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10 April 2017 @ 02:52 pm
Teaching a novel  
I know that I am more than a little bit of a curmudgeon. And as I grow older, the curmudgeon in me surfaces easily. So when I read a number of tweets and posts about "teaching" a novel, it simply set my curmudgeon teeth on edge. I teach students, not novels. My children's lit class reads ore than 75 books a semester. The YA class reads about 25 books. I do not teach any of them. Students read the books. They respond to the books on a blog they create. They tie in other books, trailers, and the like. I do not take any title and "teach" it.

The books I was taught throughout school are mostly books I detest. I hated them as we dissected them, read them piecemeal (a chapter at a time), and wrote essays about them. There were few that required I make dioramas. So, here I am, an English teacher, who does jot care too much for Dickens or Hawthorne, or a handful of other authors whose works were "taught" to me. And I am to the only one.

I posted my concern about this phrase to Facebook, and the comments poured in. Here is a sampling.

"Ugh! I really resented how teachers would dissect novels. Then we had to regurgitate their opinions back or fail. Thank goodness I loved books so much that they couldn't kill the passion."

"One of the reasons I became an English teacher is the way our 9th grade English teacher "taught" GREAT EXPECTATIONS: one chapter a day followed by a 10 pt quiz and seats assigned by the score we received with the smarties up front and those less fortunate at the back. I hated it! And woe to you if you read ahead."

"The book does any relevant teaching, not the person. The same book does not work for all nor does it impart the same "learning" to different readers. Imposing your epiphanies often leads to students hating you, the book, or both. DON'T TEACH BOOKS, that's mean! Provide books and listen. Ask a question or two."

"s a novelist, I think about this, and I think about the way I "learned" novels, and in all honesty, it made it harder for me to become a writer.

The point of a novel is to give a reader a chance to live another life--to feel joy and sadness and fear, and to understand how those emotions (and others) manifest in others. There is also intellectual content, yes. But it's the emotional content that keeps readers engaged and turning pages.

We are taught, I think, to avoid this emotional content. Or to think of it as secondary to the intellectual. And this is a mistake. We'd never read a book twice or watch a movie twice if not for the emotional experience given by this particular art form. We already know what happened and to whom--that's the intellectual content.

So, as I study books now, I pay attention first to the emotion. And I ask myself what an author has done so brilliantly that is making me feel a real emotion using only paper and ink. All of the choices have worked together, and those choices are what readers can talk about, and this is the discussion that helps us understand this quintessential aspect of consciousness: feeling." From MARTHA BROCKENBROUGH

"I'm pretty sure that the novels I was "taught" are the ones I've entirely forgotten (I'm looking at you, Silas Marner and most of Dickens). The ones I *felt* though...those I remember."

"In all of my classes - children's lit, elementary methods and secondary methods we don't talk about children or students for at least a month. We focus entirely on ourselves as readers as a way to reconnect with the intimacy of individual interactions and to help us better articulate pedagogical thinking."

" agree . . . just talking about this during morning session at a school. What we want is not to teach "a novel" but help kids grow into novel readers, article readers, poetry readers. Without seeing those intertextual connections and being sensitive to author's craft at creating engaging texts, we aren't teaching. If we teach "a novel," we so limit the reader and really--we are doing what we abhor about AR!"

You can read more comments here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessorNana

So, what does all this mean? I think there are some issues we need to point out: the need for CHOICE and DIVERSITY and ACCESS. These are three of the issues Donalyn Miller and I are writing about in our book on who owns reading. We believe readers should own reading. But how can they when educators select the reading for everyone? How can we hope to encourage students to read and to read widely if we do not allow them to take ownership, to make choices about books. Does that mean we simply sit by idly? Nope. I still do book talks. I post my reading on social networks. And in my lit classes, I offer some choice as well. And I ensure that diversity is already there on the reading lists. I need to practice what I preach, right?

So maybe I was being a curmudgeon, a bit nitpicky. But I seem to have struck a chord with folks who are about helping readers develop into lifelong readers. We teach kidS, and we need to keep our focus on the readers.
 
 
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