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Literature In Modern Times

Literature In Modern Times



1.0 Presentation
From the very beginning of human species, literature existed side by side.  Human life, in the form of human passions, feelings, loves, sufferings, and human history existed in the literatures.  Human legends started with the very stone age, recorded in the stone scripts.  It was a human need to communicate the past to the future generations.  Poetry, as an art form, has been for many centuries praised, contemplated and has continued to affect man.  Man has used poetry to express love and grief, birth and death, innocence and guilt, heaven and hell in a more effective way.  In order to achieve such a way of expression the poet does not have any other material at his disposal except language. However in poetry, this language itself, turns out to be the goal of the poet rather than only an instrument for communication.

Her/his way of expressing ideas and emotions summarises the poets craftsmanship and creativity.   What the poet does is that he/she illustrates and exemplifies how language can be used to achieve the most effective way of expression.  Poems deal with universal themes such as love and hate, birth and death, innocence and guilt, heaven and hell, which are familiar to all readers.  For this reason, believing in the importance of literature and the contribution of poetry to language teaching and learning, we have decided to use poetry to act as a means to enrich the language awareness of ELT majors.

1.1  Background of the problem
Until the late 60s and early 70s the teaching of literature in foreign and second language classes was an activity whose justification was assumed to be obvious.  Poetry and literature in general became the forgotten man since then, and this can be ascribed to the advent of communicative language teaching.  With the shifting emphasis of the study of English for practical purposes, technical or otherwise, as well as an emphasis on the spoken language more than on written language, the role of literary texts in the language classroom and the relationship between language teaching and literature teaching in the EFL context seemed to be totally neglected.  Looking through TEFL/ TESL writings in the 70s and 80s, one can find little about the teaching of literary texts and hardly anything controversial.
Although poetry has been the focus of interest for ages, it has not got its deserved place in English language teaching.  This is due to the misconceptions that poetry is irrelevant to the objective of language teaching.  However, as English poetry is the subtle exploration of the English language itself, we believe that it is closely related. It has made many contributions to the English language learning provided it is selected and taught appropriately.

Moreover, the attitude of many teachers towards integrating literary texts into language teaching remained ambivalent and often negative.  Literature was thought of as embodying a static, convoluted kind of language, far removed from the utterance of daily communication, (Collie and Slater 1987: 2) and therefore, not suitable.
It has also been observed that some teachers of poetry neglect to take some important principles, such as inseparability of form and content in poetry into consideration.  We believe in the necessity of covering both of these facets of poetry, by the use of carefully selected techniques and activities.
Another problem is the absence of active participation of students.  This is due to the teachers choice of the easier but more monotonous and authoritarian way of teaching in which she/he explains everything, and the students constantly take notes.  This naturally results in boredom, discouragement, frustration, and it hinders the possible contributions of poetry.
The following remarks all made by language teachers, depict clearly the size of the issue:
If poetry is deviant language, whats the point of using it with language learners?  They want to know whats right, not whats wrong!

We are trying to help our learners to communicate in contemporary colloquial English, not in stilted poetical terms.

My students dont read poetry in their own language, so how can they possibly read in English?

Its all right to use poetry with students who intend to study literature further when they leave school.  But reading poetry is too specialized an activity for most students, isnt it?

Most authentic poems are very difficult to understand, even for native speakers, as their meaning is rarely overt and their use of language is idiosyncratic.

Ive got a demanding syllabus to get through, so theres no real time for playing around with poetry in my lessons.  Nelly Zafeiriadou.

The remarks drawn from the teachers challenge us to discuss the question why? Why teach literature today in the EFL/ ESL language classroom?  Why introduce poetry in the language classroom when the teachers remarks drawn usually from their own experience are so discouraging?

1.2  Purpose of the study
This thesis aims at arriving at an integrated method of teaching poetry in which the student her/himself activates her/his potential knowledge (both of the language and that gained from previous experiences) with the help of the poem and under the guidance of the teacher.
The thesis is also concerned with the nature of poetic language, to show the possible difficulties the teacher (in teaching) and the students (in negotiating meaning) encounter, and to attempt to find ways of overcoming these difficulties.
Additionally, the thesis underlines the importance of selecting poems (suited to the interest and language level of the particular group of students) and provides some criteria for an appropriate selection.  Furthermore, the contribution of English poetry to English language learning has been discussed.

In this study, a survey method has been applied.  The focus is on why and how to use poetry to teach language.  Moreover, some recommendations are made for the teacher.  In the final chapter, we have attempted to present an integrated method through some selected poems, in which relevant techniques and activities have been organized towards language learning by getting students to negotiate meaning from the poems and serve as a motivational factor since students will have a feeling of accomplishment as they successfully work with the poem.
We have proposed an integrated method of teaching poetry to be used in English Language Teaching departments, with the idea that poetry should be taught in such a way that it should both contribute to the students language learning and improve their knowledge of English literature, which we believe is a must for all ELT professionals as language is expressed best through literature; and also a language teacher thoroughly learned in the literature an culture of the language s/he is teaching will not only use the language more efficiently and fluently but may also refer to it from time to time if the need arises.   The level of the students is assumed to be upper-intermediate and advanced.

1.3  Limitations and Delimitation of the Study
This study was carried out in three classes in the ELT department: two upper intermediate, and one advanced level classes totaling 52 students, which is not a large number.  The study might have been more reliable if the number of students would have been greater.  As all the courses are not offered every term the study had to wait a semester to apply the questionnaire to advanced students.
The delimitation of the study was that the researcher conducted an action research where all the procedures of the data collection were experienced in his presence.  This enabled the researcher to obtain a better insight into the difficulties through the contribution provided by the students to the study.



2.0  Presentation

From the ancients such as Aristotle to the present day, man has shown a great interest in the art of poetry.  Apart from the love for poetry he has also tried to find an accurate and effective definition for it.  Although the question What is poetry?, may seem to be very simple, because of its complex nature, individuals in their attempts have not been successful in arriving at an agreement.  Therefore, different poets, philosophers, and scholars have presented various definitions.
2.1  Poetry defined
Gregory Denman quotes Carl Sandburgs definition of poetry as a series of explanations of life and goes on to say that:
The poets have left a record of humankinds joys and loves, failings and misgivings, greatest accomplishments, and worst disasters.  From this record modern human beings can come to sense their kinship with the past and their place in the world today, as well as to stretch their minds to the unimagined and, as yet, unattainable realms of the future.  Sir Philip Sidney (as qtd. In Bozkurt 1977:  51) defines poetry as an art of imitation…. a speaking picture :  with this end, to teach and delight.  Wordsworth (as qtd. In Bozkurt 1977: 51) suggests that it is the spontaneous  overflow  of powerful feeelings:  it takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquility.  Moody  puts the emphasis on the poets craftmanship and says that poetry is the language which has been chosen and organized with great care and skill:  in some way it represents language at its most perfect, meaningful way (Moody, 1971:29).  Moreover, also Scannel (1987: 13) defends the idea that poetry is first a matter of using language with the greatest possible precision, evocativeness and sonority in order to convey emotion through the presentation of things; it is sencious, passionate and penetrating.
In addition to the definitions above, the effect of poetry on the reader is emphasised, Bozkurt (1977: 51) quotes some poets and critics as follows:
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry (Emily Dickinson).

Poetry is language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that cannot be said.  All poetry, great or small, does this (E.A.Robinson).
Poetry is rhythmical form of words which expresses an imaginative-emotional-intellectual experience of the writers, and expresses it in such a way that it creates a similar experience in the mind of his reader or listener (Clive Sansom).
As can be observed from the above definitions, some poets and scholars have put the stress on invention and imagination as distinctive qualities, while others have emphasized the emotional aspect and the distinct pleasure that no other art form can offer.
Forming an understanding of what poetry is, is to think of what it is not.  Dr. Johnson (in Scannel, 1987:  11), who was asked what poetry was, replied:  Why, sir, it is much easier to say what it is not.  We all know what the light is: but it is not easy to tell what it is. Similar to light, poetry can be better defined on the basis of the writings that lack poetic qualities.  Therefore, to appreciate the unique place of poetic language in language is important.  This is an important point and in order to appreciate, understand and teach poetry, the nature of poetic language  and the language of prose and everyday language should be analyzed.

2.2  Methods in teaching poetry

The procedures and techniques of teaching poetry vary and so do the  different theories and approaches.  Moreover, the teachers attitudes about the text and teaching poetry, the language and literature proficiency level of the students, their ages, and the characteristics of the particular poem affect the choice and application of a method.
The general principles and procedures of teaching poetry in most cases are also applicable to those of teaching literature.  The methods which will be presented do not exactly fit into the specific approaches for teaching poetry (such as the historical, biographical, or stylistic approach), the categorization has been made on the basis of the scholars themselves and their application of different techniques to the genre of poetry, or to literature in general.

2.2.1  Moody
Moody (1971: 29) believes that in teaching poetry one of the most important considerations is to preserve a normal classroom atmosphere so that the students should not feel they are about to start studying something holy or dreadful.  Furthermore, after presenting general principles of teaching literature, he presents the following procedure in teaching poetry (which is also applicable to other genres) (1971: 30-33):
The teachers preliminary study of the poem enables her/him to decide on the aspects to be emphasized or to be explained more carefully.  At this stage the most important thing is to understand the approach of the poem; i.e. whether the poet adresses a specific person or human beings in general; whether there s superfical or an underlying meaning. (1971: 30).
The practical decisions that should be taken are, (1971: 30), as many of the poems are short (when compared to other genres), they can be read and studied in the classroom.  Therefore, the teacher should decide on the amount of preliminary information and should avoid teaching the things that can be worked out during the class discussions by the students.  S/he should also decide at which stage the students will see the poem in its printed form.
The method of introduction to the poem is an individual choice of the teacher.  This depends on the teachers own experience, features of the specific poem, and prior knowledge of the students.  (1971: 31).
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