Saturday, January 7, 2012

Thoughts on graded literary reading

Today, I opened Facebook during a mad dissertation dash to discover the death of one of my favorite authors, Ibrahim Aslan, Allah yar7amo.  Oddly enough, I just finished a collection of his semi-autobiographical stories (شيء من هذا القبيل) a few days ago, so was thinking about him more than usual.

One of the reasons I was reading this collection was to look for texts for the class I'm teaching next semester.  Something I find frustrating in Arabic teaching (and I'd imagine it exists in other languages too) is the tendency to throw students into canonical but complicated literary texts (ie Naguib Mahfouz) with insufficient linguistic preparation, which leads to excessive frustration and little reading.  In my mind, this can be averted by throwing students into shorter and simpler texts without compromising literary value.  Many of Aslan's short stories are excellent examples of this type of text.

This is hardly a novel idea, but one that I feel is not implemented enough.  The tendency is to take simpler texts without literary value, or use graded readers with appalling language (I'm judging the English ones here, I haven't read the one that exists in Arabic), or just cut straight to Mahfouz, or Tawfiq al-Hakim, without building up literature reading skills.  As far as I can tell, this approach only works for those who end up doing PhDs in Arabic literature.  My expectation is that literature should be read by everyone (although obviously it's not).

Some day, I will design my own sequence of texts, a sort of literary graded reader of authentic texts.  Will it make them enjoy reading, that is the question?

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