Learning Journeys are a great way for students to experience what they learn in History or National Education. A group of student teachers from NIE show us how such field trips can bring Literature to life for students too.
We often speak of writers who are so skilful that their works transport us across time and space into another world. But these days, reading can take Literature students places, literally!
With more works by Singapore writers being introduced in the Literature curriculum, teachers now have the opportunity to take their students out of the classroom to see the sights they read about in stories and poems.
A group of student teachers from NIE’s Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) programme recently organized a Literature Learning Journey for their classmates to explore the topic Place Poetry.
“Learning Journeys really helps students situate what they are learning in their world,” says Mr Gavin Swee. But he is quick to add that the essence is not the journey itself, but “to help students engage with the text, the themes, and the ideas.”
Clichéd as it sounds, literature speaks to a deeper truth than the mere facts of history.
– Gavin on why Literature is a valued subject
Gavin and his classmates Ms Anna Cai and Ms Ang Huan Ting teach both Literature and History. And they usually begin their Learning Journeys for both subjects by asking their students the same question: “What has changed?”
The question can yield very different answers, because the two subjects sometimes view the idea of change differently. In History, the answer is quite straightforward – Singapore has come a long way from a small fishing community to a garden city. The narrative is clear that change is progress, and progress is good.
As Gavin puts it, “The History that we’ve been taught is really the history of the nation, the national story,” while Literature dwells on the stories of individuals. When students read poetry about the changes Singapore has experienced, they may feel a bit more nostalgic and sentimental.
This helps them feel more connected to Singapore. According to Gavin, it is also one of the reasons why Singapore texts are being included in the Literature syllabus: to build social cohesion and a common identity.
The subject engages students not through just facts, but through emotions evoked by language. This is what makes the subject especially valuable: It speaks to our individual, personal feelings.
“Clichéd as it sounds, literature speaks to a deeper truth than the mere facts of history,” notes Gavin.
A Personal Journey
That Literature engages students on a more personal level is something the student teachers take into account when planning their field trip.
“If you do a Literature Learning Journey, of course you should focus a bit more on why you feel that way, how the poetry makes you feel, and compare that to your own experience,” says Anna.
During their Literature Learning Journey, the group finds that they had to be creative to elicit personal responses from their classmates. Gavin, for example, tried to engage not just their intellect, but their senses as well.
When his group was at Victoria Street, he asked them to close their booklets and observe and listen to the surroundings. After that, they compared their observations with what was documented in Eileen Chong’s poem “Shophouse, Victoria Street”, which describes the area in olden days.
This creative element (performing a poem) added a new dimension to the field trip because it’s a form of reflection for the student teachers.
– Huan Ting on including creative elements in field trips
“Maybe I had a wonderful group, but they were very reflective and pensive,” says Gavin. “They said things like, ‘We are always walking past these places but we never stopped and considered what the value of these things are.’”
Huan Ting points out that creative elements can trigger a reflection process too. Her group was tasked to perform a poem and create their own at the end of the Learning Journey. “This creative element added a new dimension to the field trip because it’s a form of reflection for the student teachers.”
“That, to me, is the value of going outside the classroom where they can experience and be closer to what they are studying, rather than merely learning from books,” Gavin says. He thinks there is a lot of potential in Literature Learning Journeys for on-the-spot performances and dramatized readings.
It certainly takes some creativity and effort from the teachers to come up with a fun and engaging Literature field trip, but the experience and personal insights students can gain from it simply cannot be taught in the classroom.