chapter  8
13 Pages

Learner autonomy and literature teaching

Iwouldliketostartbypresentingasadbuttrueanecdote:a studentatuniversityinBritainintheearly70slearningthe Russianlanguage(abinitio)attendedRussianliteratureclasses. ShehadchosentostudyRussianbecauseshelovedthesoundof thelanguage,wasentrancedbypopularimagesofthethenSoviet Union,asportrayedbythefilmDr:ZhivagoandromanticSoviet filmsseenonTV,andwantedthechallengeofa'difficult'language.Onetermtheclasswasobligedtostudyanovellabythe Sovietwriter,Sholokov.Theywererequiredto'prepare'threeto fourpagesofthestoryeachweekfortheclass.Duringthesession, thelecturerwouldnominateoneofthemtoreadaparagraphor twoaloudandthentotranslateitintoEnglish.Afterthis,he mightaskaquestiononthecontentofthestory.Theyneverknew, ofcourse,whowouldhavetoreadnext,andsowereobligedto prepareallthefourpagesingreatthoroughness.Theproblem was,thetextwasrathertooadvancedintermsofitslanguagelevel fornoviceRussianlearnerssuchasthisgroup.TheweeklypreparationtookthestudenthoursofworkwithaRussian/English dictionary,checkingalmosteveryotherwordandthenwritingthe translation,veryfaintlyinpencil,abovethetextinthebook.Itwas arduous.Shedidnotdareleaveanywordunchecked,evenifshe thoughtsheknewit,justincaseshegotitwronginclass.Aftertwo weeksofthis,astrangethinghappened;thestudentbecameso interestedinthestory,whichwasofasoldierandhistragiclife, thatshewantedtoreadthenovellarightthroughtotheendas quicklyaspossible.Sheworkedforhoursthroughthenightuntil shehadreadthelastpage,atwhichpointshedissolvedintears,as muchfromtheeffortasfromemotionalresponsetothestory.She thoughtitwaswonderful!Shewasmoved.Shewantedtoread moreofthisauthor.Unfortunately,herenthusiasmandimpatiencetoreadthestorymeantthatshewaslessthoroughthanusual inpencillinginthetranslation.Whenshewascalledupontoread andtranslateinclassthefollowingweek,thereweresomewords whosemeaningsshecouldnotrecallandshewascastigated thoroughly.Thestudentexplainedthatshehadworkedmore hastilythanusualbecauseshehadbeeneagertoreadallofthe story,butthelecturerwasnotimpressed.Worsestill,whenhe noticedherpencillingsinthebook,shewashelduptoherclassmatesastheverymodelofabadstudent.