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31 August 2012 @ 07:42 pm
The invisible element  
Okay, this is not a reference to the debacle of last night's conversation with an empty chair at the RNC Convention, I promise. Instead, it is about one of the elements involved in reading that is, for the large part, invisible in the process/act. What is the invisible element? It has been called many things. The best one, I think, is RESPONSE. i think response is that element that makes the difference between a book I read and one I savor. Response is the difference between a book I read and forget and one that haunts me after the reading has ended. Response is the difference between a book I love and perhaps one that someone else feels "meh" about.

I talked to a friend this morning about our favorite books, the ones we think will get some play in January when the awards are announced. We agreed on a couple of titles, mentioned a couple of titles the other had not read yet (but moved higher in the TBR pile). But there were a couple of titles which my friend loved and I did not and vice versa. In the case of one title, I think, the difference was because my response is colored by my personal reaction to the book, a reaction my friend did not have. I treasure these conversations, the ones where there is disagreement and passionate discussion. It is one of the things I have loved about serving on selection committees: passioned debate and differences in responses, shared professionally. On one committee, I moved from thinking a book we were considering was just "meh" to finding it had much more depth than I had seen initially. It was the other committee member's passion and the response to the text that made me look at the book again. And my response shifted and changed. Powerful stuff.

Back to the classroom: some of my favorite classes from the past (when we had FTF meetings) centered on those impassioned discussions about texts where there was disagreement, too. I can still recall one student bringing another around to looking at a book from a fresh perspective because of his response. "Never thought to look at it that way," was the comment that turned the discussion on a dime.

Without talk, I wonder if that invisible element is ever made visible, though? Way back when I was working with middle school students, my colleagues and I (looking at you Lois Buckman and Bob Seney) used Terry Ley's DIRECTED INDIVIDUALIZED READING as our approach to talking to kids about books. The conversations we had with middle school kids was so rich and rewarding even when we were talking about SVH and Babysitter's Club. We talked beond plot and character and delved into more abstract aspects of books. And the kids were the leaders.

Even now, my friends and I talk about our responses to books. Response has become a visible element of our talk. I think we need to make it visible to our kids as well. How a book affects you (or fails to do so) matters. Response matters. Thank you, Louise Rosenblatt and Bob Probst for making me keep that element of response front and center.
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