Speaking Snake: Authentic Learning and the Study of Literature

Speaking Snake: Authentic Learning and the Study of Literature

John Fitzsimmons (Central Queensland University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-594-8.ch012
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In the second Harry Potter novel, Harry discovers by accident that he is a Parselmouth, that he can speak “snake,” not crudely, like Dr. Dolittle, who speaks apparently perfect English to animals that somehow understand him, but actual “snake.” This chapter explores the basic proposition that those who read and teach literature have been speaking authentic learning all their lives, perhaps a little crudely — more Dr. Dolittle than Harry Potter — but speaking it nonetheless. This exploration will take the form of three related lines of reasoning. First, it will be argued that literature is and has always been a form of authentic learning to the extent of being an exemplary model. This assertion will be supported using an example from the Harry Potter series. Second, it will be argued that an engagement with the “real-life” themes of literature requires a conversation between the world of the text and that of its readers, thereby fulfilling one of the major requirements of authentic learning — situating content in context. It is not possible in this chapter to rehearse the discipline-specific and extensive critical and theoretical debates that might support this assertion, so an autobiographical example from the distinguished critic Gerald Graff will be used to evoke these debates instead. Third, it will be argued that methods of assessment in literary subjects might usefully adopt some of the principles of authentic learning to enhance the relation between assessment outcomes and the world of employment. The chapter concludes that some of the nervousness experienced by humanities academics when contemplating a more focused relation between their disciplines and the principles of authentic learning is misplaced.

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