Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Can We all just Read Along?

Today was another crazy day at school. No fights today (I told my seventh period class that they could get their fight for the day out of the way just as class started, and half of the class jumped up. *facepalm*), but I did have a student curse me out when I told him he had to work on his assignment for the day. Ah well, can't have a day without writing an office referral.

I was reading my Twitter feed looking for some inspiration for today's post (I have a post in the works for tomorrow about my adventure this past weekend), and as usual Aaron Eyler rides to the rescue. Unlike posts which I either agree or disagree 100% with the blog post, this one has me a bit torn because I see and actually agree with both sides of the issue. In his article Reading: For School or Pleasure?, Eyler posits that it's counterproductive for students to read books for school that are inherently disconnected and disdain because of their irrelevance like your standard bog fare high school literature text. He rounds out the post by asking teachers to ensure that students read relevant and engaging works, and strangely enough, perhaps giving students a choice of what books to read for their assignments.

As a Reading teacher at a school where my critters pretty much refuse to read anything, I see the allure of the concept of just finding anything that will stick and run with that, but in my experience, the stuff my kids want to read is absolute pants. Our school does Accelerated Reading and we spend 15 minutes of every class in silent sustained reading, and most of my students don't even bother to bring in their books to read. To ensure they're reading, I grabbed a variety of discarded magazines from the library, and they all flock to Sports Illustrated and Ebony, but for some reason Business Week gets left alone. I would like to think that they're getting reading in, but considering the struggle I have in keeping them in their seats because they flip through an entire issue in a minute and attempt to get a new issue, I'm not that gullible.

As for those that bring their books to class, I guess I should be jumping for joy that a student that would otherise not read is reading the Twilight series from cover to cover, but it's Twilight for Pete's Sake! The rest of my slow students don't even read anything that reaches that level of literary sophistication. My honor students read popular young adult literature, but at least there's some quality there. I know that reading is a skill that requires practice, and the best way to practive is to practice doing something you'd enjoy, but what's the value of the practice if it isn't challenging, or is only for the purpose of practice, a single-purpose instrument that Alton Brown would hate oh-so-much.

I admit that I'm rather curmudgeonly when it comes to my concept of good literature, but my reasons are mainly because literature is a rather important method of transferring values and culture from one generation to the next. Maybe it's because it's my background in history, but I see too much value in the literature of the past for students to ignore because it's not "relevant." Yes, I hated reading Dickens when I took British Literature, but when I taught British Literature, he was the perfect vehicle to explain exactly what early Victorian life was like for the masses, and I used it liberally.

I think there's a middle ground on this issue, and I think my class may have the key to this. As I stated, I have a dedicated time each day for them to read books and magazines of their choice that gives them the practice they need through a medium that is "relevant" for them, but for the remainder of the class, I get to introduce them to literature that they in no way they would ever look at, much less appreciate. It's far too amusing to see at times the students become wrapped up in a story like O. Henry's A Retrieved Reformation where they made a connection to the character who's a criminal-gone-straight. In the end we all win; the kids read something they find interesting and I get to transfer some values from one generation to the next. At least I get to do that. Now if they only would get around to actually comprehending what they read. Ah well, one mountain at a time I guess.

Until next time.

1 comment:

schmidty said...

I woke up this morning and decided to read "Across Five Aprils" by Irene Hunt to all my classes. You notice I am reading it to them. We are on the precipice of the Civil War, so I think that if we start now, we might finish up sometime before May. I am taking 12-15 minutes at the end of every class and we are going to read this damn book whether they like it or not. Today was day one, and they seem to like it. They all had out their copy and were following along, so I will keep you updated. At least they should all make their AR goal if I can get it done.