|Scooped by GoogleLitTrips Reading List|
I've been doing a lot of reading about reading and have noticed an underlying theme. About half of those in the 18-24 year old range, who graduated from high school, including those who go on to college, stop choosing to engage in literary reading. And among those 18-24 year olds who graduated from high school and did not go on to any higher education the percentage of those who pretty much stop choosing to engage in literary reading approaches 70%!
I've previously referenced this data collected by the National Endowment for the Arts 2008 report specifically addressing literary reading and, videos such as "Why Kids Don't Read What is Assigned in Class" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gokm9RUr4ME
It seems like we address literacy issue if students can't read or we teach literary reading primarily as a training ground for future English majors, assuming that a heavy emphasis upon practicing literary analysis is the logical next phase. Truth be told, I too spent the vast majority of my own career leaning heavily on deep reading as a valuable skill for college readiness. And, I took great pride whenever I discovered that a former student had been inspired to become an English major or even and English teacher as a result of some life changing pivotal experience he or she had had while exploring this or that piece of literature in my class.
But I can't help but wonder about how many students, whose interest in reading fiction had never really taken root or had begun to fade in middle schoo, found themselves becoming more interested rather than less interested in personal reading as a result of the experiences they had in high school English classes.
It's easy to excuse ourselves from revisitng the actual effectiveness of "allowing our students" to do a bit of personal reading in addition to the required reading or to attempt to make reading of the canon "fun" via various opportunities to do related projects, posters, book trailers, and other "more enjoyable" assignments. I did plenty of those as well. And, there's no doubt that interest and enthusiasm for doing those kinds of assignments is significantly higher than are the typical levels of engaged interest in doing traditional literary analysis essays. And I did plenty of those too.
Now don't get me wrong, I became an English teacher as a result of discovering, via a couple of exceptional English teachers, the treasures that great literature and deep analysis brought into my life. And, the value of forcing my brain to practice the articulate expression of my understandings via the strict attention to logic demanded by the robot essay, oops, I mean through the five paragraph essay structure.
But, I went into high school liking to read. I read mostly what my high school teachers told me was "junk," but I did like to read. Romeo and Juliet? Not so much, at least not until someone tuned me into the bawdy Nurse. And, I found the nurse's bawdiness not so interesting as I found Shakespeare's cleverness in phrasing those "naughty jokes." He could be almost as funny as Mad Magazine's Mort Drucker, Dave Berg, and Don Martin. The cleverness of Shakespeare's bawdiness was reminiscent of the intriguing edginess I'd discovered in Shel Silverstein and Charles Addams.
It's a delicate balance moving kids from a wide range of interest and disinterest in literary reading to a deeper personal engagement and appreciation for literary reading. The challenge is to develop or move forward their existing relationship with reading without killing it. It's dangerous to assume that those who do well in our classes because they do well on quizzes, essays, class discussion, and projects are the "good readers" and that those who don't are not. The difference is more about their personal engagement with and appreciation for reading. And truth be told, many of them find much of what is done in the name of promoting literary reading to be disengaging. I actually wonder how many pubescent 14 year old boys actually find all that romance in Romeo and Juliet interesting. And I wonder whether how well or how poorly those boys do on the associated quizzes, projects, class discussions, essays and project-based learning experiences is any real indication of whether they enjoyed or found real value in reading the play. Or, whether the quality of their effort had more to do with their interest in getting good grades whether they benefited from the story or not.
I didn't get horrible grades, but I really didn't care much about getting good grades either. As a freshman and sophomore, I went through a phase of reading baseball stories both fiction and non fiction. I found myself in those days discovering a book called Fear Strikes Out by Jimmy Piersall. At the time, my understanding of his struggles with bipolar issues was thin at best. He was just a famous baseball player who was acting crazy. But, I was so engaged with that seemingly impossible combination that I couldn't put that book down. Whether I recognized it or not, I really enjoyed that book because I found myself caring deeply about whether Piersall would win his personal battle or not AND seeds of very valuable empathy for others who struggled with "normalcy" took root. And, that enjoyment based in my interest in baseball led me not too long thereafter to read books about Satchell Page and Jackie Robinson. They weren't in the canon, but they were about baseball and in learning more about the backside of the sport's history that I had had no previous idea about. More empathy. And because I'd begun to appreciate empathy, even though I had absolutely no interest in track and field in later years when history classes brought Jesse Owens and Babe Didrikson Zaharias came up in class, I found myself open to their stories not merely as great athletes but as major figures in the progress of race and gender history.
So what's this all have to do with this scooped article? Even more important than tending to the next crop of English majors is cultivating a next generation of young people who leave our care loving to read for the intrinsic value they have come to believe is the reward for life long reading.
I've been hearing a lot about teachers integrating a version of Google's "20% Time" into their classrooms. For an excellent overview of this concept see my friend Lisa Thumann's overview here: http://thumannresources.com/2013/01/09/20-percent-time/
Some may think devoting a full day or period a week to a personal project is beyond doable and start with pilot program implementations such a "10% Time" where a full day or period every other week is tried. Others often have pilots that are more like units than full year or semester long committments.
But this article posing personal reading as challenges to be selected or developed by the students themselves either as individual projects or perhaps as small group projects seems like a potential structure for giving students the opportunity to start from a personal interest that can be fed by reading and designed to lead to serendipitous deeper appreciation for reading beyond any initial anticipated rewards.
I'd suggest that we consider making life long literary reading our number 1 goal and development of future English majors and English teachers also a very important but perhaps a secondary goal.