Let us not Condemn Ourselves to Being Untimely

Mariet Simonyan

My conversation with the 9th graders was unexpected. The topic of conversation was our literature program. I had a successful spontaneous talk the 9th graders. The topic was our literature syllabus. My students’ opinion about the syllabus of the Armenian Language and Literature has always interested me.  I have a habit of keeping my hand on the students' pulse when making and implementing an educational program. What do they enjoy doing, what projects do they prefer, what kind of linguistic and literary texts do they like to work with, what do they read, what kind of literature is "fashionable" now, etc.?

I remain faithful to my pedagogical principle. The learner must have responsibilities, and being conscientious is also an important feature that must be developed in the learner. But it must be done within the framework of learners' opportunities, preferences, and interests. Where there is excessive effort and coercion, where there is resistance from students, internal or external, I am convinced that something is wrongly organized. This mainly leads to students' failures, lack of progress, and loss of interest in learning. I have always remembered the Little Prince’s interlocutor King’s speech: “If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?" The king demanded. "The general or myself?" "You," said the little prince firmly. "Exactly. …. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.”

I am trying to follow the King’s advice while I am compiling and carrying out educational programs and projects, and it seems to me I manage to do so. I have the right to demand conscientious work from my learners because the tasks I offer them to do meet their own interests and preferences, and as the Little Prince’s hero King says, “My orders are reasonable.”

We have already been working with this group of students for the fourth year. It seems that nothing unexpected can happen anymore. It seems I know what they think. But this time I was surprised again. Here is how our 13-14 year olds are thinking. Let me retell our conversation. We talk about the literature we read and discuss, from Armenian literature to works written by various foreign authors, from the epic "Sasna Tsrer" to the fairy tale "A Thousand Gatherings", from Hermann Hesse to Franz Kafka. Over the years we have read, discussed, debated, agreed or disagreed. Today, on the eve of the end of the 9th grade, we are talking about the achievements.  What have the comprehensive discussions of such diverse works of literature given to the learners? What would they like to change in the approach of choosing literary works and in the methods of teaching literature? The learners’ observations surprised me.

At first we spoke about the chosen pieces of literature. Let me say that I choose the materials for reading carefully. It is clear that when choosing materials, I take into account the artistic nature of the work, its relevance to the learner's age, and definitely the idea, what the author wants to say.

One of the learners says: “The literature that we read and discuss changes the world outlook. Thanks to this reading we become more mature. They make us think. We begin to look at our lives, events, and happenings from different points of view.” The classmates agree with this point of view. In fact, teaching literature has a direct effect on the development of their world outlook. And that is important for the learner. They appreciate it.

But the group of students speaks with regret about their friends who do not like reading fiction, but they also think interestingly: if they were aware of the work, the discussion would be more effective, they would hear the opinion of their friends, and the debate-discussion would be more heated.

Yes, our learners are mature. It’s difficult to disagree with them. The discussion continues.

“And which is the solution?”, I ask.

The answer was unexpected, a real surprise for me.

“Why not create audiobooks? That will be an educational project for us. We will try to read well, understandably, impressively. Our friends will listen too. Literary works can be listened to, not necessarily read. We listen to a lot of different things now. It is so convenient. It is essential to talk about the case, to discuss, to express ourselves.”

I am, of course, in favor of reading, moreover, reading with underlining, copying out interesting expressions. But I listen to them carefully. We, the learners, and I are on different generational platforms. Our views on life, events, and different norms can be significantly different. I approach the issues quite carefully. I take students' observations on a variety of questions seriously. I try not to react quickly in cases when at first glance it seems that there isn’t any logical thought. I usually keep quiet, I think. This time I was silent for a moment.

The students continued.

“If the discussion of a piece of literature is important, does it matter whether you have read it or listened to it? It is your ability to speak about the plot and its idea that matters. The majority of our classmates will enjoy listening to the recording. The simply don’t like reading.”

Gomtsyan Karine had already some experience in it. She had read recorded excerpts from Yeghishe Charents' novel "Yerkir Nairi".

All they had to do was to offer their friends to listen to their recordings. We tried to make audio excerpts from the epic poem Davit of Sassoun.

I'm thinking about that now. Creating teaching materials, literary works by audio-reading is perspective. Why not? Let’s give all the students in class the opportunity to learn about good literary works by reading or listening. Discussing an unread piece of work is already a failure. The version suggested by the students was a solution, I am thankful for that.

I had already overcome a test related to literature. There are students who read books either in Russian or English. For a variety of reasons, they find it easier to read in those languages. "Can we discuss them?", the students ask. "Literature is the same. What difference does it make if we read it in another language?" Yes, I consider it acceptable now. It is the ability to speak about what you have read that matters. It is not important for me in what language the learner has read the book. 

Our talk expanded and reached the content of education.

“Why do we need chemistry formulas? What are we going to do with them in life? You don't remember them, do you?”, Shushan Pashinyan asks me.

"We started a new project with 11th grade Ilona," says Karine Gomtsyan. "Educational Revolution."

Karine Gomtsyan translated the video film "What is School For?" into Armenian.

Here is an excerpt from that video film: “True education teaches you how to catch a fish. School teaches you: yeah, you caught a fish but you didn’t show your work. So, it doesn’t account. Throw it back. I am just asking you: What is school for? It’s not education. That’s just not true. If you still think that you might be sniffing the glue, see the word education comes from the Latin word “educe” meaning “bring out” i.e bring the gifts out of a person and make them viable. The school doesn’t bring out much. It just stuffs more facts inside of you.”

See what students are discussing today. All that remains for us, the teachers, is not to fall behind our students. These questions are addressed to us, to us and to the programs we have developed. Let us not condemn ourselves to being untimely.

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