classroom, regardless of the age of the learner, we realize that there are multiple learning styles and responses to divergent stimuli. The modern pedagogical environment is faced with a number of challenges that are directly related to learning. In fact, as an educational pendulum swings, we find any number of methods that are thought to be new and innovative; yet it is sometimes the tried and true methods that are more efficacious. For instance, peer-to-peer learning improves cognitive and higher level questioning, humor bolsters biological reactions to learning, and changing the learning environment improves cognition and attention span (Harlin, 2008).
Howard Gardner, for one, has written extensively about the idea of multiple intelligences in learning. this theory holds that traditionally defined intelligence does not really describe the actual innate intelligence of the person. For instance, a child may learn mathematical forumulas quite easily, but that does not mean they are more intelligent that someone who can create stories and has an active immagination. The theory is controversial, and has yet to be completely verified. Yet, it makes logical sense that differing styles of retention and excellence should be used as at least a partial measure of (Gardner, 2006; Critiques of Multiple Intelligence Theory, 2006).
In a practical sense, most particularly with the increased complexity of the curriculum combined with aggressive performance goals due to standardized testing, teachers are often unable to integrate other important aspects of learning (social stuides, civics, philosophy, even science) into the core mandates of reading, writing, and mathematics. One of the ways that teachers can incorporate the idea of multiple intelligences, learning styles, and a multidisciplined approach to learning is by using literature as a basic philosophy for education. While admitedly, it may not be approprite 100% of the time and in every teaching scenario; using literature as an approach to learning has a number of tested benefits that are transferable to other life-stages, skill sets, and the philosophy of lifelong learning:: 1) Higher self-esteem, achievement, and retention of academic information; 2) Social support and networking — students are put together in groups in ways they may never experience in a regular classroom; 3) A more positive attitude towards school, attendance, towards peers and teachers; 4) Greater attention to on task behavior and collaborative skills, and; 5) Ability to move higher into more robust questions and reasoning, moving away from rote memorization (Kagan, 1994).
Using Literature in the Classroom – The use of literature to teach reading literacy is well-documented in pedagogy as a way children can enter the world of literature, imagination, and genre while they learn the basic skills of reading and writing. As this progresses through the levels, though, the teacher is fortunate to have an ever increasing toolkit of resources. Literature comprises so many different ideas, concepts and plots, that it can be easily used to buttress core competency in almost every subject. Rather than simply didactic in approach, the relevancy of stories shows children how concepts are taken from theory into practice, and also clearly expand the skills of critical thinking, analysis, and synergy (Lehman, 2007). If a task is pleasant and stimulating, the child will naturally gravitate towards it — what could be more pleasurable that covertly teaching a science concept through a story about pioneers or ocean explorers.
Using a literature based approach to literacy and other core curriculum areas allows for a greater flexibility within the classroom environment. Different classroom seating arrangements can be used depending on the subject matter, the activity, and the resources available. For example, if one was studying the Columbus Day and the results, the classroom could be divided into three areas representing different points-of-view: the Columbus, the Native peoples, and the European Sponsors or Royalty. A core story or stories would be used to develop competency, and then teacher prepared excerpts with point-of-view thesis from each of the groups handed to individual groups to study, discuss, and develop. Of course, the major point would be why did Columbus come to America, did he find what he expected, and what were the overall results of his trip? Numerous activities could be assigned: illustrating the major point-of-view of the group; developing a presentation to the sponsors assessing the situation, writing a thoughtful feeling-based paragraph about the major issue the group identifies, or even using the basis of the individual group to write a short story, poem, or play. Using literature in this manner allows for a renaissance, and even Montessori-like hands on approach. One certainly has robust readings; but could bring in other disciplines as well:
Science — use of technology, disparate technologies (primitive labels), boat construction, navigation, gunpowder
Georgraphy — continent’s location, the seas, distance, topography, land mass
Politics — competition between European leaders, why colonies mattered
Economics — what was the motivation to explore, what drove the economy of the time
Medicine — disease as a weapon
Ecology — introduction of new species, disease, and pathogens to the environment
Math — distances, odds
Philosophy — morality, utilitarianism (ends justify means, etc.)
Thus, in one unit/lesson, the use of literature-based studies has not only surpassed the goal of inquiry and critical thinking, it has allowed the creative instructor to tailor the curriculum to the needs of the students, and to reinforce concepts that now have relevance (e.g. If Mixtli owned a maize field of; if we had 100 men per ship and our ocean voyage was 42 days, how much food and water would we need to make that journey).
Now, this being said, sometimes the idea of “literature” is frightening to some teachers. They think Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Joyce, etc. Of course, in some courses the use of Charles Dickens would be perfect for older children, but there are alternatives, too. Inner city areas, for instance, or areas that cannot necessarily afford 30 copies of a Young Person’s version of Oliver Twist, could use the daily newspaper. Most newspapers will deliver a few copies gratis to the class, and if the teacher or a parent wants to pick up older copies, can usually get a week’s worth free the following week. Newspaper reading connects children to current affairs, stimulates active teaching, and can be used in all core curriculum areas to establish a thinking paradigm about real world situations. For instance, prices of goods and services, editorial pieces, international news, science news, news about local, regional or national politics — all contribute to core cirrculum ideas. Indeed, reading newspaper articles is also a great way to help students learn about vetting knowledge sources and being a critical reader. Research also shows that besides a robust learning experience, those who participate in this type of learning scenario are also more open to reading more challenging materials; and teachers who use newspapers are more apt to move into a literature-based curriculum (Galstron, 2007; Geyer, 1977; Raeymaeckers, et al. 2007).
Theoretical and Philosophical Tenants – When we look at the philosophical tenats of using literature to develop a philosophy of teaching, we find that a 2006 novel by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones shows us a rather perfect template in our philosophical journey. Of course, one will remember that Pip is the lead character in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, one who enjoys privledge, has it taken away, then understanding the true meaning of emotion and friendship, until finally realizing his potential and recapturing his fortune.
Mister Pip tells the story of a girl caught in the midst of a war. During this time of trials and tribulations, it is through the guidance of her mother and teacher, and her connection with the fictional Pip, that allows here to continue to wish to live, particularly after her mother and then support group, do not. The novel is multidimmensional, uses situations and a compare and contrast theme to build characters and how inter-relationships build character, and most importantly, how people can put aside their individual differences to display what is the very best about humanity (Jones, 2006).
To be sure, we can take this a step further and integrate other disciplines within the art and science of pedagogy. The world does not exist in a vaccum and neither should the learning experience of the student. A multidisciplinary approach, then, could include other topics that are germaine (psychology, communication, languages, literature, philosophy, etc.) or an approach that changes the way the classroom approaches the curriculum (Lonberger and Harrison, 2008). Cooperative learning, for instance, is much more than putting students into groups. It is ensuring individual accountability and robust communication within the group, as well as helping to learn and master such social skills as sharing, accepting others’ ideas, learning about different individual attitudes, and being able to work