For the love of literature

Treasure trove of ideas to light up literature lessons

Trainee teachers set up online resource to share alternative ways of teaching subject

NIE lecturer Dr Loh (front row, second from left) with Enl*ght contributors (front row, from left) Siti Mariam Abdul Hakeem and Judith Lam, and (back row, from left) Yeo Zhi Wen, Ow Yeong Wai Kit and NIE lecturer Ken Mizusawa.
NIE lecturer Dr Loh (front row, second from left) with Enl*ght contributors (front row, from left) Siti Mariam Abdul Hakeem and Judith Lam, and (back row, from left) Yeo Zhi Wen, Ow Yeong Wai Kit and NIE lecturer Ken Mizusawa. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

It started with a group of enthusiastic trainee teachers at the National Institute of Education (NIE) who were itching to do something more.

Dr Loh Chin Ee, an assistant professor in NIE's English Language and Literature Academic Group, said: "They wanted to do something useful outside of the classroom. I asked them if they were interested in coming up with a literature resource for teachers."

The idea was to produce an online publication to discuss ways to engage students in literature and inspire teachers - in training and in schools - to think of better ways to teach the subject.

About 3,000 students have taken pure literature at the O level each year in the last few years.

The first issue of the publication, Enl*ght (pronounced Enlight) - focusing on local writer Jean Tay's Boom, a text used in schools - was published in January 2011.

Since then, another five issues have been produced on a range of topics, from local poetry to understanding literary texts in the context of place.

The publication, of which Dr Loh is the adviser, also provides teachers with recommendations, such as how to use Facebook to teach characterisation and where to find local poetry resources.

Mr Yeo Zhi Wen, who graduated from NIE's four-year Bachelor of Arts degree programme in May last year, wrote an article about "reel" pedagogy, or using film as a teaching tool, for last year's edition.

The 27-year-old, who now teaches literature and English language at Kent Ridge Secondary School, said he saw Enl*ght as part of efforts to keep literature alive.

"It also gave me time to think about issues in teaching even before I entered the service," he said. "Using films and movies was something we talked about in class (at NIE) - about engaging youth with a medium they are familiar with."

His article gave tips such as using movies to teach the use of literary devices like metaphors.

"Sometimes students react better to a visual metaphor than reading it in a poem or book. We can discuss why the image was used to represent something," he said, adding that comparisons can also be made across media.

For instance, students can explore the theme of the American Dream - the set of ideals including freedom and prosperity - by comparing the similarities and differences between American playwright Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman - a text used in secondary schools - and the 2006 film The Pursuit Of Happyness, both of which portray working men struggling to find their place in society.

Mr Ow Yeong Wai Kit, who graduated from NIE last year and now teaches at Bukit Batok Secondary School, wrote an article on reimagining literature, based on an interview with NIE literature educators Suzanne Choo, Ken Mizusawa and Dennis Yeo.

"Students need to recognise that literature is more than just about taking exams and writing essays," said the 27-year-old, who has used YouTube videos, pop music and social media in his literature classes.

"I've also brought in examples of Singapore literature to inspire my students to think about local issues with direct relevance to their lives."

Every year, a different batch of five to seven trainee teachers volunteer to work on the publication, which takes about six months to produce, from brainstorming and doing research to designing and laying out the content.

Dr Loh said that the journal's next issue will be given out in hard copy for the first time to educators in August at the Literature Seminar organised by the Ministry of Education. The issue, to be ready by the end of next month, will feature Dr Mizusawa as guest editor and focus on performance poetry and creative writing.

Among the pieces in the new issue is a section by Ms Judith Lam, 24, on how students can develop creative writing skills outside the classroom, such as through local writing workshops and festivals.

Ms Lam, who will graduate from NIE this year and will teach at Cedar Girls' Secondary School, said: "We want to raise awareness of external resources available so that teachers and students can be kept updated on what's happening in the literary scene."

Dr Loh added: "We hope to give teachers some ideas and resources, and we've had good feedback from some who have received it.

"What's important is that the student-teachers who produce it learn a lot from it - writing it up, working out the ideas, reflecting on their own teaching... It takes a lot of work and they're doing this out of pure passion."

Ms Lam added: "Personally, I've had excellent literature teachers in my school days and I was mentored well in and outside of the classroom.

"I learnt the importance of reading and imagination. There's value in the learning of literature and articulation of meaning."

•For Enl*ght's past editions, visit

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline Treasure trove of ideas to light up literature lessons. Subscribe