professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Tabula rasa

Over the years, our holiday traditions have shifted. But no matter who might be missing or added to the mix, there is one that pretty much remains at the center of our Christmas. After Mass and dinner on Christmas Eve, we all settle down to watch "A Christmas Story." Of late, some of the gifts the next morning hearken back to the movie. This year it was notepads with characters from the movie on the cover. We have leg lamp night lights, bunny slippers, and other novelties. Even better, we can look at one another and announce, "I triple dog dare you," and know the reference. This background experience we bring makes our watching of the movie deeper, richer, and more enjoyable. It is comforting to know that all will end well.

As I was reading my Facebook and Twitter feed this morning, one of my friends mentioned feeling like she ended up as a character in DEAD END IN NORVELT. I grinned in recognition of the reference. Others might ask questions about it. What we bring to text makes a difference, does it not? Someone might read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS through a different lens having lost a loved one to cancer. Others might read WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS from a different perspective if they have lost a loved and cherished pet. Someone on Twitter talked about seeing THE POLAR EXPRESS as a story on faith and belief and not just a Christmas story. And so it goes. What we bring to the text often influences our responses to it. That background might make a text difficult to access if the experience we bring is a painful one. Or sometimes our lack of background can make text inaccessible. For instance, no matter how many episodes of THE BIG BANG THEORY I watch, I still do not comprehend string theory (see this wikipedia entry and look at how it might confound a reader:

The old concept of a child as a blank slate (tabula rasa) is one that rears its head every once in a while in education. It allows us to set benchmarks and make sweeping statements about when and how kids should be able to do something. And then think of how theories have had to be revised or even rejected. But in for a penny, in for a pound (and more on this in a minute). So, NCLB becomes the law of the land. Ditto CCSS. Without any sort of "trial" implementation or adjustments before launching it across the country. Most states made the commitment with little questioning and with little knowledge of what CCSS would entail (taking tests on computers in elementary school?).And I will always return to my personal favorite from my days of teaching middle school: the open concept school. Take 1200-1500 middle school kids (in our case it was 6-8 graders) and place them in large open classroom areas where there are no walls separating English from Math or Social Studies classes (Science got a lab so it had walls). Add teachers. Stir. Recipe for disaster as most of us discovered.

Back to the "in for a penny, in for a pound." One recent thread on Twitter centered on phrases that have little meaning anymore: "like a broken record," "carrying coals to Newcastle," and other sayings from previous generations. I still find myself having to explain some of the OLD phrases. They have meaning for me and not for others. Add in regional differences (and even Texas has regions within the state) on top of generational differences and the possibility for different interpretations is possible. So, again, what I bring to a text might be different from that of anyone else.

As we wind down 2012 and begin to publish our best of the year lists (and I am working right now on the posting for the YA winners of the Nerdies Award), keep in mind that books WE love might not be the same ones loved by award committees and vice versa. Also keep in mind that, as we return to our classes after the new year, that texts we love might not be loved as much by all our students. But maybe, just maybe, one of the books we share from our stacks will be the ONE that opens up the possibility of a new lifelong reader being set on her or his path toward the next book and the next one and the next one.
Tags: backgrond experience, ccss, nclb, reading, response

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