- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
The big picture - in education
Coping with grief and loss through literature
Despite the fact that loss and grief are common phenomena, research indicates that around 70 per cent of teachers and parents do not feel comfortable discussing these issues with young people. Helen Cahill explains how the Literature for Life resource can alleviate this anxiety by providing a structure for exploring of loss and grief in a non-threatening program suited to the mainstream classroom.
Why focus on coping with change and loss?
Everyone will deal with upheaval and loss at some stage in life. Most students have already encountered experiences such as changing schools, relocating to a new community, family break-up or bereavement. Many young people struggle to understand the meaning and implications of these changes.
Studies have shown, for example, that around 70 per cent of children are not well informed when their parents split up, receiving either no explanation or a one or two sentence explanation. It is common for young people to feel guilty or to believe that they are somehow a causal factor in a parental separation.
Themes of loss and change are common in texts used in the English classroom. It is important that exploring these themes improves children’s understanding of and capacity to cope with adversity and challenge, rather than augmenting romanticised or unduly pessimistic patterns of thought.
Learning about reactions that people can have to change or loss can greatly alleviate the sense of isolation experienced by some young people. This can promote empathetic and compassionate responses to self and others.
Coping is a learnt behaviour and stories of effective coping provide important models. Through imagined and empathetic connection with others, learning through fiction offers both a protective frame and a means by which to learn more about ourselves and our world.
A new interactive classroom program, Literature for Life, assists students to develop shared concepts and language for discussing emotional or behavioural reactions to loss, change or challenge. Students engage at empathetic and ethical levels. Authentic and engaging tasks are designed to generate a sense of purpose and contribution.
What is Literature for Life?
Literature for Life is a middle years English curriculum resource that aims to enhance students’ emotional, ethical and social capacities while also enhancing reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. It assists schools in using the English curriculum to help children learn that change and loss are part of life, understand the sorts of reactions people can have, and consider some of the coping strategies people employ to help them deal effectively with adverse events.
Two discrete units of work are provided, one for upper primary and one for lower secondary students. The learning activities have been designed to suit a wide range of learning styles, employing the multiple intelligences. They challenge students to engage with a range of deep thinking tasks in both cognitive and affective domains (as explained in Bloom’s Taxonomy).
In the primary program, the teacher-led interactive curriculum assists students to explore the issues of change and loss. Following this, students work in reading circles to explore the challenges faced by key characters in their novel study. A range of texts suitable for a spectrum of reading abilities offers a rich and well-supported program.
The reading circles culminate in small group presentations in which students teach their peers about the challenges their characters have faced and the strategies used to cope in adverse conditions. They give advice to their characters and relate the dilemmas and predicaments their characters have faced to those in everyday life.
Secondary students engage with a specific focus on genre and audience. Positioned as writers, they research their theme and their writing challenge—developing picture books to help young children understand change and loss. Working as educators, writers and illustrators, they employ fictional characters as the means through which to tell educative tales. Their work culminates in the presentation of their writing to real audiences.
How is it structured?
Grief has been conceptualised as the ‘work’ associated with four key tasks: accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of grief, adjusting to an environment in which the significant person or object is no longer present, and emotionally relocating the person or object and moving on with life.
For the education context of the Literature for Life program, this ‘work’ has been translated as a set of four key learning tasks:
- acknowledging the reality that change and loss are part of life
- learning about possible reactions to change and loss and how people can experience these
- developing skills to assist in managing reactions to loss, change or challenge
- exploring ways of learning from the experience, reinvesting energy, bouncing back or building the next phase of life.
A solution focus includes an emphasis on resilience and coping. The pedagogical structures facilitate development of the attributes of resilience, including social competence, problem-solving, autonomy and a sense of purpose and optimism.
The Literature for Life resource was developed by Helen Cahill, Youth Research Centre, University of Melbourne; Glen Pearsall, Head of English, Eltham High School; and Carol Guthrie, Laverton Plains Primary School. The resource was commissioned by Clare Koch of Good Grief International as an initiative to provide a universal program to add to the existing and highly successful Seasons for Growth—a peer-support intervention curriculum for students encountering specific loss associated with bereavement or family break-up.
For more information about the Literature for Life resource, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The author owns the copyright in this article. For information related to the reuse of this work in any form please contact the publisher email@example.com