Background and Objectives
The point of departure for this project is the open educational textbook, Le Littéraire dans le quotidien (The Literary in the Everyday), published by Joanna Luks with funding and support from the Center for Open Educational Resources & Language Learning (COERLL). In 2013, the textbook was launched online as an open source reading supplement in Google Docs, and in 2014, it was made available in a print-on-demand format. Le Littéraire dans le quotidien (LLDQ) proposes a transdisciplinary approach spanning language, literary and cultural studies for the development of literacy and symbolic competencies. While the textbook content is designed for introductory-level collegiate French, the framing principles are applicable to all languages and adaptable to all levels of proficiency. As a result, in 2015, COERLL and the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy (CERCLL) decided to make Foreign Languages and the Literary In The Everyday (FLLITE) a collaborative project that would:
- Bridge the Language/Literature divide still prevalent in FL programming and textbooks;
- Create an educational community of practice whose members (professors, teachers and graduate students of language, literary and/or cultural studies) generate crowdsourced literacy-based materials in the form of FLLITE lessons: open lessons for copyrighted or open texts (written, oral, visual), and relevant assessment tools;
- Offer a platform for the publication of open educational resources (OER) under Creative Commons licensing for classroom use and professional development;
- Provide a real-world materials development task for students enrolled in FL Teaching Methods courses.
What is unique to the FLLITE approach is the conceit of the literary in the everyday and its application as a heuristic for curriculum development from the beginning to the end of FL study. The theoretical underpinnings and several suggested practices are explained in greater depth in LLDQ’s Teacher’s Guide. Here, in short form, are some of the key notions:
Following Sociocultural Theory, Cognitive Linguistics and Systemic-Functional Linguistics, FLLITE frames language as a semiotic system of systems as opposed to a computational set of rules and exceptions. In this view, language evolves a core set of prototypes for words, grammatical functions, syntactic structures, and sounds. These prototypes are then available for generating further meanings and uses through processes of metaphorical extension: taking the prototypical meaning of a word, a structure, or a discourse and modifying its forms to create new significations. (Teacher’s Guide p. 5)
The literary refers to the plasticity of language, the multiple layers of meaning that single words or more complex linguistic structures can convey. Language is plastic in that it is open to being played with, subverted, remixed, and recontextualized. Play with linguistic structures and sounds and shapes reveals the stuff of language, making it material and manipulable. Play with the genres, perspective-taking, and pragmatics makes salient the social and interactive contexts within which we make meaning. Play with symbolic elements, cultural values, and expectations connects language to the many physical and cultural contexts that constitute the worlds of writers and readers. As such, the literary is also emblematic of language-as-culture (Blyth, 2011, p. 151) (See also LLDQ Teacher’s Guide pp. 5-6).
The FLLITE approach considers the pedagogical potential of language play as it emerges in the following ways:
- Sound Play (e.g. rhyming, homophones, alliteration)
- Visual Play (e.g. punctuation, formatting, visual symbolism, media intertextuality, cinematography, multimodality)
- Word Play (e.g. puns, spelling, capitalization, semantics)
- Grammar Play (e.g. foregrounded grammar, nouns as adjectives, non-standard grammar in poetry)
- Genre Play (e.g. modern fairy tales, prose poems, narrative essays)
- Pragmatic Play (e.g. register, politeness, forms of address, functional language)
- Perspective Play (e.g. point of view, characterization, mood, evaluation, judgment)
- Narrative Play (e.g. familiar storylines, narrative structures, modes of storytelling)
- Symbolic Play (e.g. metaphor, metonymy, digression, oppositions, juxtapositions)
- Culture Play (e.g. practices, values, schemas of products, code-switching, multilingualism)
The everyday refers to language and textual prototypes used for everyday communication – the language and texts that are typical of the lower levels of FL study. A widely held assumption is that because the vocabulary and grammar of the introductory levels are fairly simple, students cannot engage in secondary-level meaning making (the metaphorical) and that attempting to engage them in this way would divert time and cognitive energy from language acquisition. This notion is directly at odds, however, with the goal of a curricular continuum grounded in the skills and practices of multiple literacies. Understanding the everyday as a vehicle for the literary affords learners the opportunity to go deeper into the manufacturing of meaning. When properly implemented, this approach allows for the playful manipulation of a linguistic system that improves grammatical awareness as well as communicative and symbolic competence. (Teacher’s Guide pp. 4-7)
The Literary in the Everyday
There are three domains where “the literary” and “the everyday” can intersect:
- The literary in everyday genres: Featured here are texts and literacy practices that are typically not understood as “literature,” but nevertheless exhibit aspects which foreground language play, aesthetics, poetics, and stylistic creativity often experienced as literary. These genres include everyday texts such as business letters, love letters, blogs, advertisements, political speeches, recipes and jokes.
- Literary production about the everyday: Literary texts and genres that represent everyday life do so in ways which encode dimensions beyond the concrete. This can include realist and naturalist works, poetry, novels, literary testimonies, and avant-garde writings along with more documentary forms such as memoirs.
- The literary recontextualized in the everyday: Much like the term “linguistic landscape,” which refers to language that is evident in the immediate public environment such as signs in the street or menus in a restaurant, literary references and artifacts are woven into our daily lives. Included in this category are a variety of practices for referring to literature in everyday contexts: remixing literary allusions and forms –textual and visual– in everyday texts and reframing literary experiences as part of real life. Such forms of literary sampling tend to be found in more personal genres, such as graffiti, mixed media collages, diaries, and journals. As to reframing experiences, the popular genre “fanfiction” often recontextualizes a literary work within the everyday of a fan’s lived experience, for example, when a fan takes the characters of a novel and rewrites “new” scenes based on real life events.
Key Pedagogical Objectives
In order to effectively bridge the Language/Literature divide at the college level, FL texts and lessons must be articulated in curricular continua that respond to the needs of the diverse learner pool of higher education. Given this, there are three overarching objectives that frame implementation of the literary in the everyday as heuristic:
- Grappling with layers of meaning when reading/viewing in order to gain understanding of the vision, the “mental imagery” of the writer, and to develop effective reading (interpretation) skills;
- Engaging in playful processes of creating nuances of meaning (construal) when writing in order to exercise language systems and to gain agency in written communication;
- Challenging “reliance on the default assumption of shared cultural conceptualizations” (Sharifian, cited in Blyth, 2011, p. 156), in order to develop strategies for better operating between languages. (Teacher’s Guide p. 7)
Applying a transdisciplinary approach from the beginning of foreign language study that is based on the literary in the everyday can help students to develop the deductive skills of a linguist, the honed intuitions of an anthropologist and the playful bent of a poet. Adopting the literary as a core criteria for articulation to the end can allow college FL departments the flexibility to envision and develop necessary reform in ways that would best reflect their local cultures and areas of expertise. (Teacher’s Guide p. 11)
In the acknowledgements to Le Littéraire dans le quotidien, Joanna Luks further writes that OER provide “a much needed space for innovation and communication among professionals in fields related to language learning, a space where theory and practice can come together so that best practices can be explored and refined.” The FLLITE project aims to expand this space to include anyone who is interested in participating in the creation of outstanding L2 literacy materials: graduate students, secondary language teachers, professors at the college level, and even language students themselves.