Developing the EFL Learners' Interdisciplinary Thinking Through Teaching Literature

Developing the EFL Learners' Interdisciplinary Thinking Through Teaching Literature

Fatiha Kaïd (Ecole Normale Supérieure Oran, Algeria) and Ibtissam Touhami (Centre Universitaire Aflou, INRE, Algiers, Algeria)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4670-3.ch006


It is a popularized consensus that literature develops the learners' linguistic competence as well as cultural competence. Accordingly, the teaching practices of literature have been tailored to adapt to the requirement of the EFL context. However, in this process, a digression occurred from the core of engaging the students in literary analysis; instead, the literary text is taught in banking model replica. The discursivity of a literary discourse requires the learners to use their interdisciplinary thinking to perform a transdisciplinary dialogue to decode and interpret a discourse. Teaching literature as a discursive discourse contributes to developing the learners' criticality through the use of interdisciplinary thinking. The recourse to an interdisciplinary teaching of literature would contribute to developing criticality by being exposed to a language of possibilities. The students will be actively involved in decoding the endophoric and the exophoric elements of the literary discourse. This interdisciplinary approach to teaching literature would foster criticality.
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The need for more critically oriented classrooms is at the center of debate in the educational sphere. The hegemonic education based on the passive absorption of a selected knowledge became obsolete, and the focus is on the learner’ centered pedagogies. There is a consensus among educators who consider the necessity to sharpen their student’s analytical skills and critical thinking considering that it is a key factor in the teaching learning process. Under this perspective, certain teaching methods in which the teachers are the depository of knowledge and the students just mere receivers has become outdated, and therefore, it had to be displaced by a whole new pedagogical approach, which would be more participatory oriented and more motivational for students as they would be actively involved in analyzing and generating meaning out of their formal educational progression.

For centuries, in western European Universities, courses on literature were not part of the curriculum –beyond classical literature–, because it was not considered to be relevant and British or American Literature were not given attention. However, considering its paramount importance and the large number of people interested in literature, especially among the enlightened elite, it was only a matter of time to consider literature worthy of intellectual analysis. It gained the status of a source of knowledge, worthy to be taught, analyzed and criticized. This value has paved the way for literature to be considered as an academic subject, and was at the genesis of incorporating it within the academic sphere (Bressler, 2011).

Consequently, analytical critical thinking on behalf of the readers is at the core of teaching literature. In this context, the teaching objectives of literature are not limited to knowledge about the subject only because it is extended to incorporating analytical and critical thinking skills. That is to say, teaching literature involves, in the first place, the historical context, the themes, the literary discourse and the elements of fiction. However, it goes beyond that, as it requires involving learners in the analytical process which ultimately contributes into developing their critical thinking skills. Therefore, it is possible to synthesize that the prime objective of a literary class is to depart from the hegemonic practices in teaching. Those practices that are crafted following the modus operandi of the banking model of education have to be deposed by a more critically oriented model, in order to bring students to a higher level of comprehension through analysis and interpretation.

There is a vast body of literature covering major literary criticism approaches to literary works; yet, there is no comprehensive or elementary guide to develop critical thinking or analytical skills of students. Teaching critical thinking is not a discipline per se, and cannot be easily assessed. Nevertheless, all thinking skills can be taught across academic disciplines through a process of problem posing and solving (Freire, 2005). In the EFL Context, one of the most comprehensive guides to teach literature is crafted by Carter and Long (1991), as it embarks the learners into three levels of interpretation. This model requires students to explore and interpret the social, political, literary and historical context of a particular text. However, this model is somehow a traditional approach to teaching literature and, if not properly implemented, could also be at risk of being transformed into a banking model teaching methodology.

The emphasis on critical thinking and the use of the cognitive process for interpretation is also advocated by the discipline of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis involves a close scrutiny of the text /talk ranging from trivial communicative events to more complex discourses. The process of interpretation implicates the readers into both the linguistic structure as well the context of the discourse. This cognitive process requires both an active reader, who is able to delve into the structure of the text, and a good reader capable of interpreting beyond the sentence level. This is also emphasized by the critical approach theories of New Criticism and Reader Oriented Criticism (Bressler, 2011).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Discourse: Written or spoken communication or debate.

Text: The main body of a book or other piece of writing, as distinct from other material such as notes, appendices, and illustrations.

Banking Model: The banking model of education is an approach that sees students as containers into which knowledge is deposited by teachers.

Interdisciplinarity: The combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity.

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