Studying English Literature for GCSE can sometimes signal the death knell for reading for pleasure. For whilst reading may be regarded as fun, perhaps the detailed analysis of texts may corrode enthusiasm, particularly when the discipline of analysis seems a chore. Analysis can be regarded as a slow poisoning of the original pleasure!!
Many students I have tutored find that their love of reading suffers a reality check when faced by the often drawn out process of literary studies.
My son loves reading and was not excited in the slightest by examining texts at length, preferring to let the reading process go on its own way without the heavy handed interference of analysis. Ironically, sometimes at GCSE it can be the less keen readers who find the whole process acceptable. For these students, English Literature is just another subject to learn and therefore they do not have their original affection to lose or to contaminate.
Yesterday I was talking to a student about this problem, a problem I have to say that is improved by Private English tuition where strategies are far more easily available to regain a love of reading and thinking about reading. I was wondering what sort of approach could bridge the problem between pleasure and textual analysis.
Obviously the teaching approach is always important, but perhaps there is also something innately reductive about the dissection of texts at GCSE, where the long dissection reveals a definitely dead ‘corpse text’ without any residual signs of life!
So this is the challenge, a challenge to BRIDGE the gap between the pleasure of reading and the necessary ‘knowledge’ for GCSE English Literature success.
My best tutor, Steve Newman, always advocated staying with your initial reaction or impression. This should always be preserved he would say. Hang onto your original thoughts and do not let them get chased away or suffocated by the weight of others’ opinions, or horror of horrors the often grindingly dry certainties of the introduction and notes!
For example on Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men:
1) Would YOU have stayed friends with Lenny for so long? Why?
2) What would you feel if a teacher/friend NEVER called you by your name like Curley’s Wife? How would this affect you?
3) What would happen to Lenny in today’s society?
4) Is FATE a helpful notion or does it let us off the hook of taking responsibility?
5) Does Slim offer George a more equal friendship and does this provide hope at the end? Can friendships work if inequality exists?
6) Why is Curley’s mother missing from Of Mice and Men? How would a maternal influence have changed the novel?
Making a text real and relevant is HUGELY effective in encouraging readers to THINK and to WRITE THOUGHTFULLY.
This is from someone who admits to falling asleep during several productions of King Lear and who finds King Lear himself profoundly noisy and irritating.
BUT these reactions help me KNOW LOTS about the play’s shape , its characters and of course my own tolerances!
The Woman in Black
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