NeMLA 2022 Convention, Baltimore, MD, March 10-13, 2022
Daniil M. Ozernyi (Department of Linguistics, Northwestern University)
Teaching British Poetry in a Ukrainian ESL Classroom: Reasons, Results, and Lessons to be Learnt
While poetry has been indeed shunned from ESL (or other foreign language) curricula all over the world, there is still a reason why it is appropriate, and in fact, useful, in specific contexts. In this talk, I overview the underlying motivation for introducing a course on British poetry for Ukrainian high-school, then explain its implementation and results. I focus on a specific case of using poetry in the classroom and how it responded to specific challenges as opposed to constructing a broad theoretical framework justifying using poetry in the classroom. I also briefly speculate on how other conditions might invalidate the licensure to use poetry as an effective tool in a foreign language classroom. The structure of the talk is as follows:
- the overview of the British Literature course and motivations for its design,
- outcomes of the course and students' response,
- looking at poetry from language acquisition points.
Poems are pieces of literature which are shorter than novels, novellas, or short stories most of the time, and which respond to various time constraints, language level constraints etc. posed on CEFR levels A1-B2. The selection of poetry was made to create a chronologically, culturally, and otherwise diverse lineup. The course was a requirement, and the chief objectives were enriching students' lexicon and all the subcompetences of pragmatic competence. The teaching proved to be a beneficial experience for students in terms of, most prominently, increased (a) lexical competence and (b) pragmatic competence within ESL framework. Further, poetry also helped to foster a culture of discussion and safe spaces for free expression of students’ views. The second part of the talk focuses on alignment of usage of poetry with generative theories of second and third language acquisition. While generative linguistics have been distinctly remote from language teaching, it is still worth exploring the possible concordances evoked in the classroom. In terms of acquisition of grammar, I will look at how poems like Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” actually contain one of the hardest aspects of language for students to acquire – functional morphology (sec. Slabakova’s Bottleneck Hypothesis). Also, however, models of third language acquisition (e.g., CEM of Flynn et al. (2004), Grammatical mapping of Lust (2010), Scalpel model of Slabakova (2017), Linguistic Proximity Model of Westergaard (2017) and Micro-cue model of Westergaard (2019), GM for L3 of Flynn and Fernandez-Berkes (2021), theory of the intermediate of Ozernyi (2022), inter alia). The key takeaway that the models of language acquisition emphasize is that the selection of materials for the course is crucial in determining whether the course will be successful because it is the exposure/input that the students receive that determines the success of their acquisition process. This principle is particularly true and relevant for courses reliant on poetry.
Poetry thus can be an effective instrument in the classroom, if the curriculum design is carefully designed so as to be informed by the principles of language acquisition.
Dostoevsky and Ukrainian Literature: Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries Concordances and Tensions
Ukrainian heritage of Fyodor Dostoevsky (FD) is common knowledge (his grandfather was born in Ukraine); further, FD’s father signed his name in Ukrainian as Mykhailo. Yet, the relationship between Ukrainian literature and FD is not as halcyon. On the contrary, political views advanced by Dostoyevsky faced scathing criticism from Lesia Ukrajinka, Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and other titans of Ukrainian literature of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century. Conversely, later in the 20th century, Oles Honchar points to literary merit of the writer and his preeminence (“Genius of Dostoevsky”/“Геній Достоєвського”, 1971). The current exploration focuses on a few select correlations. Thus, in the spirit of correlation, not necessarily causation, the following lines are drawn:
- biographically, between the fate of Dostoevsky and that of Shevchenko, both of who came to front the respective canons (an additional parallel between Shevchenko and Chernyshevskyi is also relevant) with all the respective implications on their writing;
- between some of the problems which preoccupied Dostoevsky’s literature (e.g. the “tiny human” problem, also prominent in Pushkin (“The Station Master”), Hohol’ (“Nose”, “Overcoat”), Chekhov (“Step’ ”, “Vania”, “Unter Prishibeev”) and others) and later consonant problems of Ukrainian literature of the Executed Renaissance, most notably Kvyliovyj (“Woodcocks”);
- between social position of Dostoevsky prominent in his early writing and that of Ivan Franko, including the consonant motives of duality (FD’s “The Double” and IF’s “The Fight”), prominent psychologism (FD’s later works and IV’s “The Lower Depths”).
Exploring the lines outlined above, one is able to draw relevant conclusions about FD’s impact on Ukrainian literature and beyond, thus reconfiguring our understanding of FD’s legacy, and putting it in a broader context.