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Unfolding the process of distanciation to write literature at the end of primary school1

Bernadette Kervyn

Abstract

This article is intended to make observations about the role and implementation of distanciation when writing literature at the end of primary education, from the double perspective of creation and dialogue. After revisiting the prominence of such a process in various disciplines, the author draws upon the description and analysis of teaching practices and the learning of poetry in cycle 3 (the third, fourth and fifth years of primary education in France) to identify various distanciation operations, which are sometimes interwoven and embedded in the writing process itself and/or in discourse on writing. Once isolated, these operations form as many possible approaches to teach this process and help pupils become familiar with secondarised literary writing.

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1. The issue of distanciation

1.1. An overview of contributory disciplines

  • 1 Originally published in Repères, 40, 2009, 155-174

1As an introduction, I will seek to determine how the notion of distanciation is considered in disciplines contributing to the didactics of writing.

2Distanciation, which is used in human sciences on a regular basis, is generally understood as a process towards reflection on a fact, an event, an opinion, a behaviour, a belief, etc. While its repeated used suggests that it is a general process, its functions can however differ according to disciplinary approaches and confirm or infirm other mechanisms.

  • 2 In psychoanalysis and in the sciences of information and communication, the emphasis is also put on (...)
  • 3 Identification or participation can go as far as overshadowing the fictional and poetic part of the (...)

3In literature first, and more specifically in the plays by Brecht (1948/1997) who made this notion popular, it is an aesthetic and political tool designed to “reveal” an aspect of the work, make it unusual, that runs counter to the spontaneous and passive identification2 by the receiver because of an expected and common reality. Distanciation is essential to create a work and challenge established codes, such as the intriguing function at the origin of surprise and curiosity and also of a form of pleasure (Baroni, 2007). From an aesthetic and cognitive perspective, this process is also characteristic of the posture of reader, who can identify with the character or some aspects of the work, participate in expected codes3 on the one hand and enrich the textual process through complex and distanced sense-making (Dufays, 1994), attention to the blanks of the text, to formal, intertextual, hypertextual or architextual games on the other hand (Genette, 1979, 2004). This appropriation of the meaning of the text can indeed lead to identification, in a to-and-fro movement rather than in fierce opposition.

4While research on the psychology of development also acknowledges the essential role of distanciation, it prefers emphasising its sociocultural foundation, as distanciation is more frequent in privileged socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds than among the working classes in which the directive strategy (Labrell, 2005) contributes to education. As a result, this posture, far from being innate, must be taught by tooled adults as of early childhood. This teaching is all the more important as underachieving pupils cannot keep the resources of their spontaneous culture at a distance (Alcorta, 2009). Actually, educational achievement presupposes the capacity to put knowledge, situations, discourse or daily language subjects at a distance.

5In psychology like in other fields, distanciation is usually associated with cognitive clarity, self-reflection that is at odds or oscillates with thought or spontaneous action, with phrases or automatised discursive traits.

1.2. In the field of the didactics of literary writing

6Let us now focus on the teaching and learning of literary writing. What about distanciation in French didactics and more specifically in literary writing at the end of primary education?

7Given the sociocultural inequalities in terms of distanciation and its key role in pupils’ learning outcomes, it seems a prerequisite that the didactics of disciplines should think out the teaching and learning approaches to this mode of reception and production in connection with the specificities of their topics and targeted audiences.

  • 4 The sense given here to secondarised or secondarisation covers the sociological and didactical appr (...)

8As for French didactics and literature in primary education, the purpose is to enable all pupils to gradually become familiar with secondarised literary writing. In keeping with Bakhtine (1984), “distanced literary writing” refers to a conception of writing as a “phenomenon of the literary and artistic sphere” instead of the “daily sphere”4, without however overvaluing literary discursive forms or ignoring the repeated shifts between the spheres. From this perspective, the role of schooling is to bring pupils to develop their aesthetic relation to language and writing and to combine their acquisition of established conventions with sensitisation to variation, formal or thematic strangeness. Such a task involves putting pupils at a distance from daily or spontaneous speeches and reasoning.

9Positioning distanciation as such is similar to granting it the dual value of learning and literarity tool and implies investigating both the cognitive and discursive operations inherent to this process and how they should be taught in primary education. I will now present the context for our analysis.

1.3. Making the notion of stereotyping operational

10What is the context for my investigation and what data will be used to develop my arguments?

  • 5 These are Thierry Lamarque and Jérôme Faux. We are grateful to them for the time they spent and the (...)

11My focus on distanciation materialised as part of an exploratory research into the set of tools of the didactics of writing and its actors by making the notion of stereotyping operational. While observing how stereotyping phenomena could become teaching and learning tools for writing at the end of primary school, I analysed how two experienced teachers5 selected and engaged in stereotyping phenomena and gave it values and meanings for teaching and learning poetic writing.

  • 6 This symbol is used to mark pupils changed line in their compositions.

12While one of the teachers focused more on form and the other on content, both expected their pupils to distance themselves from the stereotypes the teachers noticed in their initial poetic writing and instead develop more singular, creative or imaginative writing and openness to diversified literary culture and practice. To that end, one of the major concerns of their lesson plans was to determine how teachers could enable pupils to distance themselves from initial form and/or relatively spontaneous poetic writing and therefore gradually appropriate secondarised literary writing? For instance, how is it possible to help a pupil who wrote an intentionally poetic text to improve the literarity of his writing? La mer ça fait penser aux vacances et à la chaleur #6 J’adore nager et dormir sur le matelas pneumatique # quand on va sous l’eau on voit beaucoup de poissons # On voit beaucoup de bateaux à l’horizon. C’est bien de faire des châteaux avec le sable et mettre des coquillages dessus (The sea makes me think of holidays and heat # I love swimming and sleeping on the air mattress # when we go under water we see many fish # We see many boats on the horizon # It’s fun to make sand castles and put seashells on them)

  • 7 See especially the proceedings in five volumes of the symposium “Stereotyping, stereotypes: ordinar (...)

13The fact that the issue of distanciation is raised in this work on stereotyping is of critical importance. Indeed, whether these are stereotyped representations or mental images, set expressions, stylistic or rhetorical clichés, prototypes or even the mental process of stereotyping, stereotyping phenomena present a pre-asserted, pre-constructed, “second-hand” aspect thanks to which they are immediately available once they are recognised. This “ready-for-use” aspect is itself linked to the large number of users of these stereotyping phenomena within a community or a sociocultural group and also to the frequency of these phenomena, their relative diachronic stability and their sedimentation use after use. Deeply-anchored stereotypes, which are frequently mentioned in research on stereotypes7, result in non-connectedness (or little connectedness) with other elements and thus in fewer opportunities. Therefore, these phenomena are given an automatic turn and regarded as reductive, simplifying and failing to account for the variety of reality.

  • 8 See the document published by the French ministry of education École et collège: tout ce que nos en (...)

14While stereotypes contribute to a common culture explicitly sought by the school system8, it is however necessary to put stereotyped beliefs, viewpoints and expressions resistant to change at a distance that had until then been used as references. From this perspective, stereotyping is potentially both a resource for pupils and an obstacle to more complex practices (especially writing) or concept-based scientific reasoning if, in class, they are not put at least partly at a distance.

15That’s why stereotyping phenomena are material of prime importance to work on distanciation, especially in literature. Addressing stereotyping at school is also useful didactical material to observe distancing operations whose value is potentially both on the side of literature and learning.

  • 9 The collective analysis was conducted by the 2 teachers who carried out the experiment, 5 teachers (...)
  • 10 For a detailed presentation and a complete analysis of these sequences and of the experimentation p (...)

16I will now focus on the operations which, in our case study, were part of distanciation. I mainly drew on the work performed in both classes but also on the collective analysis9 of this work. The corpus is based on two transcribed class sequences10, teachers’ work documents, the compositions successively written by pupils, their answers to initial and final questionnaires and the transcribed evaluation.

2. Operations within distanciation

17I identified seven, non-exhaustive, operations that contribute to distanciation from stereotypes and ultimately to more secondarised poetic writing by pupils. When these operations are applied, they are intertwined during a lesson or even a discussion and are mutually reinforced. As they are intertwined, it is more appropriate to speak of a global discursive and textual distancing effect instead of a specific effect by one particular operation.

2.1. Relativising the scope of the stereotype

18As already mentioned, stereotyping results in fewer opportunities to the benefit of inevitable and obvious stereotypes shared by (almost) all (Amossy, 1997). Faced with this functioning that is at odds with metamorphosis and poetic experimentation but resonates in pupils’ oral discussions (en tout cas un poème c’est un texte avec des rimes qui parlent de quelque chose et qui a un sens [anyway a poem is a text with rhymes that deal with something and makes sense]), and in written and commented texts, distancing oneself from stereotypes involves reducing their scope.

19In the class where activities were focused on the poetic form (class 1), it was pleasant to notice for the sake of poetic diversity that pupils gradually managed to give a common “definition” of a poem through the use of adverbs that reduced the scope of formal criteria: un poème est souvent constitué de strophes / de vers et de rimes / un poème n’a pas forcément de sens mais est souvent organisé / il a parfois un titre et la signature de l’auteur. (a poem is often made up of stanzas / lines and rhymes / a poem does not necessarily make sense but is often organised / there is sometimes a title and the signature of the author.)

20Subsequently, oral interaction between pupils showed that some pupils relativised even more their initial stereotyped visions of the poetic form:

Enzo : les poèmes ça a pas de règles fixes (poems don’t have set rules)

  • 11 The abbreviation T stands for Teacher.

T11 : ça n’a pas de règles fixes / oui mais est-ce que tu le savais au départ (poems don’t have set rules / right but did you know it at the beginning)

Enzo: non (no, I didn’t)

Luca : on peut pas écrire une définition des poèmes en fait (actually you can’t write a definition of poems)

Mar : mais on fait ce qu’on veut dans un poème / si on met de la ponctuation on en met si on veut / des strophes /’y en a pas toujours / en fait ’y a pas trop de règles (you do what you want when you write a poem / you add punctuation or not as you like / there are not always stanzas / actually rules are limited)

  • 12 La lune est scintillante # comme une étoile filante # La lune brille # comme une bille # La lune éc (...)

21This example is the sign that these pupils became clearly aware of the relative character of not only one or two particular features but of all the formal traits of the genre. Then learning occurs through the gradual appropriation of the global functioning of poetry. More generally, the whole sequence in this class, including writing activities, was carefully planned and intended to enable pupils to appropriate the relative nature of poetic criteria. When pupils handed in their final pieces of writing and commented them afterwards, we realised how much this relative character undermines the relation between poetry and some defining traits (rhymes, verses, stanzas, meaning, title, etc.). For example, a female pupil wrote a composition that did not always rhyme12 but she argued that her composition was a poem because there are rhymes and meaning but this is not compulsory.

  • 13 Writing poems was part of a global work project on the sea. In class 1, pupils had no thematic cons (...)
  • 14 Dans la mer on nage et on s’amuse # Et les bateaux au loin eux aussi sont beaux (We’re swimming in (...)

22In class 2, while formal criteria did not apparently refer to a clearly stereotyped representation, there were still numerous signs of stereotyping in how the topic (the sea13) was tackled: in initial compositions, the sea was associated with idyllic holiday by the beach14 or “Thalassa”-like reporting. Consequently, distancing these cognitive and discursive elements required relativising their domination, such as in the following dialogue:

T : nous tous les petits Agenais chaque fois qu’on parle de la mer on voit / vacances /

plage / mer (each time that we the youth of Agen mention the sea, we think of / holidays / beach / sea)

  • 15 The abbreviation P stands for an unidentified pupil in the class.

P15 : mais c’est pas toujours vrai (but it’s not always the case)

T : se baigner / loisirs / repos / seulement voilà le problème c’est qu’au bord de la mer

il fait pas soleil tout le temps (bathing / leisure / rest / the thing is that it’s not always sunny on the seaside)

P : il pleut des fois (it’s raining sometimes)

Jul : mais ceux qui habitent à côté ils s’ennuient par exemple (but those who live by the sea get bored for example)

T : ceux qui habitent au bord de la mer ils ont pas la même remarque que nous euh :

comme on fait là (those who live by the sea do not have the same approach as ours)

P: ils habitent à la montagne plutôt (they live in the mountain rather)

2.2. Developing the signs of poetricity or the perspectives on the topic or on poetry

  • 16 It is strongly but not completely connected with the first insofar as at the end of the sequence in (...)
  • 17 See the sense given by the French dictionary Le Robert to the term relativiser : “Faire perdre son (...)

23This second operation appeared strongly16 connected with the first in the observations made. On the one hand, it is necessary to activate or value the restricted, unrelativised signs of poetricity. On the other hand, relativising the prominence or the inevitable aspect of a stereotype, whether it is about the topical or formal dimension, can be as much a condition to open up to other perspectives as the result of this opening17.

24In any case, limiting the reductive effect of stereotyping, which is said to lock away knowledge and poetic experience in a narrow number of perspectives considered inevitable and exclusive, requires the gradual learning of different relative signs as only those signs can somehow cover poetic diversity.

  • 18 For a detailed presentation of how imagination is processed in connection with the use of stereotyp (...)

25Each teacher in their own way invited pupils to carry out this operation. In class 2, the new perspectives on the sea were essential to develop poetic writing among pupils towards a less expected imagination18:

T : alors / alors justement maintenant / justement maintenant / je vais vous donner un p’tit travail […] et je vais vous demander d’imaginer / quelle situation / alors déjà je vais vous demander / qui pourrait avoir une relation différente de la nôtre avec la mer ? […] vous allez essayer de lister / des personnes / qui pourraient avoir un rapport différent du nôtre avec la mer / et pourquoi / ce rapport serait différent / et du coup /nous / chaque fois / comme on associe les vacances et cætera / à la mer / c’est du positif / c’est que des sentiments euh : plutôt agréables / donc si vous essayez de lister / des personnes / des situations qui sont différentes de la nôtre par rapport à la mer / essayez à côté chaque fois / de donner des sentiments différents

(I’m now going to ask you to think of who could have a different relation from ours with the sea […] you’ll try to list people who could a different relation from ours with the sea and why this relation would be different / each time that we associate the holiday with the sea / it’s positive for us and brings pleasant feelings / so you’ll try to list people / situations that are different from ours with the sea / try each time to think of different feelings)

26In class 1, the teacher, who built upon a corpus of 24 extremely diversified poems and poets’ viewpoints, drew pupils’ attention to poetic dimensions that had been little spontaneously explained – surprise, strangeness, aesthetic emotion, particular typographic layout, poetic imagery. On many occasions, pupils managed to appropriate some of these traits. Emotion especially enhanced the representation of poetry and the writing process. In the short extract below, a female pupil decided to make it a motive central to her rewriting:

Math: si pour nous c’est un poème / on peut faire un poème comme ça si c’est pour nous un poème (if it is a poem for us / we can write a poem the way we want / if it is a poem for us)

T : pourquoi ? (why ?)

Math : parce que ça nous procure des émotions ça nous fait des sentiments alors nous on a envie d’en refaire un (because we feel emotions so we feel like writing another one)

  • 19 L’air peut être doux, # ou bien rude # il vient vous claquer sur les joues, # Les matins d’été sur (...)

27Another pupil emphasised the fact that her text19 was poetic because when she wrote it, she felt the emotion she wanted to convey.

2.3. Shifting one’s attention to another perspective

  • 20 “New” for those who write them or “new” compared to their previous compositions.

28This third form of distanciation is a variant of the previous one. Instead of shifting the look to multiple “new”20 signs or perspectives, the approach taken here is to select only one. If I was eager to distinguish them, it was first and foremost because in written compositions, there is a trend towards a narrowing of perspectives or signs used.

29In addition, in class 2, the final writing instruction suggested taking only another perspective on the sea. What is observed in terms of distanciation and secondarisation in this specific case where distanciation becomes the writing instruction?

  • 21 Only 3 out of 24 pupils were concerned.
  • 22 La mer est belle quand il fait beau # Elle est belle comme un arc-en-ciel # La mer fait des zig-zag (...)

30Initial topical stereotypes were processed differently by pupils in their poetic compositions written at the end of the sequence. The first – minority21 – treatment consisted in preserving initial stereotypes22 despite a change in perspective sometimes. In this case, there were no signs of distanciation from stereotypes, which means that writing was still based on the identification with stereotypes even if a slight transformation occurred. It might be assumed that initial stereotypes had such a resonance in these pupils that despite the work completed in class, they eventually drew upon these very stereotypes to write their compositions. It might also be interpreted as a dodging strategy: some pupils preferred dodging the work of distanciation as it is cognitively and linguistically challenging and focused on poetic writing, which in itself is already demanding.

31In the second example below, the signs of initial stereotypes were considerably cleared and replaced by other representations or a reversed representation. In this case, the prevailing impression was indeed that the change in perspective literally cleared initial stereotypes which were no longer alluded to. […] Un peu plus tard, des orages éclatèrent, des vagues énormes se forment, une vague arrive sur le bateau, elle s’éclata juste [sur] le bateau […]. (Some time later, storms burst, huge waves were formed, one wave crashed onto the boat). There are few poetic signs in this extract but the perspective has changed.

32That being said, on closer examination, stereotypes were not always fully cleared. There were still discreet allusions to stereotypes that operated as presuppositions or common principles underpinning writing. For example, when a pupil wrote des touristes énervants (annoying tourists), another Pour mes vacances je veux aller aux Pyrénées (I want to go to the Pyrénées on holiday) or a third L’hiver la plage est tranquille, il n’y a pas de touristes. Le sable est seul, il en profite (The beach is quiet in winter, there are no tourists. There’s only the sand, it gets the most of it), the reception of these data and their possible disconnection were based on the background knowledge of the familiar representation of an ideal holiday by the seaside.

33These elements are a sign that stereotypes in compositions are reversed but are still present in the background. That is the reason why this clearing is considered a deviation or maximal distanciation from stereotypes but not an eradication of stereotypes.

34If what is sought is originality or learning poetic writing, then these compositions should be read as being more personal or less expected as long as a gap from initial stereotypes is expressed. Considered as such, making one’s composition more imaginative does not involve clearing all signs of stereotyping at all costs but requires making sure that stereotypes are hinted at through an adverb, a line for example. These uses of stereotypes are as many invitations for readers to share the pleasure of difference and less conventional imagination with writers.

35In the third case, allusion to stereotypes or their use is more explicit. They take different forms but they are all based on their clarification in pupils’ compositions. Among these various forms, inversion, alternation and shift will be scrutinised.

  • 23 Les vagues froides roulent sur la plage pleine de sel, et les mouettes volant jusqu’au port déserti (...)
  • 24 J’aime jouer avec les poisons les trouver dans leur cachette # Et danser dans les fonds des eaux bl (...)

36Inversion consists in either first mentioning the stereotype and then inverting it or starting writing from another perspective and then reintroducing the stereotype explicitly at the end of the poem. For example, a poem first mentioned winter, the deserted harbour, frozen shellfish23 and in the last line the situation is inverted by the writer (Mais c’est l’été # la plage s’est ensoleillé [But it’s summertime # the beach got sunny]), leaving the reader imagine the happiness linked to the return of the summer. Another approach is to alternate a stereotype and then a perspective that modifies the stereotype or even invalidates it: l’été c’est bien d’habiter à côté de la mer # à part tous les touristes qui marchent dans les rues # c’’est agréable de se baigner # mais il y a tellement de gens qu’on ne peut pas se baigner tranquille (it’s nice to live by the seaside in the summer # apart from all the tourists walking down the streets # bathing is pleasant # but there are so many people that you can’t bathe quietly). Finally, when shifts are used, compositions still convey an idyllic perspective on the seaside but associate it with the life of a dolphin24. As a result, the use of stereotypes is more surprising as enunciation shifts from the holidaymaker’s perspective to that of the dolphin.

  • 25 For example: La mer fait peur avec ses grosses vagues, méfiance, un tsunami pourrait arriver […] le (...)

37Data analysis indicates how much these writers made diversified and distanced uses of initial stereotypes. The shift to another perspective has often resulted in activating another stereotype in this class. For example, the poems about a tsunami cover the whole lexicon of a large-scale catastrophe: horror, mistrust, danger, sadness, disaster, murder, destruction25. The conclusion to be drawn is that distancing a stereotype can be done – consciously or not – using another stereotype. Two types of resources are available: writing is secondarised through distanciation of the first stereotype and distanciation through adoption of the second.

2.4. Moving from specific to generic cases

38After a close observation of how stereotypes were put at a distance in written compositions, the question now is to determine how the pupils of class 1, who are the most attached to an approach of poetry in terms of lines, stanzas and rhymes, distance themselves from these signs and manage to relativise them without having the impression of leaving them aside. If we assume that lines, stanzas, and rhymes are essentially rhythmical elements, then couldn’t the musical aspect of rhymes be valued, beside alliterations, onomatopoeia, sound combinations, phonic transformations of existing words and sound formation that do not refer to lexically valid forms, associations of sounds and feelings, sound images of words?

  • 26 The idea here is to relate to a whole, as found in the definition of relativisation suggested by Le (...)

39If the idea is to provide pupils with operational material to write poetry by using the richness of poetic signs, wouldn’t it be better to put rhymes in the broader26 category of poetic tones, sound expression in which sound combinations can go as far as replacing the quest for lexical meaning and logical sequences?

40In this case, distanciation from stereotypes would be just one element within the broader category of creative resources in keeping with poetic diversity. In addition, the prominence given to rhymes by some if not all pupils when they read or write poetry, instead of being disputed, would fit into a sound and rhythmic approach. Literary knowledge would then be modified and reconstructed though adding complexity and diversity, which would accordingly reduce the impact of stereotyping. Rhymes indeed as “more conspicuous, outward signs” are tangible, albeit reductive, signs for pupils when they read or write poetry because “average” readers are under the illusion of a poem according to Kibédi Varga (1977, p. 44). Making rhymes part of a broader category in keeping with poetic traits contributes to complexifying literary knowledge and diminishing the simplifying effect of stereotypes.

41The purpose is to regard rhymes as the representative of a category, i.e. “[…] an example typical of a category used as the representative of the whole category” (Pépin, 2007, p. 199) or as the prototype of the category sound dimension to which pupils’ attention will now be drawn. Kleiber argued that the prototype is not the best representative of its category in the sense that it combines the highest number of traits of its category but in the sense that it is the most socially disseminated and shared (2004).

2.5. Introducing game, surprise or strangeness

  • 27 Blabla # Moi je suis dans une réunion très importante alors blabla # Moi je suis dans le bus alors (...)

42Keeping stereotypes at a distance can also be achieved through an original processing of stereotypes. It is necessary if stereotypes are to join the land of poetic strangeness. Otherwise, stereotypes are reassuring, activate recurrent and stabilised semantic fields but do not surprise at all and are even obstacles to imagination and generic diversity. On the other hand, we noticed on different occasions that pupils test “poetic subversion” as emphasised by Siméon (2003). When a pupil ends his lines with blabla and Rom pich27, when another is sensitive to what seems to him a transgressive shift creating ambiguity or semantic gaming, these are clearly occurrences of poetic transgression in literature:

Luca : euh / aussi / sans l’faire exprès / elle a fait un jeu de mots / quand elle a fait

[se levant et regardant sur la feuille de Marie] / la terre / peut être vert / le vers de : [traçant une ligne dans l’air avec ses doigts] / parce que d’habitude c’est verte

T : oui

Luca : peut-être vert / ça rime et en même temps ça fait vers

P : de terre !

Luca : non vers / la phrase quoi !

T : oui oui on a compris / [s’adressant à Marie] tu étais consciente de ça ou : / ou

t’avais juste oublié le :

Mari : non non / j’ai oublié le e

T: d’accord: t’as oublié l’accord

Luca: well / she didn’t do it deliberately but there’s a play on words / on

  • 28 In French, “vert” (green) and “vers” (worm) are homophones, hence the play on words.

[standing up and looking over Marie’s piece of paper] / the earth / can be green / the worm28: [drawing a line in the air with his fingers] / because usually it’s green

T: yes

Luca: can be green / it rhymes and it’s line also at the same time

P: worm!

Luca: no line / the sentence if you prefer!

T: OK we’ve understood / [speaking to Marie] were you aware of that or had you forgotten the:

Mari: non I forgot the e

T: OK the agreement was missing

2.6. Raising awareness of stereotypes and of their effects

43In both classes, distanciation from stereotypes was also achieved with variable intensity when teachers showed the phenomenon and its effects to enable pupils to move from an unconscious, individual use of the stereotype to explicit awareness of common, generalised stereotyping. Becoming aware that a representation is stereotyped also enables pupils to understand why they resort to stereotypes on a regular basis and think in this way.

  • 29 “Direct” because it is expected that teachers’ tools will have an impact on pupils’ learning outcom (...)
  • 30 The emphasis we put on awareness-raising in learning literary writing may differ from the practice (...)

44This choice should not be minimised if we assume, in line with Vygotski (1934/1985), Bruner (1983) or Rabardel (2002), that consciousness is a tool. Becoming aware that the representation according to which poems always include rhymes is a stereotype modifies the relation of individuals to poems, rhymes and that between poems and rhymes. The knowledge of stereotyping phenomena could have been used solely by teachers to diagnose the presence of stereotypes and clear them afterwards without seeking to raise pupils’ awareness of stereotyping processes at work. In one case, the knowledge of stereotyping is a direct29 tool for teachers only and in the other it is also useful to pupils30.

  • 31 This is the case in class 2 where the use of “new” writing stereotypes by adopting another perspect (...)

45However, as far as stereotypes by definition tend to make activities harmonious or homogeneous (Kervyn, 2008b)31, they are most often used unconsciously. But stereotypes would be better used consciously in some learning situations. As a result, the difficulty both for teachers and pupils to become aware of stereotyping should not be minimised.

2.7. Problematising and integrating other cultural and historical markers

46Another approach – introducing the institutional dimension in the class – was taken in both classes to keep stereotypes at a distance. When the teacher of class 2 and his pupils examined the handbooks of the class to observe poems published as poems and used as instruments for the class, he drew upon institutional approval that is initially outside the school system.

  • 32 Since literary practices and products are turned into an educational topic.
  • 33 For example, a pupil quite freely adapted a poem by Brautigan, “Neuf corbeaux: deux dans le désordr (...)

47This editorial and historical process suggested by Ceysson (2006) among others is important for literature as a school discipline to rely, even indirectly32, on reference social and cultural practices outside the school system. In class 2, published poems are used to observe poets’ practices to turn an ordinary topic into a poem. These are indeed poets, their works and practices that are invited in the classroom and that expand knowledge on poetic writing and representations on poetry. From this perspective, the reuse and transformation by pupils of texts taken from the corpus33 can be interpreted as an engagement to enrich their writing practices and cultural markers.

  • 34 About the poem by Brautigan, “Neuf corbeaux : deux dans le désordre”, and a calligram by Apollinair (...)

48However, the transformation of stereotypes requires their problematisation (Fabre, 1999) by pupils if their ultimate purpose is to open up to reference social knowledge and practices. Indeed, the analysis of oral interaction in class 1 shows that some poems of the corpus are not immediately problematised but first rejected: c’est pas un poème / y a que des chiffres (it’s not a poem / there’re only figures) or even c’est pas un poème / y a pas de texte34 (it’s not a poem / there’s no text). Seeing in these poems “a solvable problem of interpretation” (Tauveron, 2007), overcoming “the problem of the poem” (Siméon, 2003) – or rather looking into it – is for pupils a sometimes difficult condition to distance and integrate new cultural and historical knowledge because of the possible yawning gap between these institutional data and their stereotyped representations of poetry.

3. Conclusion : functioning of distanciatiion and scope of the identified operations

49I will provide a reminder of the approach adopted in this paper to address distanciation in literary writing and raise a few questions and reflections on this approach.

50Broadening discussion through general reflection on the notion of distanciation was crucial to mention its cross-disciplinary dimension and determine the part of common traits and the part specific to each referent discipline. We believe it is necessary for the different didactical fields to take account of distanciation and adapt it to the topics taught. In this regard, we detailed the key role of distanciation in the gradual application of secondarised literary writing. Once this role was detailed, the question of knowing what is taught precisely to foster the development of distanciation and how it is taught remained unanswered. As an answer, we provide common, significant material that, above all, requires distanciation to develop secondarised writing.

51The initiation to stereotyping and turning it into major didactical material to address distanciation implies raising the two following questions: How does distanciation operate when the initiation to stereotyping is privileged? What is the scope of the identified operations? Is it limited to the field of poetic writing or even literary writing? Does it go beyond French didactics? Are these operations valid only for stereotyping? In other words, does the subject-based context strongly transform or reconfigure the general process of distanciation or does the latter remain stable as a general process beyond disciplinary foundations?

3.1. How distanciation functions

  • 35 In the sense that Rabardel (1997, 2002) gives to outil (tool) or instrument (instrument).

52Emphasis will be put on four points concerning how distanciation functions when the initiation to stereotyping is privileged and turned into a tool35 towards secondarised writing.

    • 36 Whose division is part of an inevitably disputable interpretation.
    • 37 That being said, it is not because it is not written that it stops operating unconsciously among pu (...)

    Distanciation functions via several cognitive and discursive operations that are part of the writing process itself or of the discussions on writing. Some of these operations are deeply intertwined36, not necessarily simultaneous or all used in the sequences observed. Some are punctual (for example the shift from the specific to the generic) while others seem more constant37 or diffuse (especially the relativisation of stereotypes). But all are as many possible resources to teach complexity, diversity and generic creativity in literature. Insofar as they were brought to the fore in two classes with different sociocultutral and learning profiles, it is also necessary to investigate the adjustment of these operations or of their teaching according to pupils’ profiles. Distanciation from stereotypes does not necessarily deter pupils from indulging in other stereotypes that are more or less expected by the school system and does not consist in clearing initial stereotypes or any identification to them. Indeed these phenomena endure in other opinions or thoughts on the one hand and in the activity of readers or writers on the other hand as long as they are sensitive to “[…] these certainties that surreptitiously enter the underlying elements of a text […]” (Amossy, 1994, p. 51). As a result, it is easier to think in terms of cognitive or discursive moves that transform differently the uses of stereotyped representations than in terms of removal or even replacement. Thus, as part of a didactics of stereotypes, distanciation does not replace the identification to stereotypes: both supplement and enrich each other.

  1. In the third place, we would like to draw attention to the fact that the multiplication of generic signs of poetricity is crucial to perceive differences and enrich the cultural capital of pupils. In this regard, we agree with Stevenson’s opinion:

“Many poems are “typical” in the sense that their values are high [for many of their properties][…]. Therefore, when we learn to appreciate, criticise or write poems, we must become sensitive to each of corresponding properties. If we became sensitive to only some of them at the expense of the others, we would behave ineffectively because we would leave some aspects of typical poems aside that otherwise we could have appreciated at the price of minimal additional effort” (Stevenson, 1992, p. 179).

53However, we doubt a “minimal effort” will be enough to put stereotypes at a distance when stereotypes are initially strong. More specifically, the abstraction, relativisation, multiplication, problematisation, awareness, “imaginative” interpretation, more generic categorisation, etc. should not be underestimated. In our opinion, the risk of underestimating these operations would be to miss a true transformation of representations and its language expressions.

    • 38 Just as writing and more generally language are also very powerful developmental tools likely to co (...)

    Finally, what about the frequent association between distanciation and awareness? Is it necessary that pupils should be aware of stereotypes or reuse them for this phenomenon to become a tool in their hands? In our opinion, the question should be raised differently. The tools available such as awareness and language activity are instrumental in raising pupils’ capacity building and empowerment. Pupils need to internalise the tools and actions through awareness for self-development as writing individuals. Appropriating, assimilating involves putting activities at a reflexive distance, whether they are based on language or not. In this regard, consciousness is a very powerful developmental tool that can influence the tooling process as well as the design, organisation, and use of tools38. One might deduce that tools are all the more powerful as awareness is high. Therefore, if the pupils of class 2 became aware that they still used stereotypes for writing, it would improve their tools and tooling.

  • 39 In this light, it must be admitted that the idea of consciousness (or some forms of consciousness) (...)

54Supporting this conception is assuming that there are different degrees, levels or forces in consciousness, as Fabre-Cols argued (1990). That being said, we believe that all the situations in which tools are involved do not require the same intervention of consciousness, or even the same intensity of consciousness. The writing situation in class 2 is a case in point: all pupils rewrite a poem based on stereotypes while they are unaware of it. As a means to achieve a situated goal, a tool will gain or not in strength, in effectiveness once it is coupled with the tool of consciousness39.

  • 40 A poem on the sea is rewritten from another perspective.

55As for didactics, this conception brings us back to the importance of the educational situation. Pupils will be requested to take a more or less conscious approach to the considered tool depending on the situation (such as chosen by the teacher or as it will really take place). The analysis of the two sequences largely verifies this viewpoint. Indeed, in the situation of class 240, stereotypes can clearly play their role of writing tool while the situation or how activities are handled requires less self-reflection than in the learning situation chosen for class 1. However, introducing situations in which awareness is necessary remains crucial to raise the potential of the tool stereotype and hence raise the gradual mastery of this tool as well as the mastery and autonomy of pupils.

3.2. Scope of operations and work described

56Finally, the second question is about the didactical value of the operations mentioned and on the opportunities to transfer or transpose them in other fields. Addressing this question, as crucial as it is, seems particularly difficult because we lack comparative data. However, we can legitimately assume that the stereotyping or stereotype material remains relevant to work on distanciation whatever the field considered, simply because this material is at the crossroads of every field and learning often involves distanciation.

57Some identified operations are also considered important to develop knowledge in other disciplines. For example, the integration of cultural and historical markers is not proper to the teaching of literature. The shift from the specific to the generic case is a distanciation mechanism that is also described in information and communication sciences: for “educational” purposes, Michel (1992) advises training to “vision from above”, which consists in identifying generic cases beyond specific cases. Raising pupils’ awareness to their initial, sometimes stereotyped representations is largely valued and practiced in sciences.

58For all these reasons, we tend to assume that working on distanciation from stereotypes as part of literary writing also contributes to the more global development of the basic capacity to take distance.

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Notes

1 Originally published in Repères, 40, 2009, 155-174

2 In psychoanalysis and in the sciences of information and communication, the emphasis is also put on the alternance between distanciation and identification or even projection. For example, Michel (1992) in his approach to the media pointed out that many authors have since 1985 emphasised the need to have the appropriate critical distance to avoid “media-related alienation”, loss of autonomy and dynamism of the viewer or listener. In this light, distanciation seems to guarantee the freedom of social actors.

3 Identification or participation can go as far as overshadowing the fictional and poetic part of the work to the benefit of referential illusion. Afterwards, readers pretend that it’s “real” and more or less naively adhere to this realm of imagination and environments that are part of them and prevent them from drawing a clear line between reality and imagination (François, 2006).

4 The sense given here to secondarised or secondarisation covers the sociological and didactical approaches taken by Bautier and Goigoux (2004) and by Jaubert and Rebière (2005) insofar as each in their own way points to a cognitive and discursive learning approach that relates to the notion of distanciation.

5 These are Thierry Lamarque and Jérôme Faux. We are grateful to them for the time they spent and the interest they showed in this research.

6 This symbol is used to mark pupils changed line in their compositions.

7 See especially the proceedings in five volumes of the symposium “Stereotyping, stereotypes: ordinary functioning and staging” (Boyer, 2007).

8 See the document published by the French ministry of education École et collège: tout ce que nos enfants doivent savoir. Le socle commun de connaissances et de compétences (Scéren CNDP, 2007) and our analysis of this document (Kervyn, 2008c).

9 The collective analysis was conducted by the 2 teachers who carried out the experiment, 5 teachers who did not but were involved in the project and the researcher.

10 For a detailed presentation and a complete analysis of these sequences and of the experimentation protocol, see Kervyn (2008a).

11 The abbreviation T stands for Teacher.

12 La lune est scintillante # comme une étoile filante # La lune brille # comme une bille # La lune éclaircit la nuit # comme quand c’est la pleine lune # La lune ressemble au soleil # mais elle est dans la pleine nuit. (The moon is sparkling # like a shooting star # the moon shines # like a marble # the moon lightens the night # as when it is by full moon # the moon looks like the sun # but it is in a pitch-dark night)

13 Writing poems was part of a global work project on the sea. In class 1, pupils had no thematic constraint.

14 Dans la mer on nage et on s’amuse # Et les bateaux au loin eux aussi sont beaux (We’re swimming in the sea and have fun # And the boats in the distance are beautiful too)

15 The abbreviation P stands for an unidentified pupil in the class.

16 It is strongly but not completely connected with the first insofar as at the end of the sequence in class 1, some pupils did not rely on more formal writing signs and did not mention them either but managed to relativise the scope of those mentioned.

17 See the sense given by the French dictionary Le Robert to the term relativiser : “Faire perdre son caractère absolu (à qqch) en le mettant en rapport avec qqch. d’analogue, de comparable, ou avec un ensemble, un contexte” (Le Nouveau Petit Robert, 1994).

18 For a detailed presentation of how imagination is processed in connection with the use of stereotypes in writing, see Kervyn (2009).

19 L’air peut être doux, # ou bien rude # il vient vous claquer sur les joues, # Les matins d’été sur la plage. # Dans la forêt, il est humide. # Il sent un peu la rosée du matin, # ou la moisissure du champignon, # quand c’est la saison. # Bien sûr, il est transparent # invisible # On ne peut le toucher, # Mais il m’aide à vivre, # Je ne l’oublie pas. (The air can be mild, # or freezing cold # and bites your cheeks # on summer mornings on the beach # in the forest, it’s humid # it smells a bit of the morning dew # or of the moisture of the mushroom # of course it’s transparent or invisible # you cannot touch it # but it helps me live # I don’t forget it.

20 “New” for those who write them or “new” compared to their previous compositions.

21 Only 3 out of 24 pupils were concerned.

22 La mer est belle quand il fait beau # Elle est belle comme un arc-en-ciel # La mer fait des zig-zags # Les poisons s’accrochent aux algues # Pour jouer avec les algues # La mer ondule, les poissons jouent. (The sea is beautiful when it’s sunny # It’s beautiful like a rainbow # The sea is zigzagging # The fishes hang onto the algae # To play with algae # The sea undulates and fishes play.)

23 Les vagues froides roulent sur la plage pleine de sel, et les mouettes volant jusqu’au port désertique me font penser à un village abandonné […]. (Cold waves are rolling over the sand full of salt and seagulls flying to the desert port make me think of an abandoned village.)

24 J’aime jouer avec les poisons les trouver dans leur cachette # Et danser dans les fonds des eaux bleues. # Admirer les coraux multicolores. # Quand je nage les algues me chatouillent le ventre # Sauter devant les bateaux c’est rigolo ! (I like playing with fish and finding them in their hiding place # and dancing in the depths of blue waters # admiring multicoloured corals # When I swim, algae tickle my belly # Jumping in front of boats is funny !)

25 For example: La mer fait peur avec ses grosses vagues, méfiance, un tsunami pourrait arriver […] le danger en mémoire de tous les hommes. On ne voit plus personne se baigner au risque de mourir noyer […]. (The sea is scary with its big waves. We’d better be careful, a tsunami might strike […] Danger is in the memory of all men. Nobody’ bathing for fear of drowning […].)

26 The idea here is to relate to a whole, as found in the definition of relativisation suggested by Le Robert (2004)

27 Blabla # Moi je suis dans une réunion très importante alors blabla # Moi je suis dans le bus alors blabla # moi je suis chez moi alors Chut # Rom pich. (I attend an important meeting so … # I’m on the bus so … # I’m at home so quiet #)

28 In French, “vert” (green) and “vers” (worm) are homophones, hence the play on words.

29 “Direct” because it is expected that teachers’ tools will have an impact on pupils’ learning outcomes without the latter having direct access to these tools.

30 The emphasis we put on awareness-raising in learning literary writing may differ from the practice of artists. But failure to make the procedures explicit might increase background-related cultural inequalities between pupils. Therefore, we believe that it is a necessary teaching/learning practice.

31 This is the case in class 2 where the use of “new” writing stereotypes by adopting another perspective contributes to work. Their availability, low cognitive effort and familiar aspect make the activity easier but do not favour distanced questioning among pupils who are engaged in performing a task without being conscious of stereotypes.

32 Since literary practices and products are turned into an educational topic.

33 For example, a pupil quite freely adapted a poem by Brautigan, “Neuf corbeaux: deux dans le désordre”, and wrote a text entitled “10 animaux dont 1 intrus”. It consisted of 10 names of animals scattered all over the piece of paper.

34 About the poem by Brautigan, “Neuf corbeaux : deux dans le désordre”, and a calligram by Apollinaire.

35 In the sense that Rabardel (1997, 2002) gives to outil (tool) or instrument (instrument).

36 Whose division is part of an inevitably disputable interpretation.

37 That being said, it is not because it is not written that it stops operating unconsciously among pupils.

38 Just as writing and more generally language are also very powerful developmental tools likely to contribute to the emergence of other tools, their organisation and use.

39 In this light, it must be admitted that the idea of consciousness (or some forms of consciousness) is not always the appropriate means that can even de detrimental to the activity or the completion of the goal sought.

40 A poem on the sea is rewritten from another perspective.

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References

Electronic reference

Bernadette Kervyn, « Unfolding the process of distanciation to write literature at the end of primary school », Repères [Online], Hors-série | 2013, Online since 12 September 2013, connection on 14 December 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/reperes/504

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