Shyaonti Talwar


"I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity. I want this adventure that is the context of my life to go on without end."
- Simone de Beauvoir

Teaching Statement

Shyaonti is of the opinion that literature is one discipline that cannot be taught in the conventional sense of the term. It can only be experienced. Her intention, when she teaches, is to orient students to a particular text and approach it in different ways, see the text as a field on which a range of historical, cultural, social and political ideologies are anchored. She believes in bringing her experience into the classroom but at the same time she is strongly committed to the idea of the text being a dynamic field and intersection of various thoughts, ideologies and cultures which is constantly undergoing the process of meaning-making every time it is read by a different reader and interpreted in a certain context. At the undergraduate level when the exposure of the students to literary texts and genres is fairly at the initial stage, she encourages them to start by developing a subjective understanding of the text. She uses visual and verbal cues and prompts which initiate the process of engaging with the text. The progression with the ‘teaching’ of the text happens through activities and tasks specifically designed and directed towards a certain outcome. The nature of these tasks can be individual or collaborative. The objective is always dual:

• To initiate an engagement with and enquiry into the text and draw inferences.
• To stimulate, activate or develop certain skills in the learners: reading sub skills, questioning skills, paying attention to lexical and stylistic features, critical evaluation, etc.

At times if there is a media adaptation of the text, for instance a novel that has been made into a film, she gives her students an assignment to watch the film in parts which can happen outside the classroom. She creates assignments in google docs or google slides that embed the link of the film and also the purpose of watching it in their individual space. The prompts in the form of tasks give them a purpose to watch the film as active viewers.

In case an audio-visual input is screened in class, there are pre-, while and post observation tasks, peer discussions and feedback to consolidate the understanding of the input. More areas are covered when the media adaptations are compared to the original text. This exercise makes one thing very clear to the students: that all texts are open-ended and there is a scope of tracing polyphony in a text and even if there are voices that are silenced, they too can be traced and located through their absence. Students gradually get used to this approach though it is quite uphill initially as they need to step out of their comfort zones.

If she is dealing with shorter textual inputs like short stories, essays and poems she uses them thoroughly to reinforce the approaches mentioned above and also get students into a habit of approaching a text in this manner and treating it as a dynamic object of exploration and enquiry. While dealing with shorter poems, she generally gives students a gist task to individually gauge the mood of the poem which can be different for each reader. Then students volunteer to read out the poem in class conveying the mood which they have identified. Different readings are compared at times and justified by students with the help of the elements present in the poem. This brings out a lot of areas that can be taken up for discussion. Thus, the students have to engage in an exchange or an interaction of ideas and be ready to receive and accommodate multiple responses.

For longer, more exhaustive texts like novels and plays, she picks and chooses from these approaches when she deals with parts or acts. For a more holistic sensitisation to the novel she gives students certain prompts in the form of tasks that focus on a specific theoretical approach and then asks them to attempt the task. For the task they need to substantiate their claim on the basis of evidence from the text and in the process they are informally introduced to the spirit of the concerned theory. So later when they are formally introduced to theory and criticism, they find it easier to understand because they have been trained to read from certain approaches and perspectives.

She engages in these practices variously and not consistently with the same group of students as faculty members may have to teach different courses every year. At times she has to focus on relatively simpler skills if the group of learners is from a rural background with limited exposure to English. On such occasions she tries to blend language and literature teaching focusing on simple comprehension and once they are sensitised to this participative approach then guides them to the more advanced skills.

The teaching of literature is a fine balance between desisting from essentialising meaning on the one hand and enabling learners to interpret it in their own way but also guiding them and monitoring the reading on the other. This ensures the development of advanced faculties and skills like analysing, substantiating, justifying, rationalising, inferring, hypothesising which are again completely transferable skills.

She enjoys teaching critical essays, novels, short stories and poetry. She also takes up communication skills and soft skills if they are a part of the curriculum and English Language and Literature Teaching (ELLT).

“The purpose of teaching should be committed to developing a certain kind of study culture which encourages enquiry into the subject, reflection on the content, application or transference in the real world through mapping its relevance and an inclination to engage with content. There are strategies and approaches to accomplish this which makes the learner more autonomous and less dependent on the teacher as a knowledge or information resource and more as a point of reference and a guide. Fortunately my experience as a facilitator with Cambridge Assessment English and British Council and the exhaustive trainings in pedagogy that I have conducted across India, and in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and also the buffer zones of tiger reserves across India have given me a much better insight into the business of teaching, the practical problems faced by teachers and students of English Language and Literature and the corrective measures and improvisations one needs to constantly make.”

Shyaonti is committed to this belief and tries that it guides her in her teaching and training work to the best of her ability.

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