English literature is a subject that is often associated with creativity and innovation, in high emotions and wondrous imaginative realms. And well does it deserve these accolades. However, more recently, a too rigorous focus on assessment has sucked the colour out of English lessons.
Trading excitement and interest for constant measurability
As learners are bombarded with more and more tests at both school and university, a new group of business like teachers has come to the fore. These teachers care only about hitting certain grade quotas for their students and being assessed positively on their own teaching. Whilst, of course, it is important to help students to succeed at a given subject, this should not be done in such a way as to destroy their interest in that subject. And yet, studies have shown again and again that excessive assessments can cause anxiety and boredom in students. When students are taught that the purpose of an English lesson is not to help them to expand their imagination or enter into the world of a famous poet or novelist, but rather to let them know - again and again - where they are on a percentage scale of grades, they will quickly lose pleasure in reading. They see English lessons simply as a series of hoops to jump through, or answers to get right or wrong.
Some examples of innovative teaching methods
Teachers and lecturers have long known that using debates, discussions, and creative exercises like performance and creative writing are great ways of getting students engaged with English literature. However, adherents of the new 'business style' model of teaching are suspicious of such activities. They find these activities to be worthless or wastes of time, because they are not directly geared towards tests and assessments. What is important to remember, however, is that the merits of debates, lively discussions, creative poems and class performances of 'Romeo and Juliet' are not always quantifiable in this narrow way. The benefits that they bring are much more wide ranging and rich: they help students to make friends, to discover a vocation as a writer or actor, to empathise with other viewpoints and to put their own opinions across. These invaluable skills may not help a student, immediately, to pass a dry test on grammar. But, they will give them a deeper understanding both of life and of English literature.
Are students learning the joys of reading for pleasure?
Reading is an activity that ought to be pleasurable, including (indeed, one might argue, especially) in the classroom. An obsessive focus on testing and 'quantifiable metrics' and distinct 'learning outcomes' will turn many young learners off from the idea that they can pick up a book and read and analyse it for pleasure. In the long term, then, these new businesslike models of teaching English Literature will ultimately lead to failure - the subject will become almost unteachable.