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TEACHING LITERATURE

Introduction
In todays educational world, the development of curriculum has made
it possible for us to teach literature in the teaching and learning of
languages. At primary level, literature in English has become one of the
compulsory components in Kurikulum Standard Sekolah Rendah (KSSR). It
has been included in the English language syllabus as part of the content
that should be learned by students in Year Four one to Year Six since the year
2014. In the English language curriculum specifications, the literature
component is specifically put under the language for aesthetic use learning
outcome. The Ministry of Education has explains the reason of putting the
literature component in the syllabus specification as follows: Language for
aesthetic purposes enables learners to enjoy literary texts at a level suited to
their language proficiency and develops in them the ability to express
themselves creatively. (KSSR English language Curriculum Specifications,
2013)

Hence, it is clear that placing literature component in the syllabus

gives the chance to students to improve their language proficiency as well as


develop their creative thinking in expressing thoughts and opinions.
Literature of English has become part of the KBSR and KSSR syllabus in
Malaysian education system. The method of delivering the literature content
can be done in various ways. However, not all teachers are aware of the best
possible ways of teaching literature. This study was carried out to investigate
the approaches used to teach literature in the English classroom in Sekolah
Kebangsaan Jalan Peel, Kuala Lumpur. An investigation was conducted
involving English teachers who teach contemporary literature. They were
given a set of questionnaire to be answered and an interview was also done
with the teachers to reinforce the findings. The overall findings of the study
reveals the methods used by the teachers and the challenges faced by them
in teaching literature.

Teachers experience

According to the new English Language syllabus (KSSR) of level two


(Year 4, 5 and 6), there is an inclusion of contemporary literature in each
topic and three compulsory texts which are The King of Kite and The
Jungle Book and Anthology of poem. On the other hand, the old syllabus
(KBSR) which is applied to remaining students of Year 5 uses three
compulsory texts (Mr Stofflees and the Painted Tiger, Anansi and Turtle
share Dinner and Poems in Your Pocket) while Year 6 uses two (Dans
Secret Weapon and Clever Katya). All teachers spend at least once in a
week to teach Literature lesson for each level.
The six teachers whom I interviewed have different backgrounds. Their
names are remained anonymous throughout the study and labelled as
Teacher A, Teacher B, Teacher C, Teacher D, Teacher E and Teacher F. All of
the teachers are teaching in same school in an urban area. Even though the
school is located in an urban area, most students are identified as having
limited English proficiency which is due to their low socioeconomic
backgrounds. Four teachers (Teacher A, Teacher B, Teacher C and Teacher D)
are senior teachers with more than thirteen years of teaching English
Language in schools. The other two teacher (Teacher D and Teacher E) are
fresh graduates from teacher trainee institutions with less than one year of
experience. The first teacher I interviewed holds a certificate in Teaching
English As Second Language (TESL), three teachers hold degrees in the same
field and one teacher holds a master qualification. Another teacher majored
in Science Education and has English Language as his minor. All of the
teachers are colleagues and their experiences in teaching English differ to
each other.

Teaching and Learning Activities and the Challenges


All teachers said that they use teaching aids in teaching literature,
however the frequency differs to one another. Teacher D and E often use the
teaching aids in their lesson as one of the way to assist students
understanding and make their lesson more engaging. In contrast, the other
would rely on the literature text and pose written comprehension questions
for students to copy into their exercise books. Teachers who use teaching
aids in literature class usually utilize realia (real objects), videos, powerpoint
slideshows, pictures, word cards, movies and etc. Undeniably, most teachers
claimed that they would have difficulties in teaching literature if they are not
provided with teachers guidance book from the Ministry of Education.
Teachers who teach the new curriculum for Year Four have made few
supplementary activity books as compulsory for their students. This simply
means that, after they have read the text book, students will proceed with
the activity book to supplement the lesson. Most teachers honestly admit
that they also are having problems with the approach to teach literature in
ESL classrooms even though they have a vast experience in teaching
English. They do not know the best approach to teach literature in order for
students to gain both language and appreciation of the literature itself.
In order to teach literature to students, there are several ways to
deliver the content of literature and to ensure the students understand what
literature is all about. Since literature is quite new to Malaysian educational
system, not much techniques and approaches can be applied by teachers in
classrooms to teach literature. From my opinion, this is because teachers
lack of exposure to literature teaching techniques. As stated in the Malaysian
English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) discussion on the web,
www.melta.org.com (2007), teachers are known to have applied their
fundamental knowledge of teaching and sometimes improvise them in order
to teach literature in ESL classroom. However, they only use the explanation

and answering comprehension questions techniques which are rather boring


for students. Similarly, some other teachers only manage to teach their
students by using the traditional method, by giving focus only on the literary
texts for it pronunciation and vocabulary when teaching literature.

The

questions posed in the interview seek the activities used by teacher in


literature lesson. The responses were as follows:
-shared stories, story telling, predicting, recounting, and analyzing
-introduce the poems stanza by stanza
-Question and Answer sessions, chalk and talk
-different genre- role play/drama
-through video watching for short stories and novels
-encourage students to brainstorm the title for a starting
-using mind-maps
-drill students with questions
-rote learning; students read, understand later memorise the plot

Looking at the teachers responses on their teaching method, most of


the activities planned by the teachers are intended to develop the students
language skills. However, it is clearly seen that most teachers have favoured
low-order thinking activities in teaching literature. The literary texts are
mostly embedded with humanistic and cultural elements but most teachers
have not fully utilized the text. By doing so, there will be a falloff in
developing the students intellectual capacity and creativity in target
language. Day et al. (2002) and Langer (1990) concurred that students will
not be merely recalling information read but will also be able to analyse and
synthesise better if they are given the chances to write about what they
read. Therefore, if teachers make full use of the literary text, students will be

able to capture the richness of the language that will assist them for creative
writing.
Students level of proficiency is recognized as one of the challenges
faced by the teachers. Students with low level of proficiency have limited
access to language and therefore they were unable to express their ideas
and share with their peers. When the students could not comprehend the
literature text, it would be difficult for them to relate with their own
experience. This consideration has been supported by all the teacher from
the interview done. All teachers feel their students need to be fully guided
when they are given a task not only during literature lesson but also during
normal English Language class. Therefore, most of them agree that oral
activity is not applicable for weak students. With limited English vocabulary,
teachers have to translate most of the words so that students can
understand the literary text. A local newspaper once claimed that the newly
graduated English teachers are using the national language (Malay) to teach
English literature by translating or giving elaboration of the content of the
text in the syllabus (Utusan Malaysia, 2nd of July, 2001). It seems that some
of the English teachers lack ways to teach literature with the aim of making
the students understand the lesson. By translating or explaining an English
content using Malay language does not help the process of improving or
developing English among students.
Despite the challenges in teaching literature lesson to young learners,
an unexpected response from the respondents is that all teachers agree
literature lesson should be included in the primary schools curriculum. Most
teachers have positive perception toward using Literature at the primary
level. They view literature is an interesting lesson that will capture students
attention in learning English language with the rhythmic sounds from poems
and appealing plot from the short stories. However, due to time constraints,
literature components have been disregarded to some extent. Year 5 and
Year 6 English teachers claim that literature would not be a tested

component at primary level hence they put little emphasis on teaching this
component. Since Year 5 and Year 6 students are still using the old
curriculum (KBSR), teachers give more focus mainly on the language skills
through

the

prescribed

syllabus

to

produce

good

results

in

UPSR,

disregarding the literature component. Year 5 and 6 teachers spend most of


their English lesson coaching weak students the techniques of passing UPSR
English Paper for an impressive percentage of As and passes (Kow, 2007). In
this case, we can see the drawbacks of having an exam-oriented education
system where teachers and students failed to foresee the relevance to
explore the language richness in literature components over time. In other
words, the students who are still using the old curriculum were perhaps
deprived of reading a literary text.
An innovation made to the current literary text (Year 4 KSSR) is the
introduction of the graphic novel called The Jungle Book. Both Year 4
teachers found this book stimulating and motivating. This kind of literary text
is close to the students as it presented in a comic form. Because comic
books are laid out in frames, it is very easy for students to track a story. In
fact, it is also easy for those students to both jump ahead and back as a
story develops. As each frame contains some text and a picture, this makes
it much easier for students to grasp and contextualize a story. The pictures in
the graphic novel also add many visual cues to the story line helping
students better understand the critical literary points of the story. Therefore,
most teachers believe that this kind of literary text is very appealing to those
students who are intimidated by long text passages. This situation depicts
how literature lesson could be a source of motivation for students especially
the low proficiency. Khatib, Derakshan and Rezaie (2001) mentioned that
McKay (1982) claimed that when learners start to develop their interest in
reading literature text, they will feel motivated.
Based on the interview, I personally feel that there is an urge for
English teachers to incorporate literature components into their lesson as a

part of curriculum implementation and this issue should not be taken lightly.
As such there is a need to look into ways of developing awareness and
understanding among students of how the content of a text can be made
interesting and meaningful for future academic challenge. A more effective
manner in teaching literature results in maximum benefit in expanding
students vocabulary and inculcating extensive reading habit by the students
(Erkaya, 2005). Fakrul Alam (2002) agrees that literary text enhance
students reading skill and provide varied examples of vocabulary use. I put
this consideration as my focal point since all the respondents in this study
view literature lesson as discrete and detached it from language learning.
Perhaps the teachers find the teaching and learning of literature as daunting
task. Nevertheless, having low proficiency students, teachers could exploit
literary texts to promote language learning and turn students negative
perception towards English Language to positive. In order to have a welldesigned literature lesson, teacher should be equipped with sufficient skills
and this calls for the ministry to carry out intensive literature courses and
trainings for teachers in the future.

Conclusion
The six teachers that I have interviewed have shown different
approaches in teaching literature component based on the activities they
conduct in their classes. Some teachers would prefer teacher-centered
approach while others practice learned-centered approach. One activity
conducted that I found engaging is pairing literature component with movies.
Teacher D has made full use of The Jungle Book movie from the Youtube.
Even though the storyline from the movie is a bit different from the graphic
novel, this gives an opportunity for teachers to consider an adaption that will
encourage students to pay close attention to the written language of the
original piece. Teacher D believes this way of teaching would give her
students multiple ways to make sense of the literature. Teacher A and

Teacher B and teacher C have similarities in teaching literature in which both


of them incorporate interactive language. Interactive language teaching that
are listed such as role play and drama. These teachers also highlight the
importance of hands-on activities in their lesson to enhance students
understanding of the text. However, they also expressed their concern
regarding the limited teaching sources as one of the challenges in teaching
literature.

In regards to the challenges found in teaching literature, two

teachers suggested that glossary should be included in the literary text prior
to the students low proficiency.
The interview that I conducted has shed lights to the importance of
teaching literature in primary classroom. Whether a simple jazz chants or
poem it all relies in the teachers role to encourage students to reflect on
these beautiful ideas through a wide variety of interesting activities. Such
activities will not only help students learn the language, but learn it as a
powerful, artistic device. Literature can also act as a powerful change agent
by developing pupils intercultural awareness while at the same time
nurturing empathy, a tolerance for diversity, and emotional intelligence
(Ghosn, 2002, p.172). Therefore, there is a need for a change about teaching
literature as a whole and this aim can be reached by adapting interesting
and engaging teaching approach. Teachers should be provided with intense
courses just to focus on teaching literature and how to incorporate literature
text as part of teaching language skills. The change towards the
incorporation of literature as a tested component in the teaching of English
Language for the local context has shown that Malaysia has not only serious
following the current trend in language instruction but has also the value of
literature for teaching of English as a Second Language for our language
learners.

References

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Scholastic.
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Ghosn, I. (2002). Four good reasons to use literature in primary school ELT.
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172-179.
Khatib, M., Derakhshan, A., Rezaei, S. (in press). Why & Why Not Literature: A
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Linguistics, 1,
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