop then becomes spontaneous.
Discussions can take place in a number of forms such as lectures, group readings and others. Engaging in discussion enables the students to have deeper awareness and attain learning and motivation so they can make their own views and express them.
Discussion takes a lot more than asking questions and letting the students answer. Discussion takes a great deal of emotional content as well intellectual engagement. The teacher acts as the host, moderator, judge and a number of other roles. There is uncertainty in how things go because discussion is the art of supervising spontaneity.
Discussion and spontaneity must go hand in hand then.
Spontaneity can be encouraged if students are allowed to speak their minds without fear f judgment or ridicule. Also, if opposing views are expressed, students must learn to respect others with different views on the matter. They must be made to understand that there is no one way of looking at an issue or solving a problem. There is value in diversity of opinions.
Mary M. Kitagawa’s article “Its About Time to Talk” suggests that “Literature study conducted by students with restrained adult support is a powerful experience of introspection as well as social discourse”. The teacher primarily remains silent and allows the students’ discussion to flow. The teacher merely supports the students’ views of the discussions.
Miller (1991) in her work “Planning for Spontaneity: Supporting the Language of Thinking” talks about the teaching experience of Laura Jackson. Laura’s goal was to make “her students to become avid readers who would make sense of all sorts of texts in their world”. Jackson allowed the students to write their responses to readings. This “set the stage for spontaneous collaboration”.
Tapping into their experiences enable the students to develop spontaneous, critical understanding. Miller states “Talking signaled that student response and making connections was central to active reading”.
Teachers tend to ask questions in the “knowledge” category 80% to 90% of the time. Using higher order level of questions such as those that require much more “brain power” and a more extensive and elaborate answer are important tools to learning and could develop critical thinking among students.
Renner (1994) in his book “The Art of Teaching Adults: How to Become an Exceptional Instructor and Facilitator mentions a claim made by Scott Parry (1991) that “questions are [a teacher's] most valuable tools-for making points, for assessing understanding, for arousing interest, and for testing understanding”. In this book, Renner also discusses Donald Fairbairn’s “seven deadly sins” which are questions that every teacher should refrain from asking because these do not challenge the students to think. These questions include simple “yes-no”, multiple, ambiguous, chorus response, leading, ambush, and teacher-pleasing. The main goal of asking questions should be to develop critical thinking. Teachers should teach students to think for themselves not just accept whatever is told to them. Real learning occurs when students are engaged in the thinking process in order to arrive at valid conclusions.
Personally, I use asking questions as a method of encouraging participation in classroom. The drawback in this method though is the teacher always ends up answering her/his own questions. To address this problem, teachers should ask open-ended and questions that do not have definite right or wrong answers.
Rogers, Green, and Nussbaum (1988) write in their book “Asking Questions about Questions” about the relevance of asking questions inside the classroom. In the introduction, Rogers et al point out that lessons should go hand in hand with questions in order to encourage discussions between students and teachers. Discussion lesson is when “the teacher involves students in the construction of group knowledge in ways that that build a general disposition to listen to, consider, and be responsive to what others are saying”.
Asking questions is intended to extract the right answer. To some there can only be one right answer. But some questions can have a number of right answers. If there is not one right answer to the question, students need to be encouraged to express their views even if others have different opinions. They also need to respect others who have opposing opinions.
Teachers in making their lesson plans should consider activities that will make students come up with a variety of solutions to solve a problem. Instead of giving students step-by-step activities, teachers should allow students to explore with the task as much as she/he can and not search for a predetermined answer.
Teachers should not feed students with answers so they will be forced to come up with possibilities to the answer. Teachers should allow students enough time to think through their answers. Questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer should be avoided since this will discourage the use of critical thinking.
Answers could either be right or wrong. They are wrong if the information is false. If the information offered is not among the known then it could either be wrong answer or inappropriate answer. Sometimes “I don’t know” is a right answer or “None of the above” and “There is no answer.” An answer becomes the right answer, if the information provided is true and within the known alternatives. Questions that require right answers often begin with Who, what, which, where, when, does/do, is/are.
Open-ended questions encourage discussion and sharing of ideas as opposed to close-ended questions. For instance:
‘Do you love your parents?’ is a close-ended question because it can be answered by either a yes or no.
But the question “How does your parents love you?” is an open-ended question because it encourages the student to express his/her opinion.
Open-ended questions often begin with “Why” and “How”. It requests information from a person to clarify confusions. Here the manner in which the information is presented might be more important than the information provided. The questioner may have known the answer already and just needs to hear it expressed in another form.
Asking questions can be an effective way to manage the classroom. Asking a question is a good way to gain the students” attention. Gaining attention is important in influencing the students’ behavior inside the classroom. Asking questions is also a good tool to engage the students in a task. It is believed that a good way to maintain student involvement is through task engagement.
Attention can be gained through using questions such as “will you please observe silence?” or “do you have your assignments?” Questions can also be used as a prompt as student performs activities. For instance, in teaching grammar, a teacher could ask “What is the present tense of “ran’?’
Below are the six question categories as defined by Bloom.
What criteria would you use to assess?