Falling in Love with Close Reading

close reading

As part of a continuing service for those in my high school’s English department, I am developing this page so that we can have a guided digital discussion about the book Falling in Love with Close Reading, by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. As before, we welcome outside comments, as well, and my only hope is that by doing this everyone will learn at least one new thing to do with students. For me, that’s always the goal, whether I am reading a book or sitting through the most mind-numbing professional development seminars…just take away one thing I can use in my classroom.

If you have any suggestions along the way, please let me know. Otherwise, enjoy the book and jump in on the conversation. Simply click on the chapter heading tabs you wish to view at the top of this page, and you’ll be set to go.

The Myth of Non-Reading Boys

Posted on November 16, 2013 in Uncategorized by larch  Tagged , , , , ,
Source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com

Source: http://3.bp.blogspot.com

For as long as I’ve been teaching, I have heard over and over again that boys hate reading. They won’t do it. They can’t sit still long enough. They’d rather be playing video games if they have to sit inside. The Age of the Literate Boy is often viewed with nostalgia, a vision similar to that above, an indication that the boy reader  is seen as nothing more than a quaint memory from the past that can never be recreated. I wholeheartedly disagree with this view. I don’t think the reading boy is an idea we should give up on. Rather, the reading material for boys that has been enshrined into the canon and forced into their backpacks should be put in its place.

In years past, I have been happy to look around my classroom and see the books the boys have been reading on their own: biographies of sports stars, books on war, fantasy lit, and creative nonfiction. It wasn’t until this year that I assigned outside reading to my classes, and it has been a huge success with both genders. The freedom to read the kind of literature they like to read is unbelievably liberating for these seniors in my class. They were like a toddler testing boundaries in a toy store.

Can I read this?




And I get credit for this?


Can I read Fifty Shades of Gray?

No. Soft porn is off limits for school.

They were tentative, but eventually they recognized the joy of this liberation. A book I have used for ideas on this is Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, by Kelly Gallagher. If I were to develop a canon for teachers, this would make the list (despite the irony of assigning it as required reading).

Many schools have studied the problem of poor reading skills and habits in boys. I found this response to one of those efforts on Twitter.

I really think the solution is much easier than most believe it is…simply let them read about things that they are interested in reading about. Encourage them to read the things that they are interested in. Reward them for reading things that they are interested in. Are there books that they should read? Books that their education would be anemic without? Yes, there are. But if they don’t like reading as an activity because they haven’t been able to read to their interests, how can we expect them to enjoy the beauty of the literature we are introducing them to? I would argue that a healthy balance that weighs a bit more heavily on their own interests is the answer.

Sometimes simple common sense is all we need in education…and often it is so very allusive there.

The Technology Toolbox

Posted on March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized by larch

Photo source: http://www.purematter.com

While reading the March 2013 issue of NCTE’s  Council Chronicle, I came upon an article that provided an a-ha moment for me. It wasn’t necessarily new information, and the idea had been percolating in my mind for some time, but the way it was presented in the article (“Changes in Writing Instruction — the Challenge & the Promise”) was clarifying.

Teachers have been put in the oft-undefined position of having to integrate technology into their lessons. What that means has too many variables to be clear, and it is often frustrating that once we’ve found some program or tool to use in the classroom it has become obsolete in this rapidly changing world. Should I use Facebook? Twitter? What blogging format should I use? Which digital flashcard program is best? Which cloud is easiest to use and which is the most reliable? Should I email it, text it, or tweet it? Should I create a blog or a wiki?

What gets lost in this sea of decisions is the purpose of technology use. The idea is not to impress administrators or entertain the students. The idea is to provide students with avenues of learning that work best for them. The importance is not the facts the students are learning, but the act of learning itself…and the craft of teaching the students how to access their learning in ways that fit their learning styles best.

Heather Lattimer, a professor at the University of San Diego, is quoted frequently in the article, and what she has to say about learning and writing instruction is spot on. Instead of using writing instruction that focuses on writing that is used exclusively in K-12 settings, teachers should be showing students how to write for actual audiences with real-life purposes, a form of writing instruction that the use of technology can provide. Having a real audience to write for, coming armed with a meaningful purpose, publishing thoughts with immediacy, and having access to immediate feedback is not the future of writing — it is the present. Students need to be able to write for that present instead of focusing on teaching them how to pass standardized assessments. Traditional writing instruction is still producing competent writers…for the world of the 1950s. Why are we so far behind and so entrenched when it comes to writing instruction? Certainly a question to look at in the world of composition studies.

Lattimer makes the point that we simply don’t know how our students are going to communicate next month, next year, or in ten years. Therefore, it is not our job to learn every new program that students will be using or trying. Our focus should be on teaching them how to learn and teaching them how to adapt their writing skills to any environment. That’s the work. “We need to teach kids not just the medium or the genre or the particular form, but how to navigate and manipulate structure and form in order to fit with your purpose and your audience,” says Lattimer. “[That] is the crux of what all writing is about: having an idea and being able to communicate it effectively for a clear audience and a clear purpose.”

Yes, I will continue to keep my finger on the pulse of student interest when it comes to communication technology, but more importantly, I will continue to keep my own purpose clear for the audience I am teaching. It’s about building learning skills, and technology is my toolbox. Although I can’t pin down the first person to say it, the statement has become standard in the tech world: “Sometimes the best technology is a pencil.”

And so my blood pressure is ebbing and the murkiness is clearing…roll on.

A facebook conversation…

Posted on July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized by larch

The following facebook conversation took place concerning the following article from The Detroit News. I’m sorry about the awful formatting, but I did what I could:
July 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm
Consider merits of merit pay
 Ingrid Jacques
Imagine yourself a freshly minted teacher, eager to launch into a career of changing the world — one child at a time. But after a year or two in the classroom and long hours and weekends spent grading papers and preparing lessons, the job begins to lose some of its charm. Regardless of how hard you work compared with your peers, your paycheck only reflects your length of service at the school and not how well your students perform.
That’s not much of an incentive structure. Yet that’s how most teachers’ salaries are set in Michigan and around the country. Traditionally, teachers are monetarily rewarded based on their years in the profession and the degrees they attain — and not much else. It’s likely a contributing factor to why half of all new teachers quit within five years.
Slowly, this antiquated system is starting to change. Teachers deserve to be treated as professionals. Thanks to significant education reforms in the Michigan Legislature, how teachers fare in the classroom must now be linked to much more detailed evaluations. Under the revised law, 50 percent of evaluations will be linked to student performance by 2015 — a connection that surprisingly didn’t exist before in most districts. And evaluations will play a larger role in determining whether a teacher earns tenure and who gets laid off.
Merit pay should be part of this equation, too. Some districts are embracing pay based on performance, with teachers unions supporting the change. It could become a trend, says Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Two districts, in Blissfield and St. Clair, recently announced new contracts that include merit pay — not just bonuses. “This is historic,” Van Beek says, considering 85 percent of districts in the U.S. follow uniform salary schedules.
National education advocacy groups like StudentsFirst also support performance pay. Andy Solon, Michigan director for the organization, suggests an effective evaluation system should be linked to compensation. He says it makes sense to pay teachers based on their performance.
Gov. Rick Snyder has also advocated for recognizing and rewarding the best teachers. In his speech on education last year, he said “performance in the classroom should supersede pure longevity.” He also recommended creating a master teacher position, to allow the most effective teachers to mentor others — with the benefit of a higher salary. Simply attaining a master’s degree and staying on the job shouldn’t automatically translate into more pay.
The 2009 “Widget Effect” study by The New Teacher Project, which surveyed 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators in four states, found less than 1 percent of teachers had unsatisfactory ratings. This indicates that excellence isn’t identified and encouraged, and struggling teachers are falling through the cracks. Fifty-nine percent of teachers said their districts weren’t doing enough to compensate and promote great teachers.
Dedicated teachers should find merit pay rewarding. Teachers who fear such a system may be happier in another job.
Ingrid Jacques is a Detroit News editorial writer.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120708/OPINION03/207080306#ixzz20BwNSBCQT

TROY Do you honestly believe this garbage? So when that outstanding educator, again reaches the top of the pay scale and a budget deficit rears it ugly head, who are they going to balance that budget on? You guessed it, that outstanding educator. Another attack on the working class, it’s just packaged a little different.

RICH Considering the fact that the rest of us have worked in a performance-based work environment our whole lives, I would say this is long overdue. Private companies have to reward outstanding employees because the alternative is watching them walk out the door! As far as schools go, I have no problem with my school board using a performance-based wage scale rather a senority-based wage scale. Remember, these are public funds being spent and I’m not a big fan of simply rewarding a teacher because he/she has “senority” when others are more deserving
RICH ‎….”Simply attaining a master’s degree and staying on the job shouldn’t automatically translate into more pay. Dedicated teachers should find merit pay rewarding. Teachers who fear such a system may be happier in another job.”

ANGIE Well said Rich!

JODEE And remember…..the teachers themselves overwhelmingly voted FOR this…..teamwork and confidence. As a school board member, I’m very proud of these dedicated educators.

SCOTT I’m ok with that largely because I don’t teach for raises. I try to get better every year because that’s what a professional does. I want to be evaluated and given tips on how I can improve. It will make be better at what I do and will provide students with a teacher who demonstrates the true meaning of “lifelong learner.” Best case scenario for teachers would be competing districts bidding on their services. That would also be like the “real world.” I’m impressed that my alma mater is on the cutting edge.

TROY So a younger teacher is willing to cut the throat of a teacher with more seniority. For a merit raise? I love this….maybe that younger teacher should consider, the battles that were fought in the past to afford them what they have today. When the School Board and the administration fail to balance the budget, should it be automatic that they resign

RICH So, someone who is 30, who is flat out more talented than someone who is 50, should not be rewarded for it? The good news is that Blissfield teachers don’t appear to be intimidated by performance-based pay since they overwhelmingly voted FOR it. Since both sides were able to negotiate and get it done I also have to believe that Blissfield voters will be pretty pleased as well.

TROY I agree with you Rich, they should both be rewarded for doing a good job. Collective Bargaining takes care of that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t they agree to try the merit system on a trail basis ?

RICH The difference is that I said one of the two is “flat out more talented than the other”. One outperforms the other. That person (in my opinion) should receive additional compensation (regardless of how old they are) for out performing his/her peers. The current system does not reward based on performance. It’s all scale-based and your compensation is based on your education, years of service, without any motivation or reward for being one of the best. Performance-based pay (like the majority of us have) changes that, and students will get even more highly motivated teachers who are compensated for the great job they do. It’s a win/win for students and the top educators in our school systems

TRACY There are huge problems with this, friends. First of all, the state wants us to measure/prove student growth, but they have no idea what tool to use for that – they’ve left it all up to individual districts to figure it out…and there is way too much room for “cheating” and padding scores. Second, the state is mandating all districts use merit-base pay within the next couple of years, but again they have no set formula for us to use – each district can make its own rubric. I’ve seen some of our neighboring districts’ merit-base pay formulas; there are categories such as “schmoozing” in which teachers can earn points/pay. I can also earn more points/pay if I attend sporting events, and if I don’t take any sick days (that I’ve rightfully earned). Really? So, attending a couple of football games at the school where I teach will make me a better 4th-grade classroom teacher? We have our own lives, and we already give so much to our schools. I’m in my classroom at 6:30 every morning. Some days I put in 12 hours at the school…and I ALWAYS bring work home with me. We get no points for that – it’s our job. We spend thousands of dollars on other people’s children. We get no points for that – and it’s not that we want a pat on the back for doing what good teachers do…we just don’t want the rug pulled out from under us every time the school needs to cut their budget. So much of this new evaluation/pay system is subjective. A principal spends about one hour in a teacher’s classroom, and then decides where he/she should fall on the scale. If a 20-year veteran is at the top of his/her game, and at the top of his/her pay scale, a principal with a personal vendetta or with the need to cut costs, could so easily take everything away from that teacher through this new evaluation system

TRACY None of you are in the schools… School Board members are made up primarily of business people who treat our schools like businesses. We are not here to make money…we are here to help build character, bandage wounds of all kinds, and help our future leaders to succeed. I agree that competition can be good, but the competition that our new laws are encouraging is damaging. Paranoia is rampant, and throwing co-workers under the bus has become commonplace. Everyone is worried about data and looking over their shoulders…what about the kids? It’s out of hand.

SCOTT Paranoia: “a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself. (e.g. “Everyone is out to get me.”) Making false accusations and the general distrust of others also frequently accompany paranoia. For example, an incident most people would view as an accident or coincidence, a paranoid person might believe was intentional.” While Wikipedia is not the most reliable source in the universe, I think this does a nice job of encapsulating the idea. I think the bottom line is that change is difficult for people, yet change is imminent and constant…so the competitive part of me, the part that makes me want to be the best at what I do, says, “Bring it on!” when faced with this merit pay issue.
RICH Well put Scott. You are the type of employee that business owners pay top dollar to keep! Why? Because if we don’t, our competition will. Our schools should operate in the same competitive environment.

TRACY Scott – you must be fortunate enough to work in a school where politics and favoritism do not play a part…or, you are in the coveted “inner circle” where these issues do not touch you. So many of us challenge ourselves (and our students) everyday, school year after school year – that’s what we should do and what we should be “rewarded” for. Do not reward the 23-year-old (childless and often spouse-less) newbie for attending all the sporting events she can and, in the end, pay her more than me because I was busy attending my OWN children’s functions. Reward me for what I do in the classroom. And what about the 50-year-old teacher that is still AMAZING in the classroom, but has already paid 20 years worth of dues attending students’ sporting events, concerts, and fundraisers, PTO activities, and after-school programs all out of a sense of duty and commitment… She is now at the top of her pay scale, getting the job done effectively in the classroom, but not able to re-commit to these types of activities at this stage… Get rid of her? Payroll would love that! If you don’t hear ramblings in your hallways about these “threats,” then you’re either losing your hearing or you work in a Utopia

SCOTT Oh, I hear the paranoia in the halls…it is no utopia…and I am in the minority, I am sure. I just come from a different place, I think. I worked in a tough job that paid very little for the first 14 years of my adulthood, and I was grateful for that job. So I don’t have this sense of entitlement that I see in many of my colleagues.I look around at the other parents in our district who work for the auto industry or the real estate profession. They are either getting laid off or let go or taking wage cuts or paying more for insurance and I wonder…why do we think we should be immune to this? If my boss (which is both the state and the district) tells me to do something better, then I’m going to do it better. I may disagree with it, but until I am the one signing the checks, I will do what they say to the best of my ability. I am blue collar through and through, and my folks worked with the mindset that when a company (school) is kind enough to take a chance on you and hire you, put food on your table, and take care of your family’s financial needs (and even some of its wants), then it is your duty to do whatever it is they ask of you to the best of your ability, and do it with a smile. If at some point you can’t smile anymore, you need to move on to something else…If you do these things with integrity and the right heart, then you will always have work. I am owed nothing. I need to earn everything…and so if I have to go to games (company functions), then that’s what I’ll do. If I have to make sure my students perform at a certain level, by God I’m going to figure out how I can do that. I have faith that if I do my utmost, I’ll be rewarded for it in one way or another…and if I’m not, then I have a choice to make…just like any other profession in the world. But that’s just me speaking for me. The other voices are speaking a foreign language to me, so I think I’ll always be on the outside…but I’ll be happy

TRACY I love what I do, Scott…but I feel like I have to “toot my own horn” in order to get paid now – doesn’t that go against your grain? None of us ever got into this profession for the money. I agree – when the day comes that you can’t smile about your job anymore, it’s time to move on. My kids make me smile everyday, and I return the favor…but I won’t get merit pay for smiles. I won’t get merit pay for giving kids lunch money or snacks when they have none, or for giving students hand-me-down clothes when they need them, or for cleaning and bandaging wounds that should’ve been tended to at home, or for giving up countless lunch breaks and planning periods to catch kids up or simply let them vent about personal issues… I could go on, but I’m sure you know what I mean. There was a young teacher in our building this year that carried a notepad around with her and recorded every time she complimented a co-worker. Does it really mean anything if you’re doing it for points? Do we have to pimp ourselves out like this? Embarrassing.

SCOTT So what it really comes down to is that you work in a jank district if that’s what they see as valuable…and I’m sorry for that. But my commentary has run its course. I understand your points, but I choose to disagree on the larger issue of teacher evals and merit pay…and I still love you and respect you. It is clear you love what you do.

Boys…Lots and Lots of Boys

Posted on January 7, 2012 in Education by larch  Tagged ,

I am currently encountering one of the more difficult challenges I have had in the area of classroom management. In one of my classes, I have 21 boys and 10 girls. It is the last class of the day. The large number of boys in the class and the fact that it is the last hour of the day make for some interesting and challenging dynamics.

First, the boys are abnormally chatty. In a class that is more evenly divided in terms of gender, trying to get boys to talk at all is quite a challenge. In my case, the opposite is true. I have 21 guys that simply can’t stop themselves from talking. They talk out of turn, they interrupt, they talk like they’re in a locker room. From the first day of class, it’s been a challenge trying to motivate and manage this class.

I have found that I plan about one third to one half more for this class in terms of activities. There can be no down time. I also find that I  need to circulate constantly and linger on the “boy side” of the classroom to keep them on task. Don’t get me wrong, they are not bad kids. They are smart, and when they are asked to do a task, they do it…but imagine teaching a class full of ADD/ADHD hyperactive kids. That’s what this is like. I am literally exhausted by the end of that class…I am so glad it’s the last class of the day.

Lately, the guys have become extremely rude with their side comments. To nip this in the bud, yesterday I asked all of the girls to go into the hallway, break into groups, and work together to prepare for the quiz we were having over our reading. While they were in the hallway, I had all the guys get up, go to the front of the classroom, and take a knee, much like they would at, say, football practice. I then told them my concerns, and I told them what the consequences would be from here on out if I heard inappropriate things coming out of their mouths. 1) I will say your name. That’s it. That will serve as your warning. 2) If the warning doesn’t work, they will receive a penalty hall and a call home. 3) If this does not stop the problem, they will receive an in-school suspension, another call home, and a conference with their parents.

At the end of the speech, I reinforced their good behaviors…they are smart, they can be really good workers. The guys were very attentive, and during class, there were no problems at all. It should be noted, however, that one of the boys stopped before leaving for the day and told me that when I stepped outside of the classroom to retrieve the girls for the quiz, some of the guys said inappropriate things again.

Baby steps.

Boy Writers

Posted on October 19, 2011 in Education,Male literacy by larch  Tagged , ,

Our school has started a new study, focusing on the book  Boy Writers, by Ralph Fletcher.  Stop on by and add your thoughts.

Male Literacy Professional Development

Posted on September 7, 2010 in Education,Male literacy by larch  Tagged ,

boys adriftLast week, our school had the privilege of having Dr. Leonard Sax speak to us at our professional development day. His book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Men, was the focus of our session. As mentioned in previous posts, our school district is actively involved in reducing the literacy gap between boys and girls.

I have yet to read the book, but based on his presentation, we need to take a new look at how we present information to both boys and girls. He offered a few suggestions that were simple and appeared to be effective in other schools, but the lion’s share of the work is left to us. It was a good jumping-off point for our staff.

The most interesting part of the day was a brief conversation I had with Dr. Sax concerning the book I’ve been writing about on here. He acknowledged having read the book, but he was very adamant that the social constructivist views offered in that book were not what we should be focusing on. He seemed almost annoyed that I brought it up, to be honest. His more scientific and psychological approach is also dismissed by the authors of the other book.

This may be part of the issue when it comes to the centuries-old achievement gap in literacy. Two large schools of thought dominate the conversation, but they each dismiss the other. 

From where I sit, both sides have many convincing ideas and strategies. We must address the psychological and physiological differences, but we must also address the culture-driven aspects of the problem. Neither should be dismissed. Both should be used if we are to begin to solve this discrepancy.

Based solely on his presentation, I highly recommend that anyone working on this same issue should read his book…in fact, read as many books on the topic as possible. As we’re engaged in learning, though, we should also be engaged in professional dialogue. We should also begin implementing initiatives even as we’re talking. The sooner we address this, the sooner the gap will shrink.

If a problem has been around this long, taking sides based on theoretical differences won’t get the job done.

Creating Community: Some Ideas

Posted on August 27, 2010 in Education,Male literacy by larch  Tagged ,

42-15239306This discussion of male literacy has made me search my own past for clues about my own love of reading and writing.  One of the enduring memories from my childhood is of my grandfather. He was a rough man, blue-collar to the core. He worked his entire adult life in a factory as a die caster. As far as I can remember, he always worked second shift, which meant he was always around in the morning and early afternoon. He always — ALWAYS — read a book while he was eating his meals. After lunch, he would read until he dozed off for a quick nap before work. I can still see him on the couch, book on his chest, as his snores filled the air.

Grandpa never curled up with Hemingway (though I have a feeling he would have loved the Nick Adams stories). He read Field & Stream, Zane Grey westerns, and the local newspaper. The key was that he read, and when he was reading, he would tell me about whatever it was he was reading. Here was a man’s man living a literate life. At the time, I was not conscious of the effect his reading had on me, but it is very clear today. He was surrounded by reading material, and there was no one in the world that I looked up to more than him.

While there are many things that can be done in the classroom to enhance the literacy of students, there needs to be a community of literacy surrounding the students to demonstrate that literacy is something that doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We can’t control what happens at home — not everyone has someone like my grandfather in their home. There are plenty of things we can control at school, though. Some ideas:

  • Encourage teachers to read at school. Carry that beach novel with you, have it on your desk, talk about it with students. It doesn’t have to be a novel…it could be a hobby magazine or even a newspaper. If students see their teachers reading — teachers of all subject areas — it will give them a great model for literate living.
  • Years ago, I saw a poster in an elementary school’s teacher’s lounge that listed the books the teachers were reading or had recently read, with columns for comments and ratings. This could be done in all teacher’s lounges, encouraging teachers to read, discuss, and rate the reading they are doing. What effect would it have on students if they overheard their teachers in conversation about these books in the hallways?
  • Teachers could keep a posting of what they are currently reading on their classroom door. Again, not just English teachers. This could instigate conversations with students about the books, showing them that reading is a valued part of their educators’ lives.
  • Departments could keep a reading list on their websites. This could include discipline-specific books and/or the books the teachers in that department enjoy.
  • Teachers could start book clubs. This would not only foster literacy, but it could go a long way towards building friendships among the teachers.

Reading has always been a predictor of good writing, so these ideas that foster reading could have a very positive effect on writing outside of writing instruction.

Any other ideas?

Chevys: Introduction

Posted on August 12, 2010 in Education,Male literacy by larch  Tagged ,

There are three important points that I want to embrace from the introduction of Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys. The first bears repeating.

“If boys are not embracing literacy, we want to think hard about what we can do to help them.”

Here it is again, emphasis added:

“If boys are not embracing literacy, we want to think hard about what we can do to help them.”

The word “we” is used twice here, and that makes perfect sense to me. It is a plural pronoun, and what it indicates in this sentence is that the solution to the gender-gap problem is not something I can produce alone. It will take the collective effort of all stakeholders to create and implement programs to close the achievement gap in literacy. I also chose to emphasize the word “hard.” This is not an easy fix. If it was an easy fix, it would be fixed by now, seeing as the problem has been documented since the 17th century. It is going to take some serious mental elbow grease and a lot of creativity to achieve this goal. As Smith and Wilhelm contend, it will take more than just “averages and conventional methods” to get this done. Outside the box is where we shall meet.

Another interesting facet of this introductory chapter is the use of literacy logs by the authors. Students were to keep track of the whole gamut of literature they encountered every day, whether it was something they read, something they wrote, something they watched, or something they listened to, the boys in this study were to keep track of it in the log. This log was also used to determine whether the literature the boys interacted with was done so in school, in the home, or elsewhere. Literacy doesn’t just occur in the fishbowl of the classroom.

Finally, Smith and Wilhelm state the obvious:

“The implications of our data offer a profound challenge to American schooling and the traditional teaching of English.” Really. Really? It has been waiting to become a challenge for hundreds of years. Why has it taken this long for teachers to make a concerted effort to eradicate the learning gap?

It’s time for all of us to step up, step out of the box, work and think hard, and remove the gap for the sake of all students.

Chevys: Foreword

Posted on July 27, 2010 in Education,Male literacy by larch  Tagged ,

I am often guilty of skipping over forewords and introductions in books so that I can get right to the meat of a book. I am glad I took the time to read these sections of this book, however, because Thomas Newkirk provided an excellent foreword for the readers of this study. Below are some of the thoughts I found particularly noteworthy.

Literacy, at least in the lives of the young men in this study, is an intensely social construct. Young men want to read material that they can discuss with their buddies. We need to find a way to connect the literature we present them with to the social networks they are already involved in. I found this interesting, as girls are generally thought of as the social gender. It is not, however, surprising.

It didn’t take a lot of reminiscence to conjure up memories of my own high school days. I loved talking with the fellas. We just didn’t talk about books from school. I distinctly remember a period of time when all we did talk about was Steve Martin’s book Cruel Shoes. It was funny and irreverent, and my circle of friends spent months memorizing quotes, sharing those quotes, and riffing off of those quotes. It wasn’t that we didn’t like to read…we just didn’t like reading Light in August.

Another point that hit home was Newkirk’s observation that “computer games often have the characteristics of ideal learning environments.” As evidence, he points to problem-solving skills, varying levels of difficulty, and steady feedback. It is this last characteristic that I feel is lacking the most. The question is, though, how can teachers provide this steady feedback on literacy skills? How much time would that take? What would it even look like?

Finally, he points to the fact that boys (and girls) are often “over-matched” by the literature assigned from the canon. Certainly there are other novels that would more closely match the interests and experiences of the modern high school student, so why are we so stuck on the canon? Is it imperative that they read from the canon, or is it more important to build their reading skills so that they can actually enjoy the canon when their skills are not over-matched by the literature?

Some say that there is no easy answer here…I disagree. I tend to think the answer is easier than anyone thinks. The changes that will have to take place are hard, though. Change is hard for me, at least. I am a defender of the canon, and I think it should be taught…but it shouldn’t be taught the way it was taught to me. I think that there should be some middle ground here…more contemporary works that are meaningful to the students, as well as a new instructional pattern for the classics. But I could be wrong…I am still in the foreword…

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