Just a small question

A combination of catching up with all things Language World and a conversation at work has raised a question which puzzles and perplexes me.

Just a small question.

What constitutes ‘great literature?’

The Languages programmes of study: key stage 2 clearly states that pupils should:

“… read great literature in the original language.”

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I know that in my head I have a definition of what constitutes great literature for me.  Other opinions are, of course, available, but I would expect a combination of some of the following:

  • addresses issues of significance to the reader
  • explores aspects of true human experience
  • may provoke an emotional response
  • contains beauty in the language
  • makes the reader consider something they have never thought of before

To be able to read a text which does any of the above, then I need a certain level of language knowledge, skill and ability to access it. Now, even as an adult with a GCSE in Spanish, I’m not convinced that I can read ‘great literature’ in Spanish – even if I truly want to.

Which is why I am struggling to make sense of the two halves of the phrase “… read great literature in the original language.”  I am all for using authentic songs, rhymes, stories and poems when teaching foreign languages at KS2 (or at any age, for that matter).  And although many of these items could well be called ‘classic’ (classic fairy tales, classic nursery rhymes etc), I can’t see how this constitutes ‘great literature’ as per my own definition.

So I wonder if my personal definition is limiting my ability to understand what is meant? Do I have a misconception of ‘great literature’?

 

What’s really interesting, though, is that the English programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2 only contain the word literature twice –

Through reading in particular, pupils have a chance to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Literature, especially, plays a key role in such development.”

“… to develop their love of literature through widespread reading for enjoyment.”

Not ‘great literature’. Just literature.  In English lessons, KS2 pupils will not be required to study great literature, they will only have to read for enjoyment. This, I get. This, I understand. This works for me in the context of foreign language learning too.

So why the difference? And how to address it?

As I said, puzzled and perplexed. Clarifications most welcome!

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Consultation on GCSE subject content and assessment objectives

I have just thrown a VERY cursory glance over the document entitled Modern languages GCSE subject content and assessment objectives published today on the DfE website along with similar documents for other subjects.

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The general tone of the ‘proposed’ content strikes me as being similar to the O level. It could be the frequent appearance of the phrase ‘literary texts’ which brings to mind a mini Gove jack-in-the-box, popping-up every time a sentence contains mention of  ‘contemporary  culture’ so that it doesn’t become too modern-sounding.

It’s not that I object at all to the use of literary texts in the appropriate place, but the specific reference is just too, well, insistent.

Oral examinations (not speaking tests, I note, which is perhaps too modern?) are to be internally conducted but not assessed – some pressure relieved there?

There is a hint of CLIL in the phrase “make appropriate links to other areas of the curriculum to enable bilingual and deeper learning, where the language may become a medium for constructing and applying knowledge“.

My “Award for Raised Eyebrow” was won by the reference to “translate sentences and short texts from English into the assessed language to convey key messages accurately and to apply grammatical knowledge of language and structures in context. 

And the “Two Steps Backward” trophy goes without question to the equal weighting for each of the 4 skills. Again.

As I say, it was a very quick viewing, and I’m sure there’ll be other things which occur to me in the weeks to come.

Responses required at DfE by 20th August.