professornana (professornana) wrote,

Finishing a book

A blog I read recently included this quote from Samuel Johnson, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” (you can read the entire blog post here:

I recall working on a reader's guide for a book a few years ago. My questions and suggestions were passed along to the author. One remark that struck me had to do with a question I write about symbolism. The author related that she had not consciously meant the symbolism but could see it now that I had pointed it out. LIGHTBULB moment. Was I seeing things not present? Was my reading "right"? I would argue that my reading is a valid one; I can point to the iterations of the symbol in the text and support my reading with specifics. But here is the rub as the author of this blog (Vicki Vinton) points out. There is NO way that this reading can be testing in a multiple choice format. There is no way, I would add, that a machine scoring an essay on my reading would be able to ascertain if I were right or wrong either. And, the bottom line is that the class discussion where kids can offer their reading is the heart and soul of reading literature. It has provided me incredible insight into reading and also given me insight into how my kids are thinking about texts, even at the graduate level.

Reducing reading to a set of skills or standards, to items on a test, to single answers destroys those lightbulb moments, those times when we see kids discover something as they read. It is not something I have shown them nor is it necessarily something the author has shown them. We (the author, me) might have given them a tool, a flashlight to shine along the path and into the corners, but the treasure was theirs to find on their own. That makes the finding even sweeter.

So, do we want to create spelunkers who search those caves, bold explorers who travel an uncharted sea, brave trekkers who ascend a new cliff? Or do we want kids who can find the "correct" answer on a test? Who is more college and career ready? CCSS would have us believe it is the kid who can find the answer the test makers think is the correct one. I think I want BOTH kinds of learning taking place in my classroom. Ultimately, there is a "core" of knowledge, but how my kids apply that knowledge to new situations and texts and kids and classrooms and libraries and staff is just as, if not more, important. By emphasizing skills and standards I worry that we deprive a generation of kids from becoming lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
Tags: craft, meaning, reading, response, skills
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