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Enquiring in the Humanities: Using Texts. Aims for this session: 1.To develop your ability to identify and remove barriers to textual understanding in.

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Presentation on theme: "Enquiring in the Humanities: Using Texts. Aims for this session: 1.To develop your ability to identify and remove barriers to textual understanding in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Enquiring in the Humanities: Using Texts

2 Aims for this session: 1.To develop your ability to identify and remove barriers to textual understanding in the primary classroom. 2.To explore how our conception of learning might be both improved and put at risk by the notion of the hermeneutic circle and the ‘transformation’ of a child’s questions. 3.To consider the place of textual truth and critical judgement in enquiry-based learning.

3 What is a text? In short, anything that calls for interpretation by our students One thing: the text is not the subject matter

4 TASK 1:  Carefully examine the text you have been given.  As a group, write down on the sheet of paper all of the questions you can think of to ask about the text. Try to come up with as many as possible. Use a bold pen.

5 Barriers to Understanding  What factors might make if difficult for us to understand a text?  Overcoming barriers to understanding might also be thought of as overcoming, reducing or bridging the distance between a student and the text chosen for study.  This distance might manifest itself in a number of ways:  Linguistic/ Cognitive – perhaps the student does not have the vocabulary or reading ability to access the text  Cultural - perhaps the text draws on cultural assumptions or value judgements that are outside of the student’s experience  Relevance - perhaps the text bears little initial resemblance to anything the student finds interesting, important or appealing.  Historical - perhaps there is a lot of ‘water under the bridge’ since this text was produced, and the student has limited access to the original historical context

6 TASK 2:  Move tables.  Examine the text on your new table.  Annotate the poster using a finer pen. Identify: -Whether questions are ‘open’ or ‘closed’ -Which questions you would guide or encourage your students to pursue in their enquiry into the humanities. Explain why. -Which questions imply or reveal barriers to understanding. Make suggestions on how you might begin to overcome those barriers in the classroom.

7 Overcoming Textual Distance  We can select alternative texts Some texts simply may not be able to ‘speak’ to our students. We should question our decision to use them in place of the many alternatives we have available.  We can ‘translate’ them into more familiar terms e.g. we bring the story ‘up-to-date’, or we use simpler language. This is also something which students can be asked to do.  We can raise students’ contextual awareness We draw students’ attention to important aspects of the text by raising their relevant contextual awareness through preparatory activities. In effect, we attempt to ‘skill them up’ to ask new questions about the text. For example, we might discuss the ancient Jewish ‘cosmology’ or understanding of the shape of the universe before approaching the Genesis creation account.

8 Interpretation is Active  All of your students will have some initial understanding, however limited, of any text and will be able to ask some questions about it – they may simply not be the questions you anticipate or intend. Note that the process of textual understanding is always already underway.  As their contextual knowledge increases, students will be able to ask new questions of a text, which will themselves lead to a widening or improving of the student’s contextual awareness. Thus understanding is a circular process (this is what is often called the ‘hermeneutic circle’) and involves the ongoing transformation of a student’s background knowledge and presuppositions. The German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer points out in Truth and Method that the process of learning is itself a process of continuous questioning.

9 The Hermeneutic Circle Student asks questions of the text Text New questions are produced/ student’s presuppositions are transformed Student (brings their own contextual awareness and presuppositions)

10 Enquiry and Excitement, or Risk..?  Since students bring their own questions, they have an active role in determining the subject matter of your lesson: the subject matter is what is at issue, or at stake, in a student’s engagement with the text. It is produced or constructed in the lesson itself  This means that in an enquiry based approach, students have real power to determine the shape and outcome of their learning. You can guide them toward particular subject matter by selecting particular texts and attempting to raise students’ contextual awareness in particular ways, but ultimately the learning process always consists of a ‘fusion’ of the questions that a student brings to the text, and the way in which the text ‘demands’ to be read.  Your lessons will always necessarily involve the risk of the unpredictable or unexpected question… but this is surely the joy of teaching: the teacher becomes a learner.

11 The Hermeneutic Circle Subject Matter (constructed in the engagement between student and text) Student asks questions of the text Text New questions are produced/ student’s presuppositions are transformed Student (brings their own contextual awareness and presuppositions)

12 The final piece…  Note, in the handout, the alternation, interplay or ‘dialectic’ between Entering and Distancing.  Helping students to understand a text requires a careful balance between bridging and emphasising the distance between child and text.  If we do not attempt to bridge the distance between child and text, the text remains too alien for the child to engage with it and learn from it.  If, on the other hand, we do not bring to students’ attention what is unfamiliar or different in the text, we risk ‘reducing’ the text to the student’s pre-existing experience, and they gain nothing from the encounter.  There is therefore a tension or dialectic in understanding between ‘assimilating’ a text into the self and holding it apart as ‘other’.  The teacher’s role can be seen as two mutually supporting tasks of making the unfamiliar familiar, and the familiar unfamiliar.

13 The Hermeneutic Circle Subject Matter (constructed in the engagement between student and text) Student asks questions of the text Text ‘brings student up short’ (may require guidance by the teacher to fully understand how the text is unfamiliar or different) New questions are produced/ student’s presuppositions are transformed Student (brings their own contextual awareness and presuppositions)

14 TASK 3:  Move tables one last time.  Examine the text on your new table.  Annotate the poster using different colours where possible.  Identify how students might go about producing answers to these questions. How will you judge the quality of their answers?

15 Concluding thoughts…  Students’ questions are likely to bring them into contact with conflicting accounts of reality. They may have to decide between two possible interpretations of the text They may have to decide whether the text’s account of reality is true  This means that the development of textual understanding must go hand in hand with the development of a student’s powers of critical judgement or discernment.  This means that questions of the truth of texts will be unavoidable in the humanities. What considerations do we need to have in each subject when dealing with the issue of textual truth? How much is this affected by the type of text we are using?

16 Further Reading…  Wright, A (2000) ‘The Spiritual Education Project: Cultivating Spiritual and Religious Literacy through a Pedagogy of Religious Education’ in Grimmitt, M (ed) Pedagogies of Religious Education, Great Wakering: McCrimmons  Grimmitt, M, Grove, J, Hull, J and Spencer, L (1991) A Gift to the Child Teachers’ Sourcebook: Religious Education in the Primary School, pp


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