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Under the Hong Kong New Senior Secondary Curriculum, the components of language arts have been included in the English subject to promote more interesting and meaningful learning. To prepare students for the new syllabus, language arts are also introduced in primary levels by individual schools. It is high time English teachers considered how language arts should be viewed and handled so that they can be taught and learnt in effective ways.
The aim of this academic paper review is to explore ideas and obtain inspiration on English teaching from the sharing of different speakers on the topic of language arts in APELA. In the first part, two of the plenary speeches have been chosen to discuss about the genres being presented and the significance for teaching English. In the second part, another two papers presented by the other scholars have been chosen (according to my own interest in language teaching) to discuss in the same areas.
Reflections on two plenary speeches in APELA & the significance for teaching English
Plenary Speech: Analysing and interpreting works of verbal art as acts of meaning instantiating the meaning potential of language in context
by Professor Christian M.I.M. Matthiessen, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Literature conveys messages through language. The role of language in a text is to show the relationship between the writer/speaker and reader/listener. A text should be interpreted in context. To interpret a text, it involves a kind of social semiotic process. The interpretation of a text about language arts and literature involves "recreating". To recreate, it involves the engagement of "verbal art".
Professor Matthiessen (2012) discussed about the importance of "verbal art". In his speech, he pointed out that a text is like an image to a viewer. To understand it, the viewer needs to interpret it and responds it with a certain kind of "criticism". Like treating a piece of literature, first it is being read, described and reported. Then it is explored and evaluated. To reach the final stage, there is a need to "talk about" it. In Professor Matthiessen's speech (2012), he quoted a short discourse from an admission interview as an example to explain this point. In that particular discourse, the interviewer prompted the interviewee to talk about "literature". The response showed the interviewee's personal and subjective opinions on the issue. By evaluating the response, the interviewer would have a glimpse on how much the interviewee knew about the topic. This shows how "verbal art" enables people to understand and to re-create meanings of literature.
Professor Matthiessen explained that verbal art consists of both context and language. For context, it is about a theme. It involves recreating and being recreated. It can be imaginative. It involves "foregrounding, instantiation and de-automatization". In the text of verbal art, it contains "field, tenor and mode". "To understand verbal art better, it requires more statistics and discourse analysis. Moreover, researches should also be focused on functional grammar in order to bridge the gap to understand better about verbal art" (Matthiessen, 2012).
The discussion brought out by Professor Matthiessen leads to another good discussion about how to use "verbal art" to enhance students' understanding and learning of the language.
Plenary Speech: Poetry and Performance: "semiotic distance" and the translation of artistic forms across times and cultural traditions
by Dr David Butt, Macquarie University
In Dr David Butt's plenary speech 'Poetry and Performance: "semiotic distance" and the translation of artistic forms across times and cultural traditions' (2012), an interesting discussion was brought out on the impact of "semantic distance" and "semiotic distance" on poetry and performance. His discussion has given light on how to deal with the teaching of literature and how to promote the learning and understanding of the language.
Dr Butt (2012) pointed out that to interpret the written work of literature, one needs to pay attention to the existence of "semantic distance". Especially for the work which was written in different times, in different geographic areas and in different cultures, one has to take consideration on these aspects to interpret the meanings correctly. To bridge the gap between time and culture, it is important to understand the background of the work so that one can "imagine" or "construct" the reality, and re-constructed it semantically as a new product. This shows the phenomenon of "language turning into language" (Butt, 2012).
Beside the written form, literature has become multimodal in many different ways. First, it has been translated into different languages.. Then it can also be presented in different forms, like dramas, plays and films with the influence of the development of new technologies. To understand the literature in a form of performance, it is crucial to consider the "semiotic distance" of the work. Take the film "Troilus and Cressida" written by Shakespeare as an example. Dr Butt pointed out that instead of solely relying on reading the rhetorical structure of the play script, one can understand the context and the tension of the drama through watching the characters' speech, facial expressions, gesture, movements, etc. The sound effects and visual aids in the scenes also help viewers construe the plots. After all, the topics and issues mentioned in literature, depicting similar contexts and situations in those particular societies, are often universal and they still make sense to people even in different places and across different times.
Discussion on the Media/ Genre Addressed in the above Papers and their Significance for Teaching English
The two plenary speeches inspire considerable ideas on the teaching of English, especially on the aspect of language arts.
"Language arts" are arts made of language (Matthiessen, 2012). Traditionally, they can be taught through reading and studying the work in the rhetorical level. Dr Butt (2012) provided some brilliant ideas about how to deal with the "semantic distance" and "semiotic distance" in literature. This enhances English teachers to construct a mental checklist on how to help students understand literature work. As the quick development of technology, the work of literature has jumped out of paper and books into forms like plays, films, videos, songs, games and comics. Through using different ways of input, interest and thoughts over the learning of language arts can be provoked.
On the other hand, students should be given opportunities to interpret and to reflect their ideas of the context. They should be encouraged to "talk over" their thoughts in order to recreate their own ideas from the created work (Matthiessen, 2012). The new concept, "verbal art" can be included in the teaching so that students' learning can be further developed out of the limited context of the literature work.
"Verbal art" is a kind of organization to construct meanings through negotiating (Butt, 2012). People nowadays have a desire to negotiate and express the meanings semiotically. Like the plays of Shakespeare, many of them have been translated in different languages in written work. They are also acted out in dramas, plays and films. Although the literature of Shakespeare was first written hundreds years ago in depicting certain contexts in the society, the topics and issues mentioned in the work do make sense to people in different places across different times (Butt, 2012). Through teaching students to discuss about the issues in literature and help them bridge the time gap between different generations, they will learn to see their world from different perspectives. Hopefully, they will be able to understand the world better and live a better life in the future.
Reflections on two of the papers presented by scholars in APELA & the
significance for teaching English
Paper Presentation: Little Books, Little Steps - The Use of Little Books to enhance the Teaching and Learning of English
by Kwong Shuk Wah Jenny (Institute of Teacher Education) & Barry W. Jarrett (Brighton Education Group)
Considering a new component of language arts in the Standards-Based Syllabus (KSSR) has been newly introduced in Malaysia, there is an interest for researching how to teach and learn language arts effectively. The aim of the study was to explore how a group of teacher trainees enhanced and conceptualized their pedagogical knowledge and skills of teaching language arts by using the "little books".
In the research the trainees were first given input on how to handle a story. They were then introduced different ways to make little books and got the hands-on experience of making their books out of their own made-up stories. The data were derived from the trainees' reflections, researcher's observations and photographic evidence, the completed little books and story texts by the trainees.
From the data, it showed that the experience of making little books enhanced the pedagogical knowledge and skills of the trainees through experiential, fun and creative learning. The trainees became more motivated and confident in teaching.
The research also showed that the trainees were helped to conceptualize the pedagogical knowledge and skills by using the little books as teaching aids. They found that little books are versatile tools in effective teaching as they can be used as vocabulary books and poetry books. They can also be used in storytelling. They are suitable to use for all levels and for different language skills and language contents.
Paper Presentation: Using Local Drama in Teaching Writing and Speaking
by Dwi Astuti Wayu Nurhayati (Sebelas Maret University)
It was an action research done in the context of Indonesia. The subject was a class of English learners. The researcher noticed that her students were weak in writing and speaking in English. She attributed the phenomenon in their writing to lack of "ideas, organization, thought of rhetoric or pattern, cohesion and coherence (Nurhayati, 2012). As to speaking, the problems included inhibition, nothing to say, low participation and mother-tongue use (Nurhayati, 2012). To help her students improve the skills, the research designed a drama programme to see how it could change their learning attitude and their language skills.
In the study, the students were first given input in writing a script. Then they formed groups and engaged themselves in discussions on creating a drama out of local stories, legends and myths or out of the conflicts in their own society. They wrote their stories into scripts and consulted the researcher's advice on the grammatical and semantical aspects of their work. When the scripts were ready, each group was engaged in dramatic activities to develop their characters and plots. The researcher observed their practice and gave opinions continually. Finally, they performed their dramas in open areas in the school.
Through observation and discussion with the students, the researcher found that the students became more confident in giving ideas and opinions in English. They also expressed that they liked to learn the language in such an active and relaxing way. In conclusion, drama, serving as a goal for learners, is an effective teaching method that promotes both learners' motivation and their language skills in writing and speaking.
Discussion on the Media/ Genre Addressed in the above Papers and their Significance for Teaching English
Both the genres addressed in the above papers are not new to English teachers in Hong Kong. Their positive contributions on language teaching and learning have discussed for a long time academically. However, it is not clear whether local English teachers really employ these methods in their actual teaching practice. However, the above studies have given our local teachers good examples of how to implement the mentioned teaching genres in the classrooms. Moreover, although the studies were not conducted locally, they had a similar context as Hong Kong (both of them were conducted in south-east Asia) where English is taught as a second language. The results arrived can serve as positive indicators on language teaching, that inspire the local English teachers to employ or integrate the strategies in their own teaching.
From the results of the studies, they shows that to teach English effectively, it involves a means to give a purpose as well as satisfaction to the learners. Teaching English is no longer equal to teaching words, sentences, paragraphs, grammar or phonology separately, but blending them together systematically in order to yield a kind of observable production.
Take the study about "the use of little books" as an example. It is obvious that "little books" are useful tools in all the stages of teaching and learning (i.e. presentation, practice and production). On top of that, "little books" enable the blending of several language skills which will be involved in the process of producing them. They are appealing and serve as an excellent goal for learners to practise, retain and internalize the knowledge.
Another teaching and learning genre being discussed is drama, which the majority of the local English teachers may find it difficult to integrate in their own classes. They may resolve it by handing this area to specialists, like experts in drama or practitioners of the specific teaching because they do not have the knowledge about drama and lack confidence to use it in class. Through studying the research of "using local drama in teaching writing and speaking", it provides ideas on how to use drama to teach more than one language skill with adequate learning goals and planning. As mentioned before, either "little books" or "drama" is a means or a tool. They are to be employed in different teaching stages according to the goals of the teaching. In other words, they are not used because they are wanted to be used. With a clear mind about what the teaching goals are, teachers should be able to spot the suitable context to use drama in their teaching. At the same time, teachers should utilize different techniques and activities of "drama" in different contexts. Through using them in a rotating way in different contexts, learners will be familiarized and get used to the learning genre before they are required to produce a drama themselves.
The 2nd Conference on Applying Language Arts provided a platform for scholars to share their studies and research on the teaching and learning of language arts. From their contribution and inspiration, English teachers can obtain up-dated and in-depth pedagogic knowledge and approaches on how to introduce language arts in their classrooms.