Linking Criticality and Creativity: Engagement With Literary Theory in Middle Grades English Education

Linking Criticality and Creativity: Engagement With Literary Theory in Middle Grades English Education

Jessica Allen Hanssen (Nord University, Norway) and Maja Henriette Jensvoll (Nord University, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2722-1.ch013

Abstract

This chapter provides specific examples of how current English teaching practices can further engage what can be seen as an interpretative and creative link between comprehension, opinion formation, and language production. Based on awareness of English Language Teaching (ELT) trends in Nordic textbooks and national curricula, with particular respect to curricular developments and trends in Norway and in other Nordic countries, the authors propose specific changes to the subject contents of English education to better prepare future teachers for the exciting prospects of integrating multiliteracy in their lessons through a new emphasis on criticality. To this effect, this chapter provides a new practical model that can help streamline the sprawling interdisciplinarity of critical theory into a manageable and readily applicable context for working with literature during English lessons.
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Introduction

This chapter examines the connection of critical reading and creativity and provides guidance for how current English Language Teaching (ELT) practices can, through the explicit inclusion of elements of literary critical theory, additionally build what can be seen as an interpretative and creative link between comprehension, opinion-formation, and language production. The chapter focuses on these developments from two perspectives: that of Norwegian and Nordic curriculum objectives and textbooks from grades 5-10, and how teachers and teacher educators at these grade levels, both in the Nordic region and internationally, can implement specific changes to ELT, including a heightened awareness of basic critical theory and its role in English education, in order to better take advantage of the exciting prospects of integrating multiliteracy in their lessons through a new emphasis on criticality. Based on experience and examples from the Norwegian educational context, but with clear relevance to other teaching situations, this chapter also provides a new model for adding critical theory into the middle-grades English classroom.

Contextually, we understand criticality as the ability to meet texts, concepts, and understandings with a number of different questions with the aim of developing an understanding of what is being expressed. In times where the exposure to any number of types of texts that all claim to express truth is high, criticality becomes an important tool to navigate and to establish understanding of the world around us, to develop necessary skepticism, and to question the truths presented. In this context, creativity can be understood as the ability to create something new, which can be an object, an intellectual construction, or a feeling that only exists in a person’s mind. This can either be done through recreation and reproduction where people use their memory or previous experiences, or through combination or creation using cognitive skills to rework experiences and create new combinations. One, perhaps underutilized, bridge between the two, as will be explored throughout the chapter, is critical theory, which can be understood as the system of literary and social concepts and intellectual assumptions that are engaged in the interpretation of literary texts (Lynn, 2011).

Using curriculum development as a departure point, this chapter discusses how English as a school subject has become a significant testing ground for ideas about multiliteracy, which can be understood as supporting culturally diverse, responsive, and multilingual learning practices and strategies, and which “involves an awareness of the social, economic and wider cultural factors that frame communication” (Müller, Sancho, & Hernández, 2009, p. 88). The realities of English as a lingua franca, which include the economic, technological, social, and cultural motivations for becoming a fluent English user, require a certain flexibility and willingness in learners to attempt new approaches to learning about literature, even when these approaches seem initially challenging (Hall, 2015).

Recent developments in the Norwegian National Curriculum provide a clear illustration of a mandate to improve critical engagement with the contents of English as a school subject as well as its methodological practices, this itself being a response to various Nordic outlooks and subject curricula. The 2020 updates to the Norwegian curriculum for English published in November 2019 (LK20) (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training, 2019a), and scheduled to be implemented in August 2020, foreground the need for learners to encounter English language texts. Learners are hereupon asked to “reflect on, interpret, and critically evaluate literature in English, including young adult fiction,” and there are numerous other references to critical reading in the curriculum renewal (Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training 2019b, p. 8).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Curriculum Development: The changes in white paper documents that decide the content and focus of school subjects in a given country.

Aesthetic Learning Processes: A learning process where the student learns through participation and creation to rework, reflect, and communicate about themselves and the world.

Reflection-based Teaching: Teaching that focuses on developing learners’ understanding of a given topic through reflection and discussion.

Literature-based Instruction: Language teaching that uses literary texts as a starting point for learning language and developing learners’ ability to express themselves and their understanding of themselves and the world.

Critical Analysis: Meeting and discussing pieces of literature using different analytical and theoretical approaches.

Critical Literature Pedagogy: Working with literature in the classroom to incorporate different critical literary theories in order to enhance learners’ understanding and ability to discuss and develop understanding of the literature.

Literacy Development: The learning progression of students as their ability to read, analyze, discuss, and understand different kinds of texts improve over time.

Creativity: Ability to develop something new, for example an understanding or a feeling, or something concrete, such as an object. To be creative, one has to be able to imagine something one has never seen, felt, or thought of before.

Criticality: Meeting texts, concepts, and understandings with a number of different questions with the aim of increasing an understanding of what is being expressed.

In-depth Learning: The gradual development of knowledge and understanding of concepts, methods, and connections within and between subjects. The goal for students to reflect on their own learning and be able to utilize what they have learned in different known and unknown situations, both individually and together with others.

Teaching Strategies: Ways of devising lessons that promote learning for students of a given subject.

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