Whilst the phrase ‘literary learning’ is not common in academic literature, the concept of utilising fiction to enhance the learning process is not new. This is a technique that teachers have been using for a long time. When using this practice, it is important for teachers to assess the works of fiction for historical integrity before advising students to include them in their studies. It is possible students may receive misinformation from texts so the selection process needs to be comprehensive to ensure the information is consistent with the content being taught.
Studying this subject and writing this assignment has highlighted how complex the evaluation process is and how limited the choice of reliable texts may be. Part of the role of Teacher Librarian is to provide appropriate resources to support staff in their implementation of the curriculum documents. The new priority area of ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander/Indigenous people’s histories and cultures’ has certainly motivated publishers to increase their range in this area but there is a distinct shortage of chapter books for this topic. Picture books are appearing to satisfy this demand, but chapter books are not so common. It has been difficult to find literature that has been exclusively about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island life prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
There are a number of advantages in including fiction in the curriculum that I had not been aware of. Firstly, student familiarity with the narrative structure contributes to the ease with which the students read it (Negrete & Lartigue, 2004). Incorporating fiction within units of work has the potential to increase the learning effectiveness of the unit (Negrete & Lartigue, 2004). It increases the likelihood that students see the perspective of a minority viewpoint (children, women, the socially and financially challenged) as fictitious narrator comes from all walks of life, contrasting with the patriarchal presentation of history textbooks. This gives them the opportunity to explore a different viewpoint (Turk, Klein & Dickstein, 2007) to what has traditionally been presented.
Narrative fiction also has the benefit of relational processing where the story details are processed together, rather than separately as for non-fiction texts (Marsh & Fazio, 2007). This enhances a student’s ability to remember events in sequence and to understand the context. Narrative texts also include incidences of ‘ordinary, day to day’ events, allowing students an insight into how people lived at the time. These details may not be available in text books.
Whilst literacy learning clearly has a place in the curriculum, it needs to be implemented carefully to ensure a student’s learning experiences are not compromised by confusing information. Carefully selected fiction texts can really enhance the learning experience, complementing the factual information students are given. They can help students to understand the context, develop affinity with the characters, identify the pivotal events and see how certain events influenced others. Teacher librarians can support staff and students by directing them to appropriate fiction that will support their learning.