The teaching of literature, as we traditionally know it, began in the 19th century with mass literacy and schooling. In that context, it was a priority to transmit a series of values to students, usually related to the principles of emerging and historical nationalities.
Since those beginnings, the teaching of literature has undergone drastic changes in its methodology, giving rise to what we understand today as literary education.
Literary education focuses on the experimentation and enjoyment of literature over the memorization of works, authors, or literary movements. It is in this context that reading animation is also inscribed.
Reading habit and excess content
The main objective of reading animation is to develop the reading habit in students, that is: that contact with literature is prolonged with reading as another option for their leisure time.
To do this, techniques are used that motivate reading, both in the classroom and autonomously outside of class.
The main problem for the implementation of these reading promotion plans, which in some Spanish autonomous communities, such as Valencia, are prescriptive, is the excess of content that appears in the curriculum.
Despite the fact that the methodology suggested by the curriculum enters fully into the approach to literary education, the list of contents of classical literature is so overwhelming that it is contradictory to propose an approach more focused on enjoyment and awareness of the literary fact and , at the same time, include an encyclopedic perspective.
Create readers or encyclopedic knowledge?
So, is it possible to encourage reading in the secondary classroom? From our point of view, it is not only possible, but it should be one of the objectives of the literature class.
For this we have a wide range of activities that promote an approach to the literary fact in an attractive way. It must be taken into account that the students have little reading experience, less comprehension capacity, different literary interests and levels of interest, decoding capacity, etc.
Thus, the formula of coffee for all does not seem optimal to arouse interest in reading.
Autonomous or shared reading
The shared reading of a single book for the whole class can be an excuse to establish lively debates on the topics it deals with, on the approach of these and even on the style. This would be one of the advantages of prescribing a book for the whole group.
Other advantages have to do with the possibility of reading aloud collectively. Reading aloud is claimed by numerous teachers’ associations as an exceptional resource for literature work in the classroom.
It not only allows us to explain the vocabulary on the fly, but also allows us to comment on fragments, start discussions, make inferences about the plot, etc. It is a way to share the reading with the rest of the group and to offer a space for students to make their interpretations and criticisms.
Applied literature in class
The slogan, in fact, is that in literature class we talk about literature; not so much of decontextualized concepts, but of those concepts applied to the works that are read in class or outside of it.
When reading a poem, for example, the most important thing is, in the first place, to decipher the meanings (more than one, literature is characterized by the diversity of interpretations).
Secondly, empathize with the message of the poem, try to ensure that the emotions that the author is trying to convey really reach the students and that they can feel them as their own.
Third, to see how language is used to create those emotions.
And what do we do with the classics?
As we can see, in exercises of this type, classical literature is not always our best ally. As beautiful as a sixteenth-century poem may seem to us, we must bear in mind that it is five centuries old, and our society and values bear little resemblance to those represented by the poem.
Therefore, in addition to making contact with our classics, students must experience the literary fact with the literature that is written expressly for them: youth literature.
The selection of works
There is a very important volume of works of these characteristics, which also implies that there are many works that we can unequivocally classify as bad or very bad, but also good and even exceptional works.
To select these good works, it is important that teachers know the criticism of this branch of literature. CLIJ magazine is a good reference, but there are also blogs, booktubers , and even scientific literature on the subject for the most restless people.
It is about finding a balance between content and our vocation to create readers.
Facilitate understanding and heterogeneity
It is possible to select canonical works that interest students more than others and combine them with children’s literature, contemporary works and even graphic novels, film or animation.
On many occasions, it will be easier to explain a concept through a TV series than through an episode of Don Quixote . If our goal is to understand that concept, the natural thing is to facilitate understanding in the way we consider most fruitful.
We must be aware that our cultural consumption is polyhedral and heterogeneous. An educated person can go to the opera today and tomorrow read a comic or watch a comedy on television.
Educational centers cannot be erected as a ghetto for classical literature, since the importance of this literature lies, to a large extent, in that it provides us with references to understand contemporary works.
As Luna, Cassany and Sanz say in a famous teaching manual , compulsory education is our students’ first contact with the classics. We should try not to be the last.
Author Bio: Xavier Minguez Lopez is Professor at the University of Valencia. Department of Language and Literature Didactics at the University of Valencia