Introduction to the course

Coming to the IB programme for the first time can be something of a daunting experience, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the volume of information with which you are initially presented.  Many teachers have reported that it is not until you have taught the two year programme at least once that things properly 'click'.  And it is also true to say that one of the wonderful things about it is that you can continually revise your practice so that the course can feel as fresh twenty years down the line as it does when you first start out.

The following pages are designed largely for new teachers, in order to highlight the core details of the Language A: Literature course, but it is best to read through them with the Subject Guide close to hand. Most importantly, try not to be put off by the nomenclature of the course, nor attempt to make sense of each and every detail. Things WILL become clearer as you go along.

Two opening questions:

Have you ever asked your students (or thought yourself) about works of fiction that have had a real impact on you? Anything from The Hungry Caterpillar to Harry Potter, The Miller’s Tale to The Waste Land, Gulliver’s Travels to The Catcher in the Rye. Which titles would they (or you) nominate? 

Now ask yourself this question:

Why do we teach literature?

What would be your top 3 answers? To develop understanding of people, places or periods that are not our own? To encourage sensitivity to features of literary craft? To develop skills in communication and use of language? Compare your responses to this description of the Literature course, found on page 5 of the Subject Guide from the old course (last exams 2020):

The course is built on the assumption that literature is concerned with our conceptions, interpretations and experiences of the world. The study of literature can therefore be seen as an exploration of the way it represents the complex pursuits, anxieties, joys and fears to which human beings are exposed in the daily business of living. It enables an exploration of one of the more enduring fields of human creativity, and provides opportunities for encouraging independent, original, critical and clear thinking. It also promotes respect for the imagination and a perceptive approach to the understanding and interpretation of literary works.

Through the study of a wide range of literature, the Language A: literature course encourages students to appreciate the artistry of literature and to develop an ability to reflect critically on their reading. Works are studied in their literary and cultural contexts, through close study of individual texts and passages, and by considering a range of critical approaches. In view of the international nature of the IB and its commitment to intercultural understanding, the Language A: literature course does not limit the study of works to the products of one culture or the cultures covered by any one language. The study of works in translation is especially important in introducing students, through literature, to other cultural perspectives. The response to the study of literature is through oral and written communication, thus enabling students to develop and refine their command of language.

Language A: literature guide (first exams 2015) p. 5

Hopefully all, or at least some of the answers you gave to these questions will find a voice somewhere in this account. A more formal presentation of the Studies in language and literature course aims is found on page 14 of the guide (first exams 2021), which you should make yourself familiar with.

Some key points about the course are certainly worth noting:

  1. Flexibility: the course is designed so that the works you teach and the way you structure your course can be selected and designed by you – in accordance with your school, the students in your class and your own interests and preferences.

  2. Breadth: an important principle that will affect your choice of literary texts is the significant range of periods, places and genres that you are expected to cover. This makes teaching and learning within the course extremely varied and rewarding.

  3. Literature in Translation: as part of a Diploma Program that celebrates cultural diversity and International Mindedness, a significant number of texts you teach will need to have been written originally in a language other than English.

  4. Oral and written assessment: another virtue of the course is the variety of ways in which it is assessed. Marks for individual components, as well as the final grade are awarded for students’ abilities to write, speak and listen about literature, which means that students with different kinds of abilities and learning styles can all demonstrate achievement.

  5. Independent learning: skills in critical thinking lie at the forefront of all IB courses, and are addressed particularly by Theory of Knowledge (ToK). Success in the literature course, particularly in the upper grade bands and at Higher Level, depends to some extent on a student’s ability to think for themselves. The so-called ‘higher order’ thinking skills of interpretation, synthesis and evaluation are ones the course descriptors refer to quite often.

Perhaps the most significant factor, however, is the course’s inherent interest in developing a sense of life-long interest and curiosity in the literature of the student’s mother tongue.

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