The students were comfortable in identifying symbols and talking about what they meant in the context of the video. The application, in an academic context, of the skill they had so successfully demonstrated days before with regard to symbols in their own lives seemed smooth and seamless. Later in the semester, I continued to see the students use their understanding of symbolism when they interpreted pieces of literature.
As the following field note entry denotes, I was impressed by how comfortable and skilled the students were at identifying symbols in a series of short stories that they had been assigned to read:
As I was marking these responses, I was struck by how often the students listed symbolism as one of the literary devices used by the authors. While we had taken three of the short stories in class, the other nine were assigned for individual reading and analysis. It appeared to me that many of the students felt very comfortable with the term symbolism and with their abilities to identify and analyze symbols in short fiction… However, the frequent reference to symbolism in the short stories was definitely noticeable and I feel quite certain was partially a consequence of the student personal narrative and discussion we did around the concept (Field notes, October 2004).
From the provincially articulated guidelines for the English course I was teaching, the ability to “describe the social and personal benefits of reading great literature” is one of the prescribed goals of the course (Adult Basic Education: An Articulation Handbook 2005-2006, p. 48). I expand this goal to include an appreciation of the insights of ourselves and of our world offered through both reading and writing.
The emotional impact and subsequent acknowledgement of the significance of text to each member of the class was demonstrated as the class applied their understanding of symbolism to a poem:
I had brought the poem “Life’s Rainbow” by Sheila Banani (1984) because I thought that the symbolism in it could also be applied to the stages (colours) of being a student from the “lacquer red” beginning, through the “oxidize green with tears” middle, to the “endings (that) are always indigo before we step on the other shore.” I suggested to the students that this poem was my “pep talk” to have them remain disciplined and focused for what was left of the semester and to get to that “other shore” (pass the course). There was an electrifying (small current) feeling in the class as I removed the poem from the overhead projector.
One of the students asked if I taught the next level of English. Several other students concurred that they would like to be in my class next semester. I do not tell this story to blow my own horn. I believe that the students were “moved” not by me but by the application to their lives of the symbolism in the poetry. The power of symbols in literature to speak to the reader was ’felt’ in the classroom. The students’ ability to experience this power was initially established by the sharing of personal narratives on something special in their lives (Field notes, November 2004).