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'Novel Approach' Workshop

1st June

First Hand Experience

We had a great turnout for our second workshop, this time about exploring novels in the classroom, through the lens from nature. Julia Gillick gave us a taste of the Bloom KS3 course she has designed in conjunction with Bloom called the Novel Approach. It certainly is well named ‘A Novel Approach’ as no one quite expected what followed.

Typically for a Bloom lesson the workshop began with someone (in this case, me) leading people through the experience of the Quiet Moment by connecting with air using the sense of touch and with sound using the sense of hearing. It was a poignant few moments, followed by us listening to a clip of the mysterious sound of an aeolian harp played by the wind on the coast of Ireland: ‘Eerie, peaceful, natural and serene’ were some of the comments about this in the chatbox. The point was that it linked to an extract from Coleridge’s The Aeolian Harp which Julia used to introduce the idea that all literature expresses something universal and, that can be accessed by connecting with nature.

Initial Access to a text

Intriguingly what happened in those first few minutes led us naturally into the reading of to the next extract from All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.

To show how we help students access the text in the classroom, participants were asked to fill in the ‘Like Box’ as the class would, and then to tackle one of six Reflective Questions. This being our second workshop I am beginning to get used to the amazing eloquence and insightfulness of English teachers. Here are one or two of the comments on the text: ‘Long sentences mimicking the freedom of the horses to roam as far as they want’; ‘This extract shows us that the human imagination is as vast and free as nature.’ And these are some of the responses to the Reflective Questions: ‘It tells us that nature is all encompassing. It touches all of the senses all at once and yet one at a time’; ‘Communion between people and nature - an understanding.’ ‘It was a scene so unlike any scenario I as a city girl would ever have experienced. Felt quite jealous!’ I particularly loved the fact that one person just said that someone else had said exactly what she thought!

Deepening Understanding

The next step, essential to the Bloom method, is to deepen understanding by relating the text to the Harmony Principles which were shown on a slide. Again, it is best if our wonderful participants speak for themselves: many chose Oneness and Interdependence as the most outstanding principles of the text. One person explained that he saw these as ‘What the horses gained from running together and feeling safe.’ Others very simply saw harmony itself in the text. And several mentioned the geometry and beauty of the movement of the horses.

Further Analysis

In the next step, to deepen understanding further, in the lesson we use the harmony principles to analyse the way a novel has been put together, as these elements are common to all novels. For example, through the principle of adaptation, we consider the plot. The principle of interdependence is a concept through which to explore characters. Oneness is a lens through which to access the themes of a novel. So, Julia presented another extract, this time from The Power by Naomi Alderman and we had a go at applying the principles as tools for analysis.

Once again the English teachers have it! The idea of looking at a piece in this way triggered a mass of wonderful insights, for example, ‘Interdependence - everything is connected in nature, by the same shape and purpose: to reach out and survive.’ ‘Geometry/Expression - Alderman uses repetition of the concept of 'power', as well as repeated images permeating through lightning, oceans and our bodies. We are linked with nature as well as electricity through her use of repetition.’

Could it work for you?

Finally, Julia asked us to apply this system to a novel that we know well or teach. Here are a few of the responses:

‘Romeo and Juliet: Interdependence - all the characters' actions impact on each others’ and all their actions are needed to come to the tragic conclusion.’

‘I have recently studied ‘The Lie Tree’ (I think that’s what it’s called!) and I can see how this model would work really well with that poem.’

‘These would work well with How I Live Now. Students often find the ending frustrating and this could definitely help.’

‘I think all the principles would work well with Jane Eyre.’

Originality and Challenge enjoyed

All in all participants really enjoyed the challenge and originality that this workshop presented if the many thanks you’s, comments and survey was anything to judge by.

Several people said that they most enjoyed ‘The principles and the creativity behind them’. Many said they ‘… liked that it is an attempt to unify the separate aspects of analysis.’

It was lovely to receive so many positive and appreciative comments: ‘Thank you for this inspiring workshop’; ‘food for thought’; ‘thank you for some really interesting ideas.’

All I can say once again is a huge thank you to all those who participated for entering so wholeheartedly into the spirit of this workshop and for their brilliant contributions from me, Julia and the rest of the Bloom team.

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