Saturday, 27 January 2018

Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners

There has always been a debate about the functions of language:to communicate and to cultivate. Actually both the functions can seem to do the same but they have always been treated as two disconnected entities. Linguistics and Literature, as you know have always been considered two distinct branches of language studies. Many of us as young students have found that language studies was only about reading stories and poems and solving isolated 'Do as directed' questions on grammar. I remember every time my father looked at my English textbooks, he would tell how the complete novel 'Mayor of Casterbridge' was on his syllabus in school. He would always believe that no language could be taught through one-page stories and poems picked up from classics. He felt we needed to read the classics before we knew anything about the language. In short, he wanted the syllabus designers to think about integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners like us.

By the time I started my higher studies, I felt my dad's wish coming true as we did have loads of novels, classic collections of poems from different time periods for compulsory and suggested readings. My friends used to tease me as they found it more relaxing to read my  so-called new textbooks which were just like story books and verses to be copied on Valentine's Day greeting cards for them. I thought I mastered it until I started my research in Applied Linguistics where I realised I knew nothing about the language we were talking about! Who were these people: Chomsky, Bloomfield, Saussure, Jacobson?
We were supposed to talk about Keats, Eliot and Woolf! But there was no remote connection between any of them and we just kept talking about the sounds and symbols of the language.Finally I took refuge in using my knowledge of the literature to teach the language. I realised teaching any of them in isolation is not possible. In fact, my father's option of integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners could be worth trying.

 In many countries, English is taught as a second or a foreign language where the stress is on learning the rules of the grammar and the vocabulary. Once you know these two you put them together with some changes here and there and you get your connected speech. But what about literature? Do ESL learners need to study literature to acquire the language? Or is it just not required as they need to use the language for only communicative purposes and nothing else! Even if they miss out on some creativity in the language, the basic purpose of acquiring the language is fulfilled, isn't it so?Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners could also result in the same: enhance their linguistic competencies and add on to their employ-ability.

In my opinion, using popular literature/classics in an ESL classroom with adult learners is more fruitful than just giving them exercises on basic structures like we do to young learners in a foreign language classroom. It is pertinent to realise that adult learners are more restless than the young learners. Their span of attention is less and reasons for distraction and inhibition are more. Hence, it is essential to keep them engaged, make them feel challenged and at the same time, let them loosen out a little. Because only then will they be as spontaneous in their use of the language as they are in case of their mother tongues/ preferred languages.

That's when I started experimenting with famous works of literature and linguistic/other competencies which could be developed through them. I picked up on one of my favourite narrative of a Swiss family which gets marooned on an unknown, deserted island after a shipwreck. Reasons for choosing this novel (Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss): it could be easily associated to. In today's world, where we all are so closely connected to the outside world through our phones, internet, T.V. and all kinds of means of transport; it can be possible that we may get isolated for sometime, if not whole life at some such deserted place. In such a situation, it will be our basic skills of survival, food production and living that will come handy. Also, the language used in such a situation would have to be mutually accepted and understood. Hence there will be less scope for ambiguity and more emphasis on accuracy as well as acceptability.

In short, it will be interesting to make the adult learners think about a situation similar to what the Swiss family finds itself in. Once the stage is set right, the learners can be introduced to certain basic linguistic structures and knowledge about life skills which they can acquire and use in their daily life too. So here I had a nice example of how classic literature could be used as course ware to imbibe linguistic competencies as well as life skills education. Integrating Literature with Language to Develop Life Skills in ESL learners can turn out to be fun. Try these games in your class too and share your experiences.
Topic: Building the Cajack
Learning Objectives:
Life Skills Competencies: Decision making, Adaptation
Linguistic Competencies: How to discuss and /or debate in a group
1. One morning at breakfast, Fritz said “Our big ostrich is a splendid horse. We also have a sled to transport our provisions and a sailing ship and canoe anchored in Providence Bay. Now we need a boat that will glide over the water like an ostrich does over the land. I have something very unique in mind, but I can’t make it alone.”
2.  “First, you must tell us your idea, “I said, “and then we will vote whether or not to make it a family project.”  
3. “ I have read that the people of Greenland have a vessel that skims lightly over the water. They call it a cajack. I see no reason why we can’t make one ourselves. It is so light that you carry it on your shoulders once you have reached land.” 
4. “The idea has merit,” I said. “What materials would you use?” 
5. “The Greenlanders use walrus skins for the body of the boat, but we could substitute seal skins. Strips of whalebone, bamboo canes and rushes will make up the sides and give it form.” 
6.  “It sounds like a great idea!” I exclaimed. “I hereby vote that we begin construction on Fritz’s proposed cajack this very day.”
7. “I second the motion,” said Ernest. 
8. “Me too,” piped up Francis.

Task 01: Group Discussion
Method of Instruction: Learners can be told about the novel briefly and then given this passage to read. Once they have read it, their attention can be drawn to the fact that how politely the family just had a group discussion and agreed to start a new family project. So unlike what they see on many news channels in India, a group discussion doesn't necessarily mean raising your voices, talking over other people or not listening to other's point of view.

Task 02: Planning a Celebration
Instructions for learners: Inform the learners that they have to plan a Farewell Party for Classes 10th and 12th students. They need to discuss and arrive on a plan of action for doing the following tasks: 1. invitations
2. decorations
3. entertainment
4. seating arrangements
5. snacks
6. gifts/prizes
All of them need to divide themselves into small groups and take responsibility of each task. Tell them to discuss and write their plan of action on paper and submit it to you. Give them 20 minutes to discuss, chalk out a plan and write it neatly taking help from the passage they read from the Swiss Family's discussion.
Check their submitted plans of action. If you find that the plans of actions and their actual discussions were based on the Swiss Family's way of discussion, you can be satisfied that you succeeded in integrating literature with language to develop life skills in ESL learners.

Topic: Our home in the giant tree
Learning Objectives:
Life Skills Competencies:  Different types of Constructions
Linguistic Competencies: Sequential Writing markers

Task 01: Re-organise the paragraph

Instructions for Learners: Let the learners read the passage and discuss what is being talked about. Make this a time-bound activity and at the end of stipulated time, give them worksheets with the serially numbered sentences from the paragraph. Tell them that the first and last sentence remain in the same position while other sentences have been jumbled up. They need to discuss and number the sentences in the correct order. You can tell them that they can do this with the help of sequential markers which are words such as in the beginning, then, after that, so, because, once that was over, finally and so on.
1. Not long afterward, we entered the place of the tall trees which had so intrigued Elizabeth.

2. The house was beginning to look very impressive. We climbed the ladder to spend our first night in the tree-house. 
3. The tree trunk formed the third side, and the front was left open to admit the fresh sea breeze.
4. This is indeed the place we shall make our home! Why, there’s not an animal alive that could reach a house in those trees!”  
5. “What trees! What height! What trunks!” I exclaimed. I have never seen anything like them! 
6.Working quickly, we pulled the cloth down and nailed it firmly to the wooden wall on two sides.
7. On the first level we built a floor of wooden planks and around this platform we constructed a wall approximately four feet high, also made of planks.
8.Then, throwing the sailcloth over the higher branches that towered some 50 feet above the ground, we made a roof for our tree house. 
9. The tree we had chosen was ideal, for its branches grew close together in a horizontal direction. 
10. We then hung our hammocks in boughs six feet above the floor. 

11.After everyone was safely inside, I pulled the ladder up behind.

Task 02: Building a tent

Instructions for Learners: Introduce the learners to the fact that different kinds of terrain lead to people using different kinds of habitats. While cemented houses are alright in plains, wooden houses are preferred in hills and earthquake prone areas. Similarly for temporary habitats, like while one
stays in a jungle or on a mountain-biking expedition, the preferred type of accommodation is a tent. Tents can be of various types, based on its capacity and material used. 
Show them the basic parts required for making a tent, such as poles, pegs, ropes, rain-cover cloth, cover cloth and so on. Demonstrate once how a tent is to be erected and then you can ask them to do it themselves. But before they do it, tell them to make a plan of action about who will do what and what will be done first. Ask them to jot it down on a piece of paper and follow the same steps.
Once they have done the task, ask them to check their notes for any similarity between their steps and the way the Swiss Family made their tree-house. If not anything else, they will find that some of the sequential markers do figure in their Plan of action. If they do, you succeeded in integrating Literature with Language to develop life skills in ESL Learners.