Author: Dr. Noora Al-Malki
Department of European Languages
Now, this is not a catch-phrase from a literary work which I’ve read recently. Nah. This emphatic declarative sums up my students’ response to literature in general, and English literature in particular. I thought my enthusiasm in class will make them loosen up a bit and enjoy the literary pieces we study together. But, nay. That was my dream alone. They resented the fact that they are going to take up literary courses to graduate and insisted that these are completely useless.
I bet you would say that there must be a solution to this devastating problem. Nah, again. I tried using simpler literary texts to help my students ease in the heavier texts which they we will have later on. That failed too. Why? Because they considered those texts an extra burden which they were not prepared for.
Twelve years ago, I wrote a poem about this problem:
Hear Me Students
You’ve been a pain
To my troubled brain.
For weeks I fought
Through the messy parts inside your skull
And for a moment I thought
That, brightness, I’ve brought
Oh, it has been a task so dull;
“This is a poem great to read,
So enjoyable” I would plead.
Students would say “Oh, teacher, is it in the test?
We would, if you cancel this, study the rest”
“Students, this is a poem great to read,
So enjoyable” I would plead.
But nay, their heads wouldn’t get it.
I’ve to shout out my brains
Before it rains
On their heads
That this poem is only to be read.
Recently, I tried playing with technology: Had them take up part of the course in Second Life, created a course journal on Twitter and asked them to join, set up a facebook page for the course…etc. But the success of these tech-based solutions in motivating them to work did not cancel out their distrust (sometimes hatred) of literature.
Then, I paused for a moment and thought of the type of texts we are teaching them. Actually, these are horrible (not to my taste at all). I teach them, for example, selections of metaphysical poetry (poems which no one can understand!) and expect them to express their views of them fluently. If someone asks me to sing in German, I would pout and sulk! (I hate singing and my German is devastating, go figure!).
I think we need to ask our graduates about the type of literature they liked being exposed to during their studies, then go on selecting texts which match up with the students’ general taste and interest. Why does not the department sponsor an online book club where students can be exposed to different literary (or non-literary) texts suggested by professors or their classmates?
Students should take an active role as well: They have to create yearly reading lists (at least 12 books a year). To select the books for such lists, they can ask their friends or professors for suggestions. Or they can check Amazon best sellers’ lists. It is not that difficult to decide on the content of a reading list. What is difficult is keeping up the reading throughout the year. But, I have faith in our students if given the proper incentives!
If you are interested in book suggestions or joining an online reading club, email me firstname.lastname@example.org