Linking Reading And Writing Through Literature English Language Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Literature and writing have traditionally been taught separately, but changes begin to appear and the tradition is not long-standing. As discussed above, reading and writing have a close relationship, and literature, as the most sophisticated example of a target language in use, of course plays an important role in the reading-writing classes. As Salvatori (1983:659) noted, literature can be taught as "a way of exploring, understanding, and reflecting on the strategies by which readers…generate meanings in the act of reading." Hirvela (2000) once examined the use of literature in reading-writing classes and pointed out that the connections literary texts promote between reading and writing can be categorized into two aspects, first the properties they contain as literary texts and second the kinds of reading and writing activities students can perform with them as a result of those properties (117).McConochie(1985) discusses ways to teach literary texts and meanwhile she addresses that writing about literature can facilitate the understanding of the literature which in turn creates an enjoyable atmosphere of appreciating literature; nonetheless, she does not attempt to prove whether the reverse is true (i.e. reading of literature facilitates writing). Fortunately, in the same year, Spack (1985) published an article which specifically discussed the influences of reading literature on students' writing. She cited that "ESL students have much to gain when literature is the reading content of their composition course and the subject matter for their compositions" (p703). The chapter below summarizes arguments for and against the use of literature in reading-writing classroom. Although some people still disagree with the use of literature, claiming that is a specialized and deviant kind of writing, some solutions have been demonstrated and rationales presented for the use of literature as a resource, in particular to promote writing skills.

The benefits of literature

First, literature is intrinsically enjoyable. Chambers (1984) once argued that 'story is the fundamental grammar of all thought and communication' (59). Abbs and Richardson (1990) further discussed that:"We are all narrative makers. We spend much of our lives telling our own stories and listening to the stories of others. Events happen to us, we put words around them, and- depending on what we can remember, how we feel and who is listening- narrate them in different ways." (9) Compared with other forms of texts, stories possess a worldwide attraction and well accepted and better understanding that others might not be (AH 117). People though may come from different areas of the world are easily inclined to enjoy listening to stories, narratives from others. People like to read texts that describing human situations, their emotions, their anxious the problems they encounter, and the solutions they carry out. Sometimes readers like to read stories because stories often cover the themes, topics that are prevailing in their daily life, such as family, work, loneliness, love and morality (264 SV). By reading this kind of literature, readers may find a sense of sympathy with the characters in the stories. Sometimes, readers enjoy reading a particular kind of literature, for example, the main characters are of the similar age of the readers or have a similar background or life experiences of the readers. Quite often, things happen in the characters may also happen in the readers. Take an example, after staying a while abroad, literature that about life in a foreign country often draws my attention. When I read this series of stories, I frequently find that the problems that I encounter when I first arrived were not unique, and the solutions I carried out are also useful for others. What's more, I also find that sometimes the description is more exaggerated than the actual situation, the writer at times fabricated on purposely to attract more attention. Other times, readers like to read stories because stories can bring in new information to them, such as new settings, new experiences; this kind of literature enriches their life and opens their visions. There goes a saying in China, "reading ten thousands books is like walking ten thousand miles in the world". On all accounts, when reading is enjoyable and pleasurable, it arouses interest and a sense of connection with the literature and so that motivates students to reflect by their own and discuss with others. Their reflection and discussions can be good materials used in their future writing. In addition, this kind of motivation is drastically important in engaging students' investment and attention paid in improving their writing abilities (264 SV).

Furthermore, as discussed above, readers are always easily influenced by stories. Due to the imaginative nature and narrative structure, stories often invite readers into them, respond to them. They allow readers and writers to play both roles, spectator and participant, that are central to literate acts (Britton 1984). Compared with the stories, the conventional, information-based texts usually used in reading/writing classes frequently constrain students into the more passive spectator role. By contrast, as mentioned above, literature has a magic that can encourage readers to empathize with or react against the characters appearing in the work that drawing our attention, experience what the characters do after we identify them, and conjecture the aspects or the characteristics the authors have not described or have not described directly. As the theories in reader-response accounts for, readers are tend to fill in gaps that authors left in their texts on purpose, so that the readers are encouraged to get involvement and be engaged in with the literary text. In addition, we also reflect to the events in the text with emotion and intellect. In this way, literary texts- different from the information-based texts that normally used in L2 academic reading-writing instruction- evoke students to discover questions and find out answers. This process is more creative and prompt students to have a deeper connection with the text and have a more thoughtful thinking during the reading process compared to other text types. These connections and thoughtful thinking, in turn, increase the motivation to read and write about what we read. Teachers can make use of this motivated effect that literary work aroused into the combination of reading and writing teaching. This is the reason, Costello(1990) once proposed that "narrative literature seems a natural component of the ESL curriculum" (22), especially, she adds, of its reading and writing portions. (117 AH)

Second, the fact that students in L2 writing courses bring their respective literary background into the courses should not be neglected. In fact, literature is often valued and appreciated in their culture. The reading of such literary texts has a great influence on their education. From a traditional perspective, one's values and beliefs can be formed and affected by the literature they read in their life. What's more, their reading and writing abilities may also have been enhanced through reading or at least in part through them. As a Chinese student, for example, as far as I am concerned, students are immersed in a great deal of literature work even when are in primary school. The way we learn the principles of Chinese composition is by studying, analyzing and imitating the classic Chinese literature. Likewise, from the experience of a nine-year-old British girl from my UK host family, the similar situation happens, too. Her English assignment for winter vacation is to read any literary book and write a reflection every day. Thus, it can be seen, literature plays an important role in L1 acquisition, so that students are inclined to involve the appreciation of literary work as learning a language, especially for learning writing skills. Although literary texts at first seem too difficult for L2 learners, they have formed a habit to appreciate literature and if the literary work can be selected properly, this problem can be saved or at least released.

Third, literature gives readers information about different cultures, for example, the culture readers may currently live in. It also provides a way for readers to realize and then engage in the culture differences. This respect becomes increasing important these years. As more and more students choose to study abroad (the estimated statistic in 2010, China will export 300,000 students to study overseas, from, no matter old or young, varying degrees of 'culture shock' almost happens to everyone. On this occasion, related literature work can give some aid. As Willoquet- Maricondi (1991/1992) states: "the cultural tensions that arise when cultures meet can be dealt with productively in a literary context". What's more, the accumulation of literature work from other countries also benefit international students for other academic classes in which such cultural knowledge may be assumed and expected. For example, when taking a class like sociology, literature, psychology, teachers may mention some glossaries such as "Renaissance", "the lake poets", "metaphor", "Victorian era". Perhaps students may at least have some ideas what the professor is discussing, rather than knowing nothing at all.

Fourth, here comes a more particular point of the benefits of using literature for learning writing. It is that the feature of complexity of a literary work that benefits students a lot. Because of this complexity, students are trained to think and write in a more multidimensional and analytical way. Practice in appreciating and interpreting literature, teasing out its multilayered coat and grasping the gist meanings, helps students to develop a more profound thinking and analyzing ability which can be made use of in composing their own writing. Mckay (2001) made this argument clearer and noted that the response students give in writing about literature they have read also practices the important academic skill of making their opinions convincing by using the information collected from the texts they have read. A further conclusion summarized by SV? intended that reading literature promotes critical thinking (265 SV). All in all, "ideas, language, readings are not cut-and-dried in their meanings; a thinking person must analyze, question, interpret, synthesize what she or he hears and reads" (Vandrick, 1996b, p.27),and usually a good writer is also a critical thinker. Vandrick (1997b) also pointed out that an important part of reading a literature is to help students to realize that a piece of literary work, such as a novel, is not suddenly born from a vacuum. It is a living, breathing entity. It is an entity that interacts with its readers, the only way for it to come to life is to be read by a particular reader from his or her own perspective. Each individual and reader brings his or her life experience, knowledge, and emotions to the work, and at the same time creates a unique relationship, a unique reality, as he or she responds to it (p106). An old but well-accepted proverb says, "The eyes of a thousand individuals have the thousand Hamlets" , which has just the same sense. Gajdusek (1998), Gajdusek and van Dommelen (1993b), Oster (1989b), and Spack (1985) also agree with the opinion that students' critical thinking abilities can be enhanced through reading and writing about literary texts, particularly in L2 contexts. Because literary texts can be read in an active way. They demand and encourage interpretation and judgment from the role of readers, and writing is a means to shape these interpretation and judgment into a organized form. In this process, students' critical skills are being trained. Reading and writing are closely connected as students use writing to compose and make sense of their reflection in a more organized and effective way from the materials they have read.

Fifth, another major benefit of using literature was put forward by Widdowson (1979, 1984) and Spack (1985): the "deviant language" and rhetorical structures of literary texts. They are not the obstacles of bringing literature into pedagogical use, instead, they motivate students to distinguish one text type from others. This distinguishment is so meaningful that by doing so in their reading of literary and nonliterary texts, students obtain precious knowledge that can expand their repertoire of writing use of language-"knowledge that can expand their repertoire of writing strategies and resources (AH 118-119)". Gajdusek and van Dommenlen (1993b) also propose a similar argument that "the classroom process of reading and interpreting a literary text genuinely involves student/readers while modeling the analytical patterns of thought that underlie expository writing" (201). In the process of acts such as composing an analysis to a literary work or organize an argument that concerning the theme or the characters appearing in a text, students can make the writing strategies they find in academic essays into practice. The advantage of the literary text is in that its imaginative qualities can often easily attract a reader's attention to read thoroughly into its midst. In this process, students are supplied with additional motivation in the course of constructing their academic essays. They want their analysis or argument to be clearly understood or convincing, hence, they have an increasing incentive to work with the writing techniques that they have found out in the literature they are reading. To a great extent, students' engagement with the literary text is deeper, more sophisticated and personal than with the non-literary text, the practice gained in expository writing may have a greater impact on them than is true of more conventional kinds of reading-writing assignments. After all, as it is summarized by AH (118-119): "In short, literature-based reading and writing experiences may resonate more powerfully in their memories and their associations with L2 literacy instruction." On this occasion, reading and writing are related at deeper levers than any other text types can be.

Considering lexical and syntactic development, students can acquire very accurate, nuanced and useful vocabulary in literature. The various language patterns that are exposed to students facilitate them to have an overview of how complex sentences and phrases can be put together. The knowledge of grammar can also be learnt in the process of reading literature as SV (266) concluded that "Grammatical patterns can be absorbed unconsciously in the course of reading literature as readers are exposed to complexity, variety, and subtlety in grammatical patterns." Additionally, Sage (1987) points out that in literature "the student encounters nearly every kind of communicative technique speakers use or think of using. Literature displays a broader range of such communication strategies than any other single ESL teaching component" (p.6). In short, in L2 writing classrooms, the ways showing how language in use provided by literary texts cannot be substituted from non-literary texts.

Sixth, as Goouch, Grainger and Lambirth (2005) asserted, [no 'that' when you have used 'as'] creativity plays an important role in writing. Meanwhile, a famous literary critic from China (Lei,2006) proposed that creativity is the life of literature work. Thus, when students read literature, they are reading creative work, and exposure to creative work will enhance their creativity, which in turn enhances their writing ability. Furthermore, reading a good literary work, readers can benefit a lot, such as the structure the story carries on, the detailed description the author used to demonstrate, the selected words, phrases the author considered earnestly, on what occasion an irony, or the metaphor should be used and how to use appropriately . In this way, the readers acquired an adept way of expressing idea or feeling in a second language.

Seventh, another benefit by using literature in the reading-writing classroom is put forward and developed by Rosenblatt ([1938]1976,1978). Rosenblatt classified reading materials into two categories, which is "efferent" and "aesthetic". Efferent reading materials are mostly information-based texts. The information involving in such texts can be used retrievally [??] or in the future. Rosenblatt (1978) gave a further explanation as the reader's "attention is directed outward… toward concepts to be retained, ideas to be tested, actions to be performed after the reading." Aesthetic reading, on the other hand, is mostly associated with literary texts. Rosenblatt accounted that in this kind of reading, "the reader's primary concern is with what happens during the actual reading event" (24).In Rosenblatt's thesis, which has a prominent impact on the extensive reading-writing research and pedagogy found in L1 contexts, he asserts that to become completely qualified readers and writers, students need to go through both kinds of reading experiences. Attention paid on only one kind of reading (and then writing) restricts the visions of the reader/writer as she or he always encounter a series of complex situations of reading-and-writing-related needs in academic life. Therefore, bringing in the literature in the reading-writing classroom fills in the gap that nonliterary text usually lacks of, enrich the students with more aesthetic reading and writing experiences on the basis of efferent reading experiences. Furthermore, it also makes preparations for students to have aesthetic reading experiences that may be required in some courses of their academic community. Students read more than only textbooks and information-based texts. Some courses might as well demand the reading of literary-type texts, for instance, historical novels in a history course or ethnographic narratives in sociology or psychology courses. (AH 120)

Difficulties that may be encountered

First, as many people may think, and as Spack (1985) summed up, there is a presumption by some teacher that students majoring in science and engineering would not like to read literature. However, in her published paper, Spack points out, related research shows that this is not necessarily true. Quite often, these students need and are inclined to be contacted with the best that a language can offer. More often than not, the best of the language in use is found in literature.

Second, some people contend that literary English is not daily English or practical English; it is not the general English that students are demanded to master and use (SV,266). The explanation to this argument is firstly, the exposure for students to the most imaginative and creative English language used from literature is a positive thing after all. Secondly, although students are not required to use the same English in their daily communicating, such as speaking or writing a note, they can learn a great deal from literature the ways how English is used and words, sentences can be made sense of. Along with these two aspects, when reading literature, students can enjoy the process, and can be motivated, even be inspired by them when they are doing their own composing.

Third, this argument has been discussed for many years and by many teachers that reading literature may be "too difficult" for students. Some teachers worry that students in L2 reading-writing classes will find literature too hard to catch up with, which will discourage and demotivate their enthusiasm in reading and even affect their whole learning motivation. However, there is a good solution to solve, or at least to ease this situation. Teachers can make appropriate choices when introducing literature to students. What's more, the assignment connected with the literature reading should fit student's various levels properly. As there is a great deal of great literary work accessible, teachers can make comparison and can select more suitable ones for their students, even to intermediate learners. Even for the very beginners, there are approaches to facilitate appreciate literary work. For example, short stories with the key glosses and background introduced in pre-reading activities. Although literature sometimes seems to be a "stretch" for students, as SV proposed, they are challenged and stimulated by their assigned reading. They mostly feel proud of and their confidence can be greatly enhanced by being able to read the real literature in English, as literature is regarded in most cultures the best a language can offer.

Fourth, another concern was put forward by some, especially teachers who fear that some L2 reading-writing classes will become, in practice, reading classes only. It means that all the class time is taken up by analyzing, criticizing a literary work, with some introduction of new vocabulary and grammar knowledge. The unwarranted assumption is that neither teachers nor students will enjoy this class, because of its frustrating preparation for teachers and boring learning process for students. Actually, in a reading-writing class, literature is widely read for enjoyment. Immersed with literature, students can get direct contact with good writing in English, creative ideas proposed by writers, well-organized structures a story used to narrate. Facilitated by this series of information, students can write about or give response to what they have read. Given a sensitive choice of text, the analysis of literary work in reading-writing classes can be engaging as the teacher assists students to discuss and understand the literature which in turn encourages them to compose good writing by themselves. As SV pointed out, using literature, especially L2 reading-writing classes, does not mean to ask students to write literature themselves or compose a 'literary' style writing work immediately after reading a literary text, the more important function is help them to form a literary concept.

Fifth, there is a disagreement with using literature in L2 reading-writing classes based on the concern that although many learners try hard and work painstakingly to learn a second language, most of them cannot write in a truly creative way. Hence, some researchers argue that reading literature in English for L2 learners may discourage their learning motivation, for the gap between the real literary text and their own work is exposed in such a obvious way. Learners may feel demotivated because that despite of their hard working, they cannot reach the literary level. On this occasion, it is the teachers' responsibility to tell students clearly the function to read literature, it is for an enjoyment to be exposed to the best language used in English, but not for students to find the gap between their own work and the literature. Moreover, even in L1 contexts, students often read classical literary work in their native language, the disparity of the work between famous writers' and theirs must have been accepted since then. They have a consensus that only with few exceptions, they are not able to write as well as their countries great authors of fiction and poetry.

Sixth, another concerning on using literature is from reading-writing teachers. Some teachers do not prefer choosing literature as teaching material because they themselves are not majoring in English literature or they do not read much literature by themselves. Hence, they think it is so frustrating to prepare a class using literature, and are often unconfident of their own literature knowledge. However, as discussed above in No.4, the literature in reading-writing classes is not for detailed literary analysis, and criticism, it is not necessarily for teachers to bring in much terminology, professional theories into class. Instead, if a teacher does so, students will be perplexed by so much new knowledge and have no time to appreciate the beauty of literature. As mentioned above, the use of literature in reading-writing class is direct, to facilitate students understand the literature and in turn make good writing practice. It is true that still some teachers would rather not use much literature in the reading-writing class, it is strongly recommended that they should regard the benefits that a literary work can bring to their students.

Seventh, summarized by SV as "the most common, most substantive, and most contentious reason" raised by some L2 writing instructors (so did some L1 writing teachers) for the disagreement of using literature in the teaching of writing is that they strongly believe that the major goal of writing classes should be train students to write for academic writing, or particularly writing for their specific major or discourse communities. For instructors holding this argument, literature in the writing classroom is a regarded as a distraction from the work at hand. In their opinion, reading materials used in writing classroom should be, for instance, comprised of the selection from college textbooks, articles from journals, and high-quality magazines and newspapers (SV), and at best can be adapted or revised before providing for students. Furthermore, some give more specific suggestions that students should take particular English writing classes according to their majors. For example, business major students go to writing classes for 'writing for businesses' (See Johns, Chapter 8). In class, they are trained to write the business letters, the professional negotiating language, the way to report to submit to the leaders, etc. Seemingly, it is reasonable that students can obtain help from reading selections that directly to their majors and write a better report accordingly. However, writing itself does not have only one face, writing well cannot be easily pigeonholed into categories (SV). College students are not always writing for one type, they also have other writing tasks besides their majors. What's more, the training of writing ability is not a temporary work only making sense in college time for academic purpose, it is a capacity that will benefit a student in their whole life. As Knight (1993) puts it, "a characteristic of an educated person is the ability to transfer learning. Thus, those of us who teach the basics of composition do not have to teach different writing courses for every discipline within 'the academy'" (676). Of course, it is rational students should be exposed to academic writings of their own major, it is also a valuable experience for them to read literature at the same time. More importantly, the enhancement of the ability of thinking, analyzing, organizing in a second language they acquire from literature reading is a great help for their any other advanced writing.

[excellent - we can discuss this further tomorrow!]