or, how to make literature classes a little more interesting
A few days ago, I observed a student teach a literature class online. The observation was part of the assessment for her practical teaching experience. To be honest, she managed her class well. She was using literature (Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book) to teach English. The only problem was that the class was basic and a little dry. This is common for new teachers. Many of her fellow students also seem to have the same problem in trying to make their classes more interesting
We had a chat after her class where I mentioned that she could have made her class much more interesting for her pupils and even for herself, but she did not know how to do that. I mentioned that with works like Jungle Book have a rich context which she could pull from to liven up her class. Moreover, with the internet, this is a much easier task than it was all those years ago when I first started teaching.
Here are some of the ways of enriching her class that we discussed.
The stories in Jungle Book were really retelling of takes from the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales which are old Indian tales. The setting for the stories in Jungle Book is probably Madhya Pradesh because there is a place called Seoni which is spelt Seonee in the book. It could make the story more interesting for the pupils to know that Madhya Pradesh is in the middle of the Indian subcontinent. So, we could introduce to the class that this story happened in the very center of colonial India.
They could have even used the story to expand the students’ knowledge of other languages a little. The names of the animal characters in the story are reputed to be Hindi words for the animals.
Akela – means lead wolf. It is a term also used by the scout movement. In Hindi, the word for wolf is bhediya
Bagheera is a leopard, but the Hindi dictionary says that the word for leopard is tendua. It is Sheer Khan the tiger who is misnamed because the dictionary says that the word for tiger in Hindi is baagh.
Baloo is actually the Hindi word for bear.
Chuchundra or Chachoondar are muskrats in Hindi.
Hathi – means elephant but pythons are called ajagar. Cobras are naag which is also its name in the book.
This exploration could prove interesting for the pupils if she had them search the internet for the possible meaning for the names in the book.
A little more context, the British rule in India was formally from 1858 to 1947, and Rudyard Kipling was born in 1865 in Bombay (now Mumbai), and he became fluent in the local language. He returned to India in 1882 where he started writing for a newspaper.
It is seductive to think of the author as an Indian author because he was born there but that could be a mistake because in his later life, Kipling seems to have expressed very strong colonialist sentiment which is particularly evident when he wrote his poem, The White Man’s Burden (read it here – https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/kipling.asp ). Although, the poem is about the Spanish- American war and not directly about India at all.
The point I am trying to show here is that using the internet, a teacher can make a simple story like Jungle Book, something more interesting by loading its delivery with so much contextual information and even link it with other texts related to the story. This would not only enrich her pupils’ experience of the story but also their knowledge of the time and history surrounding the story.
The internet can be a valuable tool for the English teacher. It only takes a few key strokes.
I strongly believe that with proper use of the internet, we will see less sleepy faces in our literature classes in school.