Reasons for studying language arts and literature

One question I get sometimes is why should language arts and literature be studied?

One answer could be the wish to learn how to persuade, inform or entertain. Another answer could be to want to learn to look for opinion reasons, facts and information as well as interpreting the world and people as well as their problems.

On this English Philology Basics studies course, we’ve read short stories, written countless academic essays and a learning journal, held speeches; we have done work in pairs, groups and individually. We have familiarized ourselves with the British & the American societies, taken a look at linguistics as a science and practiced English grammar.

It makes us better at giving advice on

  • what to read
  • how to better understand what you’ve read
  • how to use correct grammar
  • how to write better essays
  • how to write to persuade, inform or entertain

We are also better equipped to help (existing or future) students understand different cultures.

It feels like the course is over now, now that the last contact days and workshops are over (even though we have a couple of distance study assignments left). When all of the required assignments are done, for this course, there’s still more for us to learn too, so many are going to continue on the intermediate course in the fall.

The pair presentations delivered during the last contact study weekend contained serious issues like women’s rights and the freedom of speech. 

Content viewed as inappropriate for teenagers or related to teenage sexuality, pornography, obscenity, occultism, witchcraft, racial issues, violence, bestiality, promoting damaging lifestyles and rebellion as well as religion (e.g. blasphemy) have all been reasons for censorship or banning books. The long list of taboos and possible censorship issues should also be taken into consideration when planning to teach. Taboos can also vary depending on the culture; literature suitable to use to teach in Finland might not be suitable in the United States.

One pair of presenters last weekend talked about art as an aesthetic experience that brings up ideas with the potential to educate the whole person (Dewey) in their presentation. They reminded us of the words of Lionel Trilling on why we should study arts in the first place. We should study (and teach?) arts because:

It yields more truth than any other intellectual activity – (Lionel Trilling)

Literature makes it possible for us, human beings, to experiment and experience almost anything safely. This youtube video by the School For Life describes literature very well too, as the greatest reality simulator. 


These are some of the reasons for why language arts and literature should be studied, I’m sure there are more. See you in the intermediate course!


Tools for forming relationships with storytelling

A discovery in the woods the short story by Graham Greene is on our Introduction to English literature course reading list.

I enjoyed the piece – it’s a fantasy-like story of children taking on a secret journey away from their own little village by the sea to discover something in the woods. Graham Greene is said to be “one of the masters of modern English fiction”.

I found this short story a bit dreamlike. I interpreted it being about children of a mystical future finding the old world (from now?). Is it Greene’s way of warning the world about the risk of destruction? There could be different interpretations but I read a review where the interpretation of the short story went as far as saying “it brings home the potential consequences of the Cold War more powerfully than anything else I have read on the subject”.

Graham Greene, born in 1904,  according to his publisher worked as a journalist and critic, became literary editor of the Spectator and wrote novels, collections of short stories, travel books, plays, autobiographies, books for children, essays, film and book reviews. That is why we are to familiarize ourselves with his work on the literary course.

The learning objective of the English introduction to literature course reads as follows:

Upon completion the student should be able to:

  • display general knowledge of broad periods in the history of English-language literature, and specific understanding of representative authors and texts
  • understand and articulate the differences between several major interpretative approaches to literature
  • offer personal readings of individual literary texts based on close reading and textual evidence

This course will offer students a broad overview of English literary history by presenting and analyzing a range of literary texts from different periods and nations. The course will thus combine elements of literary historical survey with the techniques of close reading and literary interpretation. The course will also introduce basic elements of literary theory.

To be able to say we have a specific understanding of representative authors and texts in broad periods in the history of English-language literature, we have read several short stories during the course. I wonder a bit why we haven’t been assigned novels? Maybe it isn’t necessary for the basic studies course? Short stories can be “representative” enough to just get an understanding of the representative texts for the period and nations we are studying?

Next up for me on the reading list is Carson McCullers short story The Sojourner. In our next weekend workshop coming up on Friday, we will be using literary analysis techniques on Greene’s and McCullers’ short stories as we meet.

After the workshop days coming up, (our last for this course) we all have the literary term paper to write, a literary analysis of 1200 words. There’s some work to do there because I haven’t yet picked the short story that I’m going to analyze.

For me, this gives valuable tools for teaching literature and helping people, young or old, to “form relationships with books”, like Veteran Homeschool Mom says in her tips for teaching literature (Image below from Pinterest). As humans, we are all storytellers by nature and books are treasures we should teach our children to embrace. Let’s work to keep the storytelling tradition alive.

EDIT: Excellent Inspiring Video: TEACHING HIGH SCHOOL LITERATURE on 7sistersihh

Distracted, overwhelmed, and impatient

I read a slideshare this week on the disruptive nature on digital learning and ten things learned about it by Josh Bersin. (From Bersin by Deloitte). As a learner I can relate to the findings of the report where today’s employees as digital learners are said to be distracted, overwhelmed and impatient. I’m not working on the side of studying this spring, but I can still relate.

As a learner I use brief moments for micro-learning using videos, articles, code samples and tools. This is usually hyper-specific, to learn something small, that can be applied right away, quickly. I also have my courses (sometimes online in Optima) and classes to go to, people to talk to and learn from.

Then there’s the noice/stuff (emails, chats, bills, job-applications, news etc.) interrupting me all the time. Often it is the interruptions that make me feel overwhelmed as a learner; distracted and impatient sometimes.  From a student’s perspective I need to learn to turn away from the distractions.

From a teacher’s perspective I realise the need for designing learning experiences that are

  • clear to follow
  • well coordinated with other learning tasks my students may have during the time of the delivery of my (online) course and
  • easy to deliver and receive

We actually faced that coordination challenge in our course in Optima. We received two tasks, for two different courses, from two different university teachers, with almost the same name and content, on the same day. Now, that was confusing.

It’s things like this that add to the confusion and feeling of being overwhelmed.

Bersin writes, in his slideshare, that career rules have changed. Learning continues to move, even more, from instructor delivered learning towards online and collaborative learning. Compared to the old days when I did my Master’s degree it’s a totally different world now.

With the need for continuous re-skilling, to stay employable, our continuous job is to stay up-to-date with different learning methods, tools and technology.

It’s a field in which we are never completely ready – not as instructors, nor students. Learn and re-learn, teach, coach and share. Focus, resistance and loads of patience is required.

Getting all organised before the last workshop in May

I managed to return my learning journal for my Approaches to English Linguistics course this week. This week I was reading something on conversational analysis and a  study of social action as sense making practices by Anita Pomerantz and B. J. Fehr, (Conversation analysis, An Approach to the study of social action as sense making practices) as well as

psycholinguistics and work by Tanya Stivers and Federico Mossano on Mobilizing Response  and how they are proposing a model for how responses to social actions are regulated across the species rather than for speakers of one language. Both of the before mentioned articles fall into the category of linguistics but are a bit different from grammar for instance. The latter writers argue that speakers of different languages rely to different degrees on response mobilizing resources, across languages, ethnicities, and cultures and say that people rely on the same four resources: gaze, lexico-morphosyntax, prosody, and epistemic asymmetry, to mobilize response. (=mobilizing response meaning getting an answer from a recipient).

I also accidentally returned my final essay (1200 words) on Skinner for our Academic communication course I. I got the essay done and then sent it through our learning management system Optima to the return box. I almost immediately realised it wasn’t due until the end of the month; and that we were supposed to get some extra instructions for the last part of writing it some time soon… Ah well.

I don’t think I can withdraw it anymore now, but I’ll try and see if I manage to pass the course with this version. Could be a bit risky, but I did work hard on writing it so maybe it’s okay.

I have also been working on a pair teaching assignment online with Jaakko. We should be presenting together in our next workshop as a pair on the topic “B.F. Skinner and Jiddu Krishnamurti and educational philosophies”. I think we need to meet to get the material sorted out. It’s always nice to be able to start working online, but after the initial collecting of material phase, it’s necessary to have a chat face to face. Hope he will have time next week, I have to have my car fixed end of this week so I won’t be driving anywhere I think.

Before our next workshop in mid-May we are to read more short stories; not novels like I wrote earlier. ( I had no idea the stories were so short, we used to read novels when I was a student doing my Master’s degree, but that was last century!). I haven’t yet started on those, so I shall be doing some short stories reading next, I think.

After the workshop we still have a term paper on literature to write & return before mid-June. The paper shall be a critical analysis of ONE of the following short stories:

  • James Joyce:  “A Painful Case”
  • Katherine Mansfield: “Life of Ma Parker”
  • V.S. Naipaul: “The Mechanical Genius”
  • Carson McCullers: “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.”
  • Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

I haven’t read any of the short stories yet, but we are recommended to read them all and then pick which one to write the term paper about. We will see if I can get them all read or if time runs out and I only manage one.

In addition to all the above we also have a home exam coming up in English grammar I! We have something to read for the exam. I doubt it was the Glossary of English Grammar Terms even though it’s given as a resource to us in Optima. I have to start finding out… It’s coming up soon. Have a great rest of the week!

Passion for reading

In the weekend we have contact studies. I know there’s pair and group-work coming up in grammar and academic communication and the second versions of our academic essay’s were due this week too, as we had them peer-reviewed. Peer review – that’s an excellent practice and you learn a lot both by reviewing and being reviewed. (It works well with tasks in working life too.)

Nobel prize winning literature

The fun part during this study period was reading Naipaul’s short story The thing without a name.  Reading papers on linguistics was a more laborious task, I didn’t quite manage to go through all of the required papers yet, so I’ll have a few to go before summer vacation. The short story we were assigned to read took me on a trip to Trinidad. The trip wasn’t merely a pleasurable one, but a realistic dive into the, sometimes, difficult circumstances of characters living in the slums in the 1950’s.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, received the Nobel Prize in Literature  in 2001 “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories.” (Goodreads). Apparently “V.S.” studied English at the university,  in the 1950’s in Oxford, England before he became successful in writing prose.

The short story

In The thing without a name Naipaul portrays the world through the eyes of a young boy (?) living on Miguel street.

“The sawdust no longer sounded with hammering and sawing. The sawdust no longer smelled fresh, and became black, almost like dirt. Popo began drinking a lot, and I didn’t like him when he was drunk. He smelled of rum, and he used to cry and then grow angry and want to beat up everybody. That made him an accepted member of the gang. Hat said, “We was wrong about Popo. He is a man, like any of we”.

I felt a certain pity for some characters in the story, but in a strange way, I could also relate to them. The vernacular language the characters “spoke” brought them closer, made them feel more real. There is drinking, domestic abuse, criminality, marital problems and life struggle in general. The story also seems also to capture a Trinidadian masculinity model. A model, where displaying dominance through violence is required to be seen as a real man.

Finding the passion for reading… again

Literature is one way of learning about the life and struggles of other people, learning empathy. I generally think people should read more; myself included. I used to be passionate about reading when I was younger, but nowadays there’s just too much digital noise around… Or maybe I’m just busy or lazy, I don’t know. Maybe it was the passion that lead me back to philology studies to make more time for reading? Anyhow, I think the right kind of literature helps us understand other people, but it can also help us understand ourselves better. I want to inspire my own kids and others to read more, even if it’s hard sometimes.

Reading this particular story left me wondering if there was any hope for the characters. Maybe I shall read the piece again to see how it makes me feel, reading it for the second time?

Visitors and views

With my other blog Learning to teach I learned from the blog statistics that my blog had visitors and views from almost all over the world, even if I didn’t really promote the blog.

As a former localisation specialist and localiser it feels awesome to see how many countries my Learning to teach -blog reached, even if it wasn’t localised. That blog was something I did in 2015-2016. Learning to teach is apparently something of interest all over the world.

Visits on this blog

As I started English Philology studies in January 2017, with the goal to obtain a Finnish teaching qualification in English language at some point in the future, I wanted to continue the good habit of reflecting on my studies and learning in the form of writing a blog.

I haven’t promoted this blog much either, but it’s interesting to see the statistics on visitors and views. I have no idea who is stopping by and why. Apart from the few given likes, I can see that there are views from western countries mainly. It’s a bit different compared to my Learning to teach -blog. I wonder why?

Comments anyone?

I’m looking forward to hearing comments from other, hard working students in the same discipline: Do you have a lot of contact studies? do you prefer self studies in the form of papers to read and write? Are you studying to become second language teachers or for some other reason?

Picking The Finest Words

I’m feeling a cold coming up! So happy that I managed to return my 2nd edition of the essay as required, the deadline is tomorrow. I’ve been reading and writing my learning journal for our independent distant course in English linguistics but today it felt too heavy to read the remaining articles with the cold coming up and a slight headache. I left the more complicated articles for last. I think I need to get better before I will be able to focus on 30 pages of psycholinguistics; I plan to read Stiver’s and Mossano’s Mobilizing response article next. It’s something I find interesting but I definitely need to be able to concentrate. (A headache and a sore throat is not the best medicine for concentration!)

I’ve really been digging into the course material and read several articles on the reading list. I’ve for instance learnt more about how ecological educators see language learning as relationships among and between learners (Leo van Lier’s From input to affordance),  how linguistic relativity does not constrain our thoughts or perceptions but that it tends to influence what we as humans routinely think (Kramsch, The relationship of language and culture) and how being a good language learner and student requires not only demonstrating linguistic competence, but also understanding of the specific instructional setting and learning to develop communication skills and being interactive and interpreting a situation and how to act in that situation (LORENZA MONDADA, SIMONA PEKAREK DOEHLER, Second Language Acquisition as Situated Practice: Task Accomplishment in the French Second Language Classroom). I won’t go into the details of the above and some other articles here in my blog, but language IS truly complex and as an academic research field it is very wide – if that can begin to describe the art and science of language.

I also read a couple of essays today, as I prepare to make the peer reviews of essays. To be able to review the academic essays, we have been given the task to read also The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need by Susan Thurman ; Edited By Larry Shea. I’m not sure if we were to read the whole thing, but it’s almost 200 pages and for me that is so much reading that it requires some sinking in. I can’t do it in one or two session’s. The book is well written and not at all a what-you-would-expect, it’s not a typical, dare I say, boring grammar book! I already wrote a few lines in my previous post about the book and that I ordered it for myself. It seems to take some time to arrive with the mail so I haven’t yet had a chance to turn the pages of the actual book. Luckily we can use the online editions for free through the university. I read the first chapter in a breeze! It was an easy read and I surprised myself, because I enjoyed the read. I wouldn’t expect a grammar book to be enjoyable. Silly me, but I’m a linguist so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

The first chapter was about finding the right words when writing. We all know how hard it can be to find the right words! If you want your words to have influence, it helps if you check common errors, misspellings or possible misuse of words. The book promises it will give your reader more confidence in what you are trying to say, so I recommend checking whenever you are in doubt. Finding the right words means also knowing the exact meaning of the words you are using. The better you are at knowing the meaning of words, the better you will be at conveying your thoughts when writing.

The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need has excellent lists of rules and exceptions and uses examples for clarifying them. There are plenty of words that often get people mixed up, but of course the book is only for those who need the advice. I’m not going to continue this post any further and advise you on how to pick the finest words. That you need to try on your own.

See the difference between advice = noun and advise=verb there? The example is from the book.