professornana (professornana) wrote,

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One step forward, five steps back

Here is a headline from a recent issue of Smart Brief (and, really, we need to call this something other than Smart Brief because sometimes it is not very smart and it is often not brief either): "Any teacher can teach Charles Dickens to any student -- despite the complexity of the text." It is linked to a lovely piece in The Guardian about a teacher who loves Dickens and offers way to help students deal with Hard Times.

I know that a teacher who is passionate about a book can often motivate students because of her or his passion. That is terrific; when we model enthusiasm for a book, we "bless the book" (and I cannot recall who initiated this term, but I love it). I think my concern here is that all kids need to be brought to a reading of this ONE Dickens title. Or brought to a classic novel for that matter. I am not dismissing Dickens. A fifth grade teacher turned me off the his works by dissecting Great Expectations when I was 10. I have disliked Dickens ever since (though I recognize his literary efforts). This idea of taking classics, making them the basis of a whole class dissection, is something that can make even the most avid reader shy away. Kelly Gallagher takes about this in READICIDE. Before Gallagher, though, there were numerous studies that talked about intensive versus extensive reading. There is a long history that spending weeks on one in-common novel does not result in much more than passing test scores. And occasionally it results in folks like me, a former English major with a strong distaste for Dickens.

It seems we keep having this discussion over and over (the research goes back to the 1930s). If we wish to create lifelong readers, we need to understand that dissecting a work over the course of days and weeks is NOT how lifelong readers operate. Donalyn Miller talks about READING IN THE WILD, and I wish everyone would take time to read this remarkable book. AS AN ADULT AND A WILD READER, I do not spend days or weeks analyzing words and phrases and paragraphs in a book. Yes, I might make a notation in the book or scribble some thoughts on paper. But I do not dissect a book the way we did on that fifth grade classroom or even in my college courses.

And one more note, if I allow for choice, I do not have to worry nearly as much about motivating kids to read. They pick the book; there is motivation built in there. We need to be making more strides forward and not allowing anyone to push us back. It is time to move on.
Tags: class novel, extensive, intensive
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