No matter what the situation is we are in, many of us will consider whether it is easier to agree or disagree with a person’s point of view. Often the thoughts in our head don’t have complete correspondence with the words that we speak. This is, perhaps, something that is ingrained in us from an early age. Children are known for being completely honest; however as they progress through life and school they are either told not to be so rude or they catch on to the status quo after experiencing someone being rudely honest to them. This fear of thinking differently can transfer to the classroom and pupils’ responses. Therefore, one of my aims is to build pupils’ confidence so they feel comfortable sharing their perspective.
This year I have changed my approach to the way I ask pupils to respond to texts. I have realised that asking pupils to respond to questions will, subconsciously or not, direct pupils to the thoughts in my head and not theirs. If we are setting questions for pupils in a subjective subject, we are encouraging them to find a ‘correct’ answer. For example if we look at this statement and question for Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Anne Hathaway’ we know that they are going to produce different responses:
1. How is Anne Hathaway’s dominance shown in this poem?
2. Anne Hathaway is a dominant character in this poem.
The second statement encourages pupils to think about their personal response to the poem and also whether they agree or disagree with the statement. Whereas the question will encourage pupils to find ‘evidence’ right away rather than considering whether ‘dominant’ is an accurate description of Anne Hathaway, and then exploring other options.
When I provide statements for pupils, I will often use ambiguous examples to encourage pupils to think for themselves. However I will also play devil’s advocate and put in a few that pupils may find very challenging to support: like my example for ‘Anne Hathaway’. This encourages pupils to feel comfortable with disagreeing and then they have to think about why they don’t support the statement through evidence from the text. I have found it can be a good way to raise pupils’ confidence and, therefore, they don’t need me to give them the ‘right’ answer.
We know that any interpretation is acceptable as long as pupils can support their point of view with evidence from the text. Yet, we will often counter their argument if it is a point of view that we hadn’t thought of or if we are worried that the examiner won’t understand it. As teachers we often have a fear that after 25 years of marking the examiner will only accept the status quo; however, I would hope, that the reality would be the opposite and markers would be grateful for a fresh approach.
By using statements and encouraging pupils to think for themselves, I have noticed that they have started to challenge ideas that many may consider as being set in stone. They themselves have started to play devil’s advocate as they are realising that there are many ways to consider an idea in a text. For example in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ when Holden purchases his red hunting cap it is well known that this symbolises his desire to be an individual. Yet one Higher pupil in my class challenged this. They said surely if he was purchasing a hat for a buck it would be in the sale; resulting in many people already having the hat so not making his choice unique at all. This then led to an interesting discussion into Holden’s desire to be different and an individual but many of the decisions he makes, in reality, are similiar to those around him. As a character he is often oblivious to this as he considers those around him as a ‘phonies’, yet this desire to be different actually makes him fake because he doesn’t truly understand who he is or what he wants.
I doubt that this idea is completely original, however it is a step away from the interpretations we consider as ‘right and ‘wrong’. It is thinking critically and considering what we know about a character from the whole text rather than a section of it. It allows pupils to have a voice and really consider their point of view. We can so easily manipulate pupils into taking in our ideas without considering any other options. This is why it is so important to play devil’s advocate and allow pupils to have an opinion of their own and not be scared to share it.