hahahaha…i belong to the english teachers’ group and hardly ever make a comment. however, someone posted this video about reading and it struck me. then i read all the comments and couldn’t help responding. i’ll probably be laughed out of the group, but who cares?

anway, here’s the video, and below that, my response….


i am fascinated by this discussion-turned-argument and am almost scared to add my two cents. but, it’s summer vacation, and i’m more than a little relaxed, so here goes…. two years ago i taught a group of “honors” juniors. this was definitely THE most challenging class i have ever had (which is saying something because i spent 10 years working with behaviorally handicapped 7th graders!) this junior class would not read anything i assigned; i gave them quizzes (some announced and some not) and more than three quarters failed–not just a few times, but every time. i called parents, i had conferences with students, i tried to talk with fellow teachers; nothing worked. one day, i had had enough and asked the class to help me understand what was going on–after all, i had an english degree, was consistently rated high on my observations, and was following the prescribed curriculum for 11th grade (which in north carolina is american lit). one student blurted out cruelly that “english is boring; we don’t learn anything new. all we do is read a book, answer questions, and move on to something else.” and this is with me trying to add in the reader response/dialectical journal, student choice, and cooperative learning.

this past year, though, i fell into a different issue. i had read penny”s book the summer after that horrible junior class, and decided to start my classes with reading. yes, they read YA books–but so did i. i had to read more than they did so i could suggest titles and authors. and i had to read what students suggested for me (because how could i expect them to read what i suggested if i wasn’t brave enough to do the same thing?). and believe me, i have read so many vampire books and fantasy type series that i see the undead all over the place!! but, i had students tell me the same thing that the kids in the video said: they didn’t consider themselves readers; hadn’t read a whole book since 5th or 6th grade; hated reading. i stuck with the beginning of class reading, though. my kids kept reading logs, vocabulary lists, and had a book “test” once a month (adapted partly from kelly gallagher’s book and other resources). once a week, we shared the best 3 vocab words in groups from each student then chose 2 words from each group for the whole class to learn and created word walls. when they used these words in their writing, they highlighted or circled them–and i saw growth in vocabulary that i had not seen before. i also used their books as grammar instruction. POWERFUL!!

in my literature classes, i used a similar format–beginning of the class choice reading and same vocabulary/grammar procedures; but i added a curriculum focus–what we had to read as a group. however, i used more excerpts and short texts and ditched the long novels–i could hold those up as possible choice books, and actually had many more students ask for them. i organized this reading thematically, so every time we discussed a text, i related it to the unit theme; but the students’ job was to relate their choice books to our current theme. this took work and thinking and lots and LOTS of writing (notes, excerpts, interpretations). no one complained about this being too hard, though. it was almost like they had been waiting for the opportunity to show what they knew.

did every one of my 180 students read at least 3 books each semester? no–but did each of them show growth? definitely, yes! my writing scores were higher than they have been in the 5 years i’ve taught at this level; and i had the only 4 students who made the highest score possible on the test–and not all of them were in an honors class. there is much i plan to do differently to tweak what i feel was a strong reading program; but this past year was the absolutely most successful year i have had in terms of engagement and noticeable improvement in writing. and, frankly, there is no better feeling in the world than to have a class beg for “five more minutes” to read.

well, that story was a little too long, and I should apologize. I won’t, though; it needed to be told. I think English class should be the place where ideas are encouraged and accepted—there are no right answers in terms of interpretations, right? Isn’t that what the deconstructionists taught us? So whether a student gets to the learning through a YA book like twilight or the hunger games or pretty little liars or are you there, god, it’s me, Margaret or through classics like the odyssey or romeo and Juliet or huck finn, then so be it. I just don’t think its okay to bash YA lit or reading choices and become snobbish that only dead-white-guy-classics are better suited for our students. (okay, I could totally use some quotes from the move, accepted, but I think I’ll leave that for another day! Haha…)