Teaching Part 1: lesson strategies

As the Written Assignment is of course the student's own independent work, it is important to provide as much help as possible with the development of associated skills. There are plenty of generic materials in the essay writing section of this site but in the attached pages are listed some particular suggestions for helping students with the process of putting together their essay and making sure it fulfills the criteria as effectively as possible.

Beneath them all is a reliance on the notion of developing personal responses to texts;  this does not mean recording how a student feels about a particular character (although that can sometimes be interesting to explore) nor about the way a text reminds them of things that happen in 'real life'.  What it does mean is to encourage students to develop their own analytical and interpretive responses to these works.  The classroom environment, and particularly the Interactive Oral and Supervised Writing tasks, should be presented as an opportunity to think, reflect, discuss and explore ideas that the student has come to believe in response to the work/s being studied.  The classroom in this way becomes a way of testing hypotheses so they become more refined, rigorous and persuasive;  inevitably, this will lead to better thinking - and ultimately, better Written Assignments.

Here are some generic ideas/principles that you might consider as you approach your works in translation:

1. As mentioned in various areas of this site, it is a good idea to keep in mind the way in which each 'part' of the course is assessed as you go about planning your teaching of each work - and the kind of learning you want students to encounter. Given that Part 1 of course leads to an independent coursework essay - on a topic that is nominated by the student him or herself, the teaching of the works in translation is perhaps best undertaken as an exercise in 'opening up' the many and varied ways in which their meaning is presented. Whereas Parts 2 and 3, for example, demand a high level of rigorous and detailed analysis of each work, the ultimate aim of Part 1 is to get your students to identify a topic for their essay in which they have a particular interest - and feel sufficiently motivated to purse the topic in an independent manner.  Spending a maximum of 3-4 weeks on the teaching of one of the works, in order to open up more time for the planning and execution of the coursework, is therefore typically a good idea.

2.  See the teaching of these works as an opportunity to develop skills in speaking and listening.  Detailed suggestions of effective classroom practices are given elsewhere on the site but perhaps just worth mentioning a few principles:

  • the notion of the teacher as observer or participant in discussion, not the filter through which all points must be channelled
  • the importance of making sure that everyone in the class contributes - e.g. by limiting the number of points single individuals can make
  • the significance of listening skills; what does it mean to listen actively? e.g. to write down points you find most interesting, things you might disagree with, new ideas that occur to you through the discussion etc.  NOT to see the business of note making as a simple act of passively recording as much of the conversation as possible.
  • developing skills in note making.  Instead of sitting at the front of the class, try sitting with your computer and simply recording the main ideas that emerge during the discussion rather than actually contribute.  It is often quite surprising - and satisfying - to see students take a lead role in discussion, and perhaps a reminder that good teaching can sometimes come about by making yourself more absent than present.

3.  The issue of translation:  the fact that the works being studied were all written originally in a language other than English means that many interesting and important issues to do with this process will be directly addressed, as well as arise naturally in discussion.  One way to begin Part 1, perhaps, is to look at various translations of Japanese Haiku:  have a look at this website, for instance, for resources that relate to Matsuo Basho.

It is always helpful and productive if you have students who speak or know the language in which the text was first written so that first hand knowledge can be presented about the way meaning shifts when texts are translated. The following websites provide some interesting points for consideration, as well as a wealth of material that you could bring to your Texts in Translation lessons:

4.    Connections with Theory of Knowledge

As referred to on the first page of this section of the site, there are many opportunities to bring into the classroom Knowledge Issues that students will typically encounter in TOK.  For example, simply beginning a lesson by projecting the image on the right, or even better - getting a student who can write similar non-western linguistic characters on the board, and then inviting the class to respond, could be an effective way to open up discussion:

  • what does it look like in the space?
  • what does this 'say'
  • what implications does it have for us reading works in translation - comprised (potentially) of thousands of similar characters?
  • what do answers to these questions then also say about the way we look, think and write about our own language?

Through initial discussions of this kind, many more issues that relate to the language of literature will hopefully become apparent e.g:

  • to what extent is all language an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes?
  • is meaning inherent within these shapes on the page?  Or is it something we bring to them?
  • in what ways do cultural values and meanings affect the way we process the meaning of sounds, words, phrases and sentences of language?
  • what is the difference between denotation and connotation?
  • are there words or phrases that are impossible to translate?

What implications do answers to these kinds of questions have for reading works in translation?

5.  Maintain a reading log:  as you teach each work in translation, encourage students to maintain a record of their own responses to the issues that emerge in class discussion, and through more formal events like the Interactive Oral and Supervised Writing.  The reason for this, perhaps self-evidently, is that in the end the student will need to come up with their own topic for the coursework essay, and it must be their own independent work.  If they have a page or two of possible routes that they might choose to develop further - i.e. ones in which they have found themselves particularly, and independently, interested - then it is likely that they will be able to demonstrate a greater sense of ownership in the final assignment.

Further details on this are provided here.

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