For the love of the word

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How the pre-text method helps students engage with text they would otherwise ignore

How the pre-text method helps students engage with text they would otherwise ignore

The etymology of the school is “leisure”. As a place of “leisure”, it refers to an environment where students can engage in the program without the pressure of learning. But how many students fondly remember their experiences at school or college as quiet or pleasant?

However, this is not a utopian or impractical idea. Take the methodology of pre-texts, for example. This learning method turns text into art. The students are engaged in manual activities such as drawing, sewing, sculpting, painting, etc., while the animator – teacher or parent – reads a text from a program. As the student internalizes the text and manifests it into the art form of their choice, not only is the art created, but it also becomes a vehicle to encourage students to read. Reading and comprehension are the real result.

This simple and scalable educational process has been successfully implemented in Latin America and Africa, where disadvantaged children are developing a new interest in reading and learning. Research has proven it to be equally effective in reducing dissonance and anxiety in learners.

To explore its effectiveness in Indian education, Harvard University’s Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute partnered with FLAME University’s Center for Knowledge Alternatives for a research project on “Improving Outcomes of reading and learning through the pre-text method in schools”. Its principal researchers are Professor Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr., Professor of Romance Languages ​​and Literature and African and African American Studies, and Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University, Professor Yugank Goyal, Professor Associate in Political Public Science and Founding Director of the Center for Knowledge Alternatives at FLAME University and Professor Shivakumar Jolad, Associate Professor at FLAME University.

Professor Sommer and Professor Goyal share their insights on the pretense methodology and the role it can play in fostering a love of reading in learners.

Professor Doris Sommer

Professor Doris Sommer | Photo credit: special arrangement

Professor Yugank Goyal

Prof. Yugank Goyal | Photo credit: special arrangement

What is the science behind this method?

Neuroscience has tried to teach us what good educators, including parents, know: very little is learned without enjoyment and less is retained. DD Winnicott, the groundbreaking British child psychoanalyst, promoted play as a means of learning to explore and love the world.

Centuries of good teaching practice and more recent developments in constructivist education confirm that experiential learning works. The implicit corollary put forward by Pre-Texts is the pleasure that keeps students engaged in the experience.

How it works?

Pre-Texts takes it for granted that children, young people and adults may not enjoy reading yet, so we don’t force it. Instead, we are appropriating the tradition of reading aloud while people are engaged in artistic activity.

The teacher, now acting as a facilitator, provides the text of a curriculum. Students listen to a few pages as they make something, then come up with the art form to explore the text. The students lead the activities, even if the text is “found” as raw material for choreography, murals, dramatic song, puzzles, costumes, recipes, etc. Text is transformed into art, and in doing so, students engage with text that they would otherwise ignore. And they will read it carefully because weaving a text into an art form means understanding the text critically.

Students are encouraged to think about the question they want to pose to the text. Teachers don’t ask students. Students do the investigation and are not subject to scrutiny. It eliminates fear, competition, shame. It also stimulates critical reading. Curiosity and conversation deepen understanding, without forcing any “correct” perspective as teachers often do.

Given the range of possible art forms, Pre-Texts is a vehicle for reviving local and traditional arts. A prompt in pretenses is to tell your grandparents the lesson learned that day and ask them to come up with a creative activity for the class, perhaps a visit and a demonstration. Local arts can be reclaimed while raising grades in school with a simple protocol that will: 1. Read aloud; 2. Asks a question to the text; 3. Create art from text; 4. Reflect “What did we do?”

How many skills would a facilitator need in the excuse method?

Very few skills, if it is vocational training. Young people, even teenagers, can be good leaders. The only requirement is to support the students, which includes sitting in the learners’ circle. Circles generate equality and collaboration while rows confirm authoritarianism.

How does this fit into an environment where reading is seen as an academic goal?

Whether the teacher sees it as an academic goal or a life skill, Pre-Text’s goal is to ignite curiosity and an inclination to read. When students begin to engage with the text and appreciate its nuances, they appreciate it even more and adopt it as a habit. With the rich cultural heritage and art forms in India, Indian teachers/facilitators will find this very easy.

What challenges do you foresee in its implementation in the Indian education system?

Practically, only the rigidity with which school education often works. Pre-text teachers must be willing to relinquish their authority and bring students into the center of discussions. Once they start doing it, it will give off a great energy and the teachers will start to like it too.

This is why a short training is probably more effective than an overly professional training. This divide raises the question of whether parents need years of education and certification to support and guide their children. Or do they need high expectations, love, and enough guidance to guide them, but not so high that they quench curiosity and initiative? Pretexts can be a bridge of support between the government and private schools as a standard facilitation that achieves the goal of arts integration established by the government of the country. The model can be scaled up easily as every teacher who practices the pretense can become a trainer for others. With virtually no investment, it can become a powerful learning enhancement tool.

Can you comment on the current shape of language arts curricula in Indian schools?

The 2005 National Curriculum recommended integrating the arts into a curriculum area. But art has remained a de facto extracurricular activity in Indian schools. Our examination system does not require art as a subject in schools and does not facilitate the integration of arts into the core curriculum. It is considered a hobby and not an integral part of the social-emotional and cognitive development of children. This is why the program remains insufficient.

What are the benefits of promoting reading?

Reading is empowering. It helps make sense of the world. Texts represent ideas that are organized. Reading texts therefore makes it possible to absorb new ideas, to be inspired and to draw with pleasure. From a socio-economic point of view, reading advances society. Gutenberg’s printing press is often called the most profoundly impactful invention that changed history because it enabled reading.

Some interesting findings from your research…

Students prefer to collaborate rather than compete. Competition breeds aggressiveness and corruption. They actually thank the animators for the pleasure of seeing each other.

Students learn to “go off on tangents” and find more texts to offer their classmates. It improves their critical thinking skills and enhances their curiosity and love for reading.

Depression and anxiety are reduced and bullying virtually disappears.

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