Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Notes on intertextuality for teachers

These are the notes I used for a 2-hour session with PGCE students at Goldsmiths today. We did various kinds of practical things with it - like creating personal intertextual repertoire maps based on such fields as our parents, school, playground etc.

Notes on Textuality

Pupils should:

1. “Make links between the book they are reading and the books they have read.” (‘Interim assessment framework, Key Stage 1’)

2.“Make comparisons within and across books” (‘Interim assessment framework, Key Stage 2’)

This is part of ‘intertextuality’. These two official statements give us the entitlement to explore intertextuality with primary age pupils. What follows can be part of lesson plans, learning objectives etc.

A text we will take to mean - anything written or spoken involving language. A more complicated definition says that a text is anything that has been ‘textualised’. So most of us assume that stars predate our language to describe them. We now have words to say that they are stars and what kind of stars they are etc. We have ‘textualised’ stars. For most of us, it’s virtually impossible to think of stars without those thoughts being textualised in our heads.

(We will come back to this later.)

Intertextuality is the process by which, and how we know and share texts, how texts incorporate other texts, how texts contribute to other texts.

Convenient to think of intertextuality in 4 spheres:

1. All of us as we think, speak and write.
2. Writers’ writings.
3. A ‘text’ itself.
4. Reading.

1. All of us:

We all possess texts. This is our ‘repertoire’. We have been on the receiving end of texts from the day we were born and possibly from several weeks before.

We don’t receive these passively, nor is our repertoire just a bank that sits in our minds.

Texts come to us through the milieus we live in and to a certain extent we select what we want to hear and read.

We also process texts even as we receive them: we reflect on them, we use them to help us understand what we hear and write. We use them in order to speak and write. We are speakers, listeners, readers, writers in an almost inseparable chain - or indeed between each of them and all of them in any combination.

2. Writers:

Writers use the texts they know in order to build and assemble the texts they make. We will never know for sure what texts they have used or how they have used them, though it is possible to find out some of this. If we are teachers, part of our job is to make this bit of intertextuality exploratory.

3. A text
A text is always made up of, and reflects on some aspect of the ‘already said’ or ‘already written’. (Every part of what I have written here has been written before. I may have on occasions created a phrase that has not been written before, but words in that phrase have been written before.)

However a text is not just ‘words’ and ‘phrases’.

A text is also, for example, its ‘form’ or ‘genre’ - like a ‘novel’ or a ‘limerick’ or a ‘set of instructions for self-construction furniture assembly’. These genres have ways of freezing ways of writing which we can carry from one text to another. I might say, I will write a ‘limerick’ and the form of the limerick is, then, an ‘intertext’.

A text will also use ‘motifs’ or ‘tropes’ like ‘boy meets girl’ or ‘alone in the forest’ or ‘little guy overcomes big guy’ and thousands of others. Texts use these and change them in many different ways.

If you listen to film criticism, you can often hear film critics talking in terms of how a film is a hybrid of two other films or that it’s the same as another film except that x happens instead of y. These are ‘intertextual’ comments. People have said that the Harry Potter books are an amalgam of the ‘school story’ and the ‘fantasy story’. Again, this is an intertextual comment.

4. Reading

From the above it should be possible to deduce that we read with the repertoire of texts in our head. Everything from our recognition of the signs (the letters and digraphs) to the words, phrases, motifs, forms and ultimately the meanings are derived from the texts that we have. And then what we are reading ( the text in front of us) is incorporated into our repertoire.

Using intertextuality in school.

The two comments from the beginning (above) mean that we can approach books, poems, and any text and ask the children one simple open-ended question -which can and should be broken down in any number of ways to suit the occasion and the age of children in front of you:

Does the passage/book/poem etc that you have just read remind you of any other passage/book/poem/film/tv programme/etc that you have read or seen on TV or at the cinema or anywhere else?

Can you talk about why and how it reminds you?

Can you share all this with someone else?

Can we share this in the whole class by making a list of them and discussing why and how?

If the theory about texts being made up other texts is right - this is a valuable thing to do because it may enable readers to access something of how the text in front of us was written.

If the theory about our reading process being made up of the repertoire of texts in our heads is right - then asking these questions enables us to access or unlock part of how and why we are responding to a given text in a particular way: eg why I like it, why I am puzzled by it, why I am shocked or why I feel intrigued or excited etc etc.

In many circumstances, intertextuality is the secret process lying behind our critical comments.