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Using World Literature to Help Students Find Purpose

Posted on May 08, 2017

As an educator, do you ever struggle to motivate students? More research is uncovering the motivational value of helping students connect their learning to a sense of larger purpose. This might be a sense of efficacy in local or global political, cultural, or social change, or a smaller-scale personal or social sense of being needed, or of belonging. Whatever the scale, says researcher William Damon, a sense of purpose always involves being engaged in something larger than the self.

An article from Mind/Shift offers tips on making learning meaningful and rewarding for students. Below, you'll see how contemporary world literature can act as a tool for students to make those meaningful connections. 

When teaching the literature on WWB Campus, you can:

  • Relate literature to students’ lives—Many of the stories on Campus feature contemporary settings and young-adult characters, which help make it relatable for students. In particular, we recommend Vladimir Vertlib's "The Bed," to connect with students' own stories of arriving in unfamiliar places and situations; shinji ishii's "Once Upon a Swing," for a window into sibling relationships; and Miral Al-Tahawy's "The Guest," to facilitate reflections on previous generations. 
  • Talk about why—Ask students to identify the author's purpose in texts such as "Two Million People in the Square," a pamphlet circulated during Egypt's 2011 revolution; and "This Country Must Break Apart," an awards acceptance speech calling for the dissolution of China. Written in hopes of effecting radical change, these texts underscore the power of the written word and may inspire students to undertake written initiatives of their own. You might also ask students to consider the purpose of reading literature from other parts of the world–grappling with potential answers will help them connect world literature to larger ideas of cross-cultural understanding and global citizenship. Through these conversations, students will find more meaning in what they read.
  • Explain your purpose as a teacher—When you assign a reading, share with your students why you chose it: "This poem 'Sleepless Homeland' gives you a sense of what it feels like to be in a country over-run by violence"; "I was wondering how people find courage to stand up against oppression, so I re-read 'An Interview with Wu Wenjian'"; "I was looking for something that shows the effects of bullying on a person's mind, and I found 'The Trapped Boy'." Hearing about what you want the students to get out of the literature can be inspiring for them.
  • Connect the classroom to the world—The resources linked to in the Context and Playlist tabs can help students see the “real-life” context of the literature they read in class. In materials for “The Bed,” for example, you can read and watch videos about current immigration realities; in “Sentimental Education,” you’ll find resources on attachment theory, adoption, and domestic violence.

How do you use world literature to help students find a larger sense of purpose? Let us know!