Page images
PDF
EPUB

good that Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, or another first-rate professional actor will give a more vivid and realistic interpretation of these selections than the typical English teacher. As Bruce Dearing points out in his discussion of the use of records in teaching poetry: “Too few of us read with anything like the finesse we imagine, are not always in good voice, and in all probability are limited in our range of performance, whatever our catholicity of taste. It is too much to expect even the most accomplished reader to be equally successful in performing, say, Chaucer, Pope, Tennyson, Yeats, and Auden.” 2

However, recordings should not be used to supplant oral reading by either the students or the teacher. As a touchstone or a standard, the professional's dramatization or reading may become a strong stimulus for better oral delivery by the listener. And, as is sometimes true of recordings, the vocal qualities of the narrator may be so inferior in clarity, tone, rate, or enunciation that the students may profitably engage in a constructive analysis of the reasons for the narrator's failure to communicate. If the equipment is available, they may attempt to do better themselves by making a recording on a platter or tape.

Selection of Recordings

This failure of some narrators to communicate the mood and message of poems, plays, and patriotic addresses which they read is sufficiently common on recordings to justify several precautions in the purchase of disks for classroom use. Adolescents, particularly boys with a "Tarzan complex," do not usually appreciate sentimental and superemotional renditions of poetry and drama. Precise enunciation, clarity of pronunciation, and moderate rate of delivery are extremely important for adequate understanding of records played to a high-school audience.

The subject matter and theme of the selection should also be considered in relation to the tastes and attitudes of class members. A group of junior high school students who are having fun reading Smoky, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, Junior Miss, and Hot Rod are not ready to enjoy even the best rendition of “God's World,” “La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and "Upon Westminster Bridge.” Records selected by the teacher or, better yet, by the teacher and students should not be far above the appreciation level of most members of the class. Of course, in most classes the literary likes and levels of appreciation will be extremely diverse and varied. If all students in a class are encouraged to consider titles of recorded literature which they like and to evaluate actual recordings before purchase is made, the tastes of retarded and advanced students may be satisfied.

* Dearing, Bruce. Experiments with Audio-Visual Aids. College English, 13: 322, March 1952.

When recordings cannot be ordered by a class on approval, the local record store may be willing to obtain them and permit a committee of students and teachers to evaluate the recordings when a purchase is contemplated. In certain instances the proprietor of the music store may arrange for a hearing of the records in the classroom. An important principle to follow in the buying of records is to hear the records and to try them out on at least a few students with different literary tastes before final purchase is made. If one wants to be absolutely certain of the technical quality of the disks—that is, freedom from extraneous sound and distortion-one should probably purchase the records one listens to rather than other copies.

As records are quite expensive, the English department in a high school may wish to outline a long-range budget for the purchase of records and to work out a plan with the cooperation of representative students for developing a record library. Such a plan, which might cover a period of several years, would include considerations such as:

1. Money available
2. Literature studied in common in different grades
3. Student interests and appreciation levels
4. Recordings available for purchase
5. Quality of recordings

6. Availability of free or rental records Boys and girls in the English class may have libraries of records, some of which can be used in teaching literature. Although their collections are likely to contain a preponderance of popular music, they may also include some excellent ballads, folk music, transcriptions of historical events, and Shakespearean readings. In The English Journal, David Horn describes how he encouraged his students to make a list of records that they owned. After the lists were screened, an inventory was made of the recordings suitable for class use. These records, which were grouped according to subject and theme, were used at intervals throughout the school year. Other possible sources for borrowing or renting literary recordings are the public library, college and university libraries, State department of education libraries, the Library of Congress, and the Office of Education, Federal Security Agency.

Methods of Using Records

Using records in the classroom is not as simple as in the home. If Billy wants to play a record in his living room, he selects a title, puts the platter on the machine, and then plays it. Usually the procedure is direct and simple. Billy knows whether he is playing the record be* Horn, David. Taking Advantage of the Boys. The English Journal, 36: 324, June 1947.

212626-52-2

cause he wants to listen to a new or familiar tune, to dance with Susie, to sing the song, or to enjoy all three of these activities at once. Billy has a purpose, he is disposed toward playing the record, and he is not likely to experience difficulty in understanding the words or the music. His evaluation of the record after it has been played will be automatic and will be in relation to his purpose.

However, when the English teacher uses a record in a class of 30 or more students, she and the students may not recognize a purpose; they may not be intellectually prepared and emotionally predisposed to listen to the selection; they may not understand and appreciate the recording when they hear it; and, finally, they may not make a careful and rational evaluation of the listening experience.

There is certainly no one best way to use recordings in the language arts classroom. But there are certain principles and methods which are psychologically and pragmatically sound. Students and teacher should have a valid educational purpose in mind when they listen to a recording. This purpose should be verbally expressed and mentally accepted by the students. One of the outcomes may be enjoyment, but that will not be the primary purpose in many cases. The general theme of the unit should be a guiding line. If the unit deals with a theme or idea like the Mystery of Life and Death, Alfred Lord Tennyson's “Break, Break, Break," Shakespeare's “All the World's a Stage" (Jaques' soliloquy in As You Like It), T. S. Eliot's “The Journey of the Magi," Shelley's "Ozymandias,” Whitman's “O Captain! My Captain!" and Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" are a few of the many recordings that might be considered for use.

Understanding and appreciation of most literary selections will be greatly increased if the teacher or one or more superior students describe the background for the poem, anticipate certain allusions and vocabulary difficulties, and establish the mood of the selection for the class as a whole.

Before playing “Break, Break, Break,” the class might hear a report on the friendship which existed between Arthur Henry Hallam and Lord Tennyson in their youth, the grief of Tennyson over Hallam's death, and the story of Tennyson's wanderings in the graveyard near the southern coast of England where the waves pounded rhythmically against the cliffs. Preparation for the deep grief expressed by the writer is conducive to better understanding and emotional response. Identification of time and setting before the record is played is extremely important.

Appreciation of certain records may be enhanced if students are prepared for sound effects and musical accompaniment when they are present, particularly if the sounds are weird or unusual, as in the witches' meetings in Macbeth. Because records give little or no description of the setting of a play or movement of characters, except through dialog, the teacher needs to set the stage where such information aids understanding of the play.

“The Journey of the Magi,” which may be used appropriately before the Christmas season, will also be much more meaningful if the story of the Magi is reviewed by the students and if the symbolism of the "three trees on a low sky," the "old white horse," and the "dicing for pieces of silver" is explained. Time and setting are, as usual, of primary importance. Two or three questions such as "How are the Magi affected by the birth of Christ?” or “Why were they uneasy after they returned to their own kingdoms?” will sharpen the students' listening process and focus their attention on significant ideas in the poem.

Should a poem or other piece of literature ever be played without an introduction? Yes, provided the students are capable of understanding the language, the ideas, and the meaning of the selection. Youth who have spent their lives in rural areas of New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as in certain other States, may listen to a poem like Frost's “After Apple-Picking," "The Runaway," and "The Pasture” without any advance preparation. In fact, a lyric like “The Pasture" should be listened to rather than talked about. One does not tear the petals off a mayflower to admire its beauty. On the other hand, boys and girls who have listened to “Birches” will certainly want to relive their tree-swinging and climbing experiences, to describe trees which they have seen glazed with ice after a cold rain, and to consider how Frost's observations of natural beauty gave him a deep feeling of spiritual pleasure and satisfaction.

Many teachers who use recordings in the English class have found that students acquire a much better understanding of the lines played on the record when they follow the words of the narrator by reading the selection as it is played. Dr. Sarah I. Roody and Margery Nilson, high-school English teachers in Nyack, N. Y., report that this method has proved particularly successful in teaching Shakespeare's plays. This method is certainly helpful when the narrator's enunciation is faulty, when his rate of speech is rapid, when vocabulary is strange, or when the recording is noisy. Providing the students with copies of literary selections may be difficult if the literature is protected by copyright and if printed texts are not available in quantity. Of course, short selections may be copied on the blackboard or projected on a screen. The teacher using recordings will discover that much better communication results when the printed word is used to reinforce the spoken word. To clarify and strengthen the meaning of the literary experience still further, pictures or slides may be projected on a screen while records like “Birches” or "The Journey of the Magi” are being played.

The use of several kinds of visual materials to set the stage for effective listening to the transcription "Splendid Legend,” which dramatizes biographical high lights in the career of Mark Twain, is described in an article by Margaret J. Straight, English teacher at La Cumbre Junior High School, Santa Barbara, Calif. 4 To promote a broad understanding of the society about which Mark Twain wrote and to encourage the reading of books by him, Miss Straight used a model of a Mississippi River steamboat, an 1860 map of the United States, costume dolls illustrating the dress of men and women during the “Gilded Age,": pictures, and a large collection of books, including biographies, travel books, and novels related to the theme of the unit. After listening to the 15-minute record about Twain's life, many students selected one of his books to read for their next book report.

The amount of time which should be devoted to a literary selection after it has been played will range from a moment of meditation to almost an entire class hour of discussion. While a short, simple lyric may have more emotional force if it is not talked about, a recording which deals with people, objects, and ideas related to the interests, experiences, and problems of the listeners may generate extended discussion. A poem like “The Man With the Hoe" or scenes from the play Abe Lincoln in Illinois would probably lead to a considerable amount of oral discussion and perhaps dramatization, writing, or project activity.

Activities To Improve Communication

After talking about the content of the record, students should be led to evaluate the narrator's communicative effectiveness through questions such as the following:

1. Was the narrator's interpretation of the selection in accord with the author's intent?

2. Was his enunciation clear? 3. Was his rate of delivery suitable and sufficiently varied to maintain interest? 4. Was the narrator overemotional, affected, or melodramatic in delivery? 5. Was his voice pleasant or appropriate? 6. If two or more persons spoke, could each character be readily identified? 7. Was the tone quality of voices monotonous or flat? 8. Were the sound effects, if any, suitable to the mood and message intended? 9. Was the reproduction quality of the records good? 10. If a selection was abridged, did the action progress logically and smoothly? Students who listen to readings of literature on records tend to be extremely critical of the oral delivery of the narrator. If carefully guided, their comments may be used as points of departure for improvement in their own oral reading of poetry, drama, and other literature. Students may say, “I can do better than that myself.” When this happens, they should be encouraged to prepare a dramatic or other type

• Straight, Margaret J., An English Class Listens. See and Hear Magazine. 2: 18, May 1947.

« PreviousContinue »