Notes and suggestions on content and method
In the grade 11 year the overarching task teachers have of combining thinking and will in young people in such a way that they become moral beings capable of moral action attains an unprecedented importance. Here language teaching has a significant role to play.
Seventeen-year-olds have left puberty more or less behind them; they are now receptive to intellectual and aesthetic issues. They are at a transitional stage: between the morality they have learned from the first two seven-year periods of their lives and the ethics they must develop as adults. The exploration of their own inner life now grows in its intensity, depth and subtle distinctions. They develop a sense of responsibility in relation to the quality of their thoughts. The worldly experience of young people at the beginning of the 21st century is manifestly of a scale much larger than was the case two or three decades ago. This means that the polarities of life impinge upon them in much greater variety and intensity then than before. All the harder must it be for them, therefore, to combine their already large stock of contrary impressions with their own sense of self in such a way as to engender inner stability and continuity. Language is what renders us human. Richness of language is the condition for richness of thought. Learning two other languages in addition to the mother tongue strengthens young people in their relationship to the world, for in another language they encounter another way of thinking, feeling and acting in the world. Literature here offers rich possibilities for dipping into the store of “representative experience” which is now available to them. Besides the extension and refining of writing and speaking abilities, self-discovery through aesthetic experience is the central motif of foreign language teaching in grade 11.
Suggested lesson content
In dramas the reader comes up against clashes and conflicts that can perhaps be of help in coming to terms with his or her own inner life. They are replete with conflicting tendencies, not just in the constellation of characters, but even within the central figure. To read a play and fully imagine your way into a character, to inwardly identify with this character, even defend or accuse it, is a good exercise, because it requires a great effort of will to think this through , and mobilizes feeling to act as mediator between thinking and willing. No dramatist offers so much in this regard, and in terms of literary and aesthetic appeal, satisfying the critical standards of universality, topical relevance and internal coherence, as does William Shakespeare. Steiner’s recommendation of Shakespeare as reading material for this age-group has established a rich and long-standing tradition in Waldorf schools. On account of the high quality of dramatic writing in English since the 1950’s, it is also a good idea, and likely to be pedagogically worthwhile, to focus upon a modern drama.
It should not be forgotten, of course, that plays are not intended as reading material, but as what Steiner called “scores”. It should be made clear to the students that only when gesture, facial expression, choreography, scenery, costume, light, or masks come together with the word do we really have a play. The stage is its proper home. This does not mean that a full stage performance should be aimed at. Nonetheless, short extracts can be dramatized and the students clearly shown how these theatrical elements can be applied. They can be asked, for instance, to design the costumes, masks, choreography or scenery for particular scenes, and to justify their choices.
Short extracts can be taken from the chosen Shakespeare play. It is perfectly feasible to begin these in advance of studying the play itself. Recognising the lines later and already knowing them by heart will be an enrichment of the classroom conversation. If a modern play has been chosen, it would still be possible to use lyric poetry from Shakespeare’s time (Donne, Shakespeare, Herrick etc.) A glimpse into the life and worldview of the Elizabethans can be conveyed in this way.
Another topic that can be introduced through recitation is a short survey of the history of the English language. From Shakespeare’s Early Modern English it would be possible to take a jump back into the past – Middle English (e.g. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) and Old English (Beowulf) – or forward into Modern English. The whole sequence could be set within the context of a short outline of the historic events that have influenced the development of the English language. To have the students write these things down would be sensible, in view of the topic of English as a World Language that is an option in class 12.
Vocabulary work should be a by-product of interpretational discussions. How can I (as a grade 11 student) speak and/or write about what I have felt or observed from reading the text with sufficiently accurate choice of words that the others can understand my impressions and either agree or disagree with them? In addition to providing the vocabulary of literary appreciation and critical dialogue, it will also be worthwhile to work on elements of language by which the students’ written English can be refined. Among these could be various way of using connectors between clauses, as well as expressions that impart structure to a text (firstly, secondly, in addition, eventually, moreover etc.), lending it formal-logical coherence. To render the students’ diction more authentically English, every opportunity should be taken to bring in phrasal verbs, such as ‘to call for’, or ‘to give up’, as well as frequently occurring collocations and lexical-grammatical word-combinations (chunks), such as ‘be that as it may’, ‘without further ado’.
In class 11 the possibility exists for the students, after the relevant preparatory exercises and the study of various short stories (see also classes 9 and 10), to try their hand at writing their own short stories. This would be done at home over a longish period of time (about 6 weeks). Experience shows that with the right preparation both the weaker and the stronger students are capable of meeting this challenge, and indeed, according to their individual abilities, producing work of unprecedented quality. For some students this can be a matter of two pages, but for others it could encompass 15. It is precisely in the diversity of the results that the effect of creative writing upon individual student development becomes apparent. This places creative writing among the most effective methods of dealing with mixed-ability classes, particularly in the high school.
In this school year grammar exercises, as they would ordinarily be called, also serve the sole purpose of improving the students’ powers of expression, especially in writing. “Improvement” here means coming closer to speaking or writing authentic English. If there are constructions that are typical of English, then undoubtedly among them are the infinitive, the participle, the gerund, the special use of the article, and transformations between noun and verb. To this end it would also be appropriate, with the help of short texts specially composed for the purpose, to employ these grammatical tools in practising some aspects of what are the essential features of the spirit of English: brevity, conciseness, power and diversity of expression.