Понедельник 20 мая 2013

On October, 30 — November, 3, 2012 the British Council, Russia hosted the international BritLit project for the third time. I had an opportunity to participate in it as a material-developer for university level students. Like at the previous sessions[1], our trainer was Alan Pulverness[2] who coordinated the working process of school and university teachers in creating BritLit kits.

настроение: creative

ключевые слова: BritLit, British Council, British contemporary literature, novels, kits, reading for pleasure

город: Moscow

BritLit resource kits contain a text and downloadable materials to help teachers using literature in the English language classroom. The materials are created by material-writers from all over the world and it’s a pleasure to mention that Russia is now among the participants.

Jackie Kay’s story My Daughter, The Fox is the first in a series of four kits written by school and university teachers from Russia, under the guidance of Alan Pulverness and co-ordinated by the British Council, Russia. This collaborative project was the direct result of a course run by NILE (Norwich Institute of Language Education) in 2011 in which two of the Russian teachers were enrolled and which Alan taught. The teachers involved in the writing of the kit based on My Daughter, The Fox were:

Ekaterina Toroptseva, Mikhail Mamaev, Yulia Klimenova, Nina Skitina, and Ekaterina Mikhailovskaya.

The kit may be found here:

Alan and all members of the project team can be seen discussing the work and their involvement in this video made by the British Council, Russia:

The main peculiarity of this session was the aim to work not with short stories but with longer prose fiction — full-length novels. Thus, new challenges emerged. First, the issue of establishing and sustaining students’ motivation to reading. Second, the idea was to work with young adult (YA) fiction and it was important to understand the peculiarities of this genre.

One of the most significant features of YA fiction is its immediacy: the reader is parachuted in the story. There is no gentle lead-in: you as a reader find yourself there, in the thick of action. That actually makes it challenging for the student and the teacher as well. Moreover, YA fiction deals with such serious issues that the genre boundaries become blurred. And this, in turn, leads to the fact that there are practically no constraints in subject matter, no taboo topics. So, sometimes so called crossover happens: the phenomenon when the book for YAs breaks the framework and becomes popular with adult readers. Such sensitive topics like terminal illnesses and death (Patrick Ness A monster calls), attitude to children with special needs (Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), religious contrasts (Theresa Breslin Divided City), child abuse (Melvin Burgess Nicholas Dane), bullying (Kevin Brooks Kissing the Rain), war, its consequences and people’s attitude to these events (Meg Rosoff How I live now, Mal Peet Tamar, Bali Rai City of Ghosts), alternative history dystopia (Malorie Blackman Noughts and Crosses) and many more can be presented in these crossover books.

The preparation for the project began in advance when all the participants were given the list of books to choose the material to work at. There were 9 well-known contemporary British books, many of which were short-listed for prizes in literature:

Malorie Blackman Noughts and Crosses
Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Meg Rosoff How I live now
Patrick Ness A Monster Calls
Mal Peet Tamar
Bali Rai City of Ghosts
Kevin Brooks Kissing the Rain
Melvin Burgess Nicholas Dane
Theresa Breslin Divided City

There were some serious urgent problematics touched in the books as well as some examples of exquisite language and unusual text structure.

It’s necessary to add that this BritLit session coincided with the visit to Moscow of two prominent contemporary British writers and participants of Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference (which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2012) — Theresa Breslin and Melvin Burgess[3]. The programme of their visit included the meeting with readers at Rudomino All-Russian State Library for Foreign Literature and a literary saloon in Solyanka Club[4] (these events took place on October, 31, 2012).

Due to British Council Russia Theresa Breslin and Melvin Burgess took part in the work of our session and even performed workshops on the peculiarities of contemporary literature and its main trends. This kind of reader-writer collaboration, the ability to give feedback on the authours’ books and receive it from their own lips really contributed to the creative atmosphere during the session. The conversation with Theresa helped the group of teachers to better understand and discuss the problems touched in Divided City and led to their choosing this book for a future BritLit kit.

After a constructive discussion our university group chose Patrick Ness’s novel A Monster Calls. Though it touches upon the sensitive issue of dealing with grief and losing a parent, it’s really worth discussing thanks to a gripping plot, vivid characters and the complex cinematographic storyline that makes a deep and lasting impression on the reader.

Again we thought about the genre of the book and the way to attract the students’/readers’ attention. Alan Pulverness’s session helped us a lot. We talked about the peculiarities of the novel and came to the following conclusions:

  • the novel has several interwoven story lines;
  • it’s a complex sequence of events which are depicted through a larger range of settings;
  • it can incorporate several discourses within it: the diversity of dramatic dialogs, newspaper reports, academic findings, etc.
  • on the whole, it is the structure of structures.

This multiplicity gives room for all sorts of characters speaking a variety of voices and undergoing all kinds of experiences. However, in YA novels the scope tends to be narrowed down to grab the reader’s attention. The focus in YA books shifts to the gripping storyline itself rather than linguistic issues. This, according to Melvin Burgess, might be a way of young adults to ‘blag their way’ into adult society.

It was important for us as material creators to provide students support with the–reading process — throw a switch turning on the area in the readers’ mind about what they know and what they are going to experience. This could be achieved by providing them with necessary context and dealing with essential language. This process of activating schemata is crucial for further reader’s response as it contributes to reader’s knowledge of the world and the world of text, thus sustaining students’ interest. The creative response work should be done more thoroughly as in the novel it’s not the singularity of a short story’s effect that counts but the transformation of the response throughout time.

In our work it’s essential to put some key staging posts which will support the reader and sustain the effect of anticipation, curiosity and prediction and in this way to see what emerges from the experience of reading.

To sum up, the key feature of reading for pleasure for both short stories and prose fiction is the focus on the experience of reading which is characterized by:

  1. an atmosphere of getting lost in the book;
  2. focus on interaction between the reader/student and text/author;
  3. links between readers’ lives and texts;
  4. finding way of facilitating reader’s response.

Receiving the readers’ response is of utmost importance and it develops through the following stages:

  • the business of getting the readers hooked and thus creating curiosity;
  • getting the students/readers going, in this way maintaining motivation;
  • tracking response: enabling students to think how their reaction as re–ders fluctuates — finding way to reflect “the time element” (the term by Ali Smith).

On the whole, our aim as material creators besides thinking of the kit’s teaching value is to think about the way of putting the readers’ in the writers’ shoes.

Whether we were able to achieve our goals or not, may be seen in our future kit which, as other kits created by our Russian BritLit team, will be published on BritLit homepage:

If you have any questions or are simply interested in the development of the project in Russia you are welcome at our Facebook page:


[1] I’ve already written about the project in my article on: http://iyazyki.ru/2012/03/proekt-britlit/ and in my blog: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/mike-le-prof
[2] Alan Pulverness is Assistant Academic Director at the Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE). He has worked extensively with the British Council in Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland on cultural studies teaching materials and syllabus projects and in Russia on reader development and the BritLit project. His main professional interests are in language teacher development, intercultural awareness, and the role of literature in language learning. He is co-author of The TKT Course (CUP 2005; 2011).
[3] Theresa Breslin is the critically-acclaimed popular award-winning author of more than 30 books for young people over a wide age range including YA / Adult novels. She won the Carnegie Medal, the UK’s most prestigious award for Children’s Literature, for Whispers in the Graveyard, her compelling story of a dyslexic boy. The Medici Seal, featuring the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Divided City, about friendship across the divide of football rivalry, exploring themes of racism and sectarianism was shortlisted for ten book awards, winning two outright, and the musical theatre adaptation has played to full houses.
Melvin Burgess is a popular British author of young adult fiction. His first book, The Cry of the Wolf, was published in 1990, and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. His book Junk won the Guardian Fiction Award as well as the Carnegie Medal in 1996 and went on to be voted one of the top ten Carnegie winners of all time. His best selling book Doing It won the LA Times Best Young Adult Book of the Year award, with Bloodtide winning The Lancashire Children’s Book Award. His work has been widely adapted for stage and TV and film, and he has built up a reputation for controversial, hard-hitting books dealing with sharp social themes.

[4] The salon hosted Dmitry Glukhovsky, an acclaimed Russian writer, journalist and radio presenter, Robert Bound, culture editor of the global affairs magazine Monocle and was moderated by British contemporary best-selling author Alex Preston. The special guests, together with listeners, discussed such issues as the major trends of modern British and Russian literature, the writer-reader relationship, and philosophical motives in fiction (particularly, the depiction of evil). The meeting also featured a conversation about A Hero of our time — a topic suggested by the winner of the contest held on by British Council.
5. The materials of BritLit session organized by British Council Russia (October, 30 — November, 3, 2012).
6. BritLit official page: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/britlit/
7. BritLit: Using Literature in EFL Classrooms (ebook) British Council, 2009.
8. BritLit Russia Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/britlit.literature
9. Mikhail Mamaev, The Global BritLit Project. Prosveschenie:
10. Mikhail Mamaev’s edublog (posts on the BritLit Project):

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