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Selecting Novels to Study in the Classroom

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Members are having an interesting discussion on the forum about novels that changed people’s view of the world.


It is interesting that so many people have mentioned how the books they read as teenagers helped them understand the lives of others. I think it was Shelley who said: “morality is imagination”. Can we really start to be moral beings until we have an understanding of what it is like to be someone else. I believe novels have an important role to play in reducing racial and sexual prejudice. They do this by helping the individual to understand what it is like to suffer racial and sexual discrimination. If this is the case, should teachers of English Literature take this into consideration when selecting books for students to read?

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Guest Chris Sweeney

I was given to understand by a colleague who has marked for an Exam Board for decades, that the Exam Boards do this for us when selecting texts or setting questions. Hence the compulsory Culture poems in the GCSE anthology, which we all accept comes from a desire to promote understanding of different cultures. But he claimed that this even applied to A Level literature; for instance, a relatively recent question at A level about Iago's sexuality. My colleague believed that the movement towards questions some of us may once not have felt 'appropriate' at A level was an attempt to help students be more tolerant of racial and sexual issues.

English teachers have always been aware about the issues in texts when selecting which to teach, and choices about which novels to buy have reflected their desire to bring these issues to children. It is for that reason that Of Mice and Men remains one of the most popular texts at GCSE; it is so rich in what we dryly call 'issues', and presents the damage and tragedy that intolerance and fear can cause in a very humane, sympathetic and understandable way to our students.

It can be a minefield though, as parents, naturally, want to have the major say in what their children should be led to believe about the world. Bearing that in mind, I have never been sure that we should deliberately select texts which raise moral questions. The thing is, however, that it is almost impossible not to: all good literature, at whatever age level, reflects and questions society and thus its moral choices. Inevitably this means we have to take it into account when selecting texts.

Fascinating question though. It hits at what education is - a service or education for life and society in the fullest sense? As well as asking just how much influence any teacher should have over our children's moral development.

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"It is interesting that so many people have mentioned how the books they read as teenagers helped them understand the lives of others. "

As well as helping understand the lives of others, books can also help us to understand better aspects or experiences in our own lives. It can be important to many students to read about people who have shared similar life experiences, in real or fictional texts, to help them understand what they, themselves may be experiencing and to know that this happens also for other people and that there are different ways to approach similar situations. I have noticed in recent times the increase in novels depicting homelessness, abuse, spilt family situations etc which many students gravitate to as they go through similar experience themselves.

I think as teachers we both choose novels to share with students, individuals and groups, which both help them to understand the world they live in now as well as extend their experince of the worlds beyond their own.

Edited by Patricia Corby
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  • 3 years later...

Due to the loaded programme that is being applied in the Preparatory

English classes, there's little time to study novels in the classroom.

Instead of studying them in the class, I prefer to let my students

choose a novel they want to read and tell them to read it at home.

After a month we discuss why each of them chose that particular

novel and whether they enjoyed it or not.

I saw that the book the student chooses to read helps

the teacher and also his/her classmates to understand

the student's personal preferences and views. Also, they

are really enthusiastic to discuss their novel in the classroom,

which is very good because each student learns about a different

novel and a writer and also most times develops interest in reading

what his/her friend recommended.

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  • 2 years later...

Reading Circle has been added to this year's curriculum in the School of Foreign Languages, where students choose a novel and discuss the main

idea, the plot and the characters in the classroom as groups of four or five.

The roles of group members are as follows : Discussion Leader, Word Master, Summarizer, Passage Master and Culture Connector.

A very useful activity for EFL students to connect with the culture and literature of the target language.

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