Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Are we what we read?

I have always been an advocate for my scholars to make their own choices in what they read. Their choices tell me a great deal about who they are. When they write about what they read, they tell me even more. Watching people read when I ride public transportation has always interested me. Some believe we read on public transportation to hide, to stay anonymous, to prevent eye contact. When on a plane and given the option to watch a movie, a television show, play a game or read, reading comes in last. What we read and even how we read adds to the mix. Some people read the free papers in the morning, which eventually litter the trains, buses, and streets. Fewer read on an electronic device. Newspapers outnumber magazines which outnumber books. Students are more book oriented. Finally the most intriguing place to observe what people read is at the beach. The common denominator is that people read and that is good. Does it matter what our scholars read?

I don't think so. What is crucial is that each scholar becomes a functional reader. How will reading benefit hir life? What is important is that s/he can read directions to fill out forms like college applications, applications for employment, and governmental forms for benefits. Once we become functional then the next step involve being able to read directions for class, assembling and operating things, getting from here to there, and cooking. As readers learn that reading leads to better things, a better life, a better self awareness. As readers are introduced to different things to read, they will become more aware of themselves, become proficient readers. It all begins with "text to self."

Programs abound to help our scholars become better readers. One program in Connecticut has a "prescription" type program to help encouraging reading. The key for me is that it is across the curriculum and not coming just from the Language Arts Department. A school district in Missouri has employed technology to improve the reading skills of their scholars. I'm not sure "book" reading is the key to better reading as some believe. As Atwell says, some of those voices, the book publishers, are profiting by promoting book reading. I promote reading, but most of the reading done in my class is online. Access and diversity are key for me. Much of what we read is print published not available to me which is why I prefer online reading sources for the immediacy of access. I believe we are confused by the term "literature" when it comes to discussing reading. It isn't the canon anymore, that has changed because we have changed. We all have different definitions for literature, but one common concept is that books and literature are synonymous. I see this constantly when scholars tell me that they have been told to use two novels on Task IV of the NYState Regents ELA exam that asks the scholars to use "two pieces of literature" to respond to the critical lens. They are shocked when I tell them they can use a poem, a short story, a play, and an essay as well since they, too, are pieces of literature. We read to be better citizens.

Eventually we want the scholars to write about their reading. Reading informs our writing. We write to inform ourselves about what we know and to communicate. Both of these qualities are very important in my class. To verify what they have read and have understood what they have read, I ask them to write essays about what they have come to understand about themselves and what they have read. As they write their essays on their webpage, they are cobbling together their ideas about life from what they already know and how what they have read has furthered this knowledge. Just as they are reading public knowledge it becomes incumbent upon them to add to that public knowledge with their own writing. This is why I have my scholars publish their work online to further better reading through our own writing. I wish more teachers published their scholars work online. We learn who we are by what we read and let others know who we are from what we write. Keep reading.

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