Tag Archives: reading

What would happen if maths and language arts teachers swapped jobs?

bobrobertasmith

Art21 blog has given me an interesting idea in their latest post:

Last year the Guardian asked its sports and art writers to swap pieces for a day. Tennis correspondent Steve Bierley reviewed a Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) exhibition, which Bob and Roberta Smith fell in love with and subsequently made into a text-based painting.

Hmmm…

But how can we translate that into the school environment? I mean, the idea is something I’ve been playing with for a while – wouldn’t it be good if school didn’t separate learning into subjects?

Life isn’t like that, so why….?

In my job as teacher librarian I write a blog to encourage reading – I’ve mentioned it before – well, it’s not only about reading but all that goes with it. Thinking, discussing, idea-broadening, understanding – you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d love for the blog to create a reading (thinking, etc.) community, one that links people within the school through interests and discussion, but also links the school community with the wider community. I’ve also spoken about this before. Yes, I have so far included a couple of book recommendations/reviews by teachers who aren’t librarians. This is good, this gives the students the idea that people outside of the library read and enjoy reading. But …. they’re English teachers.

What I would really love is if sports teachers wrote about their reading. Yes, sports teachers. Maths teachers. Legal studies teachers.

So what kind of swap could I do? Do you think it would be easier for the maths/science teachers to talk books than the other way around? At first I thought yes. What’s left of my own maths/science knowledge, the little I gained in secondary school? I wouldn’t really like to go there. But then I remembered Sean Nash. He blends Science with the Arts. I was overwhelmed by his approach when I first discovered Sean’s blog, and I continue to be overwhelmed because it’s so inspiring, and I don’t see many educators do it.

Sean’s wife, Erin, shares his way of looking at a blended curriculum. Have a read of Erin’s profile on Sean’s biology ning where she says:

The best thing about the study of biology is:
The opportunity it provides for invoking curiosity and questioning in students and instructors alike. There are so many interesting topics in Biology that, ultimately, bring about questions that just aren’t currently answerable, and this provides so many awesome possibilities for critical thought and analysis. I could have taught English or Biology, and I was drawn to science because of that one big question, “WHY?”

 Isn’t this also the point of literature? The WHY and WHAT IF?  What if a character lived in a particular time/situation? How would that character live out his/her life? And WHAT IF this complication arose? WHY would he/she act in that way/make those choices? Personal choices, ethical choices, any choices.

I frequently reflect on what I’m trying to achieve in writing the fiction blog. Why is it important to stretch students’ – and for that matter, teachers’ – concept of what a reader is like, why we read, why books grab our attention, how books and films get our reactions and lead us into discussion or debate. It’s not a library thing, it’s not an English thing – and yet, it is literacy. The kind of literacy that is important for all of us across disciplines and beyond school. Sean Nash sums it up excellently when he talks about the connection between science and literacy in his comment to my post:

Science and literacy had certainly better go together. We are in a heap of trouble as a species as it is. We can’t afford to continue to create a scientifically-illiterate populace. Where science and literacy are separate, science is but mystery and mythology to even our brightest.

2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, creativity, Education, learning, Literature, reading, teachers, teaching

The research process is full of twists and turns

whichway

Photo courtesy of Hulalulatallulahoo p

My younger son, currently in Year 9, is taking part in an interesting research project outside of the school. His school has made a smart decision to run several programs which take the students out of the classroom and textbooks. This makes a lot of sense at a time when disengagement with normal classroom routine is possibly at its peak. Putting young people in a different learning environment, giving them a bigger-picture problem to solve, and a choice about how they are to present their findings, is a smart move. In his case, my son’s school has joined with La Trobe University and some of its lecturers, tutors and student teachers, in order to support a two-week research project.

What interests me as an educator and teacher librarian, is the affective aspect of the research process. After a week, my son is feeling overwhelmed and insecure; he feels he’s a failure because he hasn’t come very far. As I talk with him about how he’s feeling, I wish that a discussion of these feelings were part of the support given to the students.

It was a relief to me when I read Carol Kuhlthau’s research into the affective stages of research. I’ve written about this in a previous post. I discovered it was normal to feel confused and overwhelmed at the start of your research because you hadn’t defined what the question was. It was normal to feel the same way before you had found relevant information to support your research. It was normal to feel happier and more confident having found those resources, but also to plummet again when you faced the task of synthesizing this information into some sort of argument or presentation. And so, as each new stage of the process is faced, it would be so good to acknowledge that the way you’re feeling is to be expected.

Reflection is a good thing, and leads to self-awareness. The more you understand how you’re feeling, the less frustrated you’ll feel. Instead, you’ll be able to navigate these different stages of information seeking and synthesis, or any other learning process.

I wonder how we deal with this as educators. How can we identify how students feel and empathise with them, or provide context, if we don’t understand our own internal processes? I’m not sure that teachers’ busy schedules, with the ongoing face-to-face teaching of classes, interspersed with constant correction and preparation, allow them the time to stop and reflect. And that’s a great shame.

Blogs are an excellent way to routinely reflect on teaching practices, and document highs and lows, problems and celebrations. On the one hand, blogging has been embraced by so many people that there seems to be a hundred blogs for every topic imaginable. Blog writing is often made fun of, in the same way as superficial twittering. On the other hand, there are few educators in my school who blog, who see the point of blogging, or who regularly read blogs.

Recently, as I’ve mentioned before, I started a blog to record the progress of my collaborative teaching of a year 7 English class with Maria. It’s called English@wfc and it’s a space for me to write down what we do in class, how the students responded, how Maria and I felt, what worked and what didn’t, and what we learned from this. For me, this is a valuable exercise; it doesn’t take long, but it’s useful both for me and, I hope, for teachers if they would read it.

This blog also has a list of links to English-related blogs – all fantastic. Some of them are

As a teacher, I’m so much more comfortable and happier to function as a learner, continuing my own education and understanding, learning as I go, learning from others, with students – instead of just being the provider of information or the so-called expert. I appreciate looking into others’ teaching experiences, just as I enjoy writing out my own.

I hope that, as a parent, I’m able to support my son in his research agony through discussion, broadening his understanding and developing self-awareness. I hope that, as a teacher, I can provide the empathy and wisdom to go with the provision of information.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, Education, networking, Teacher librarians, teachers, teaching, Web 2.0, writing

Melbourne Writers’ Festival

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2009 has something for everyone. Here is the line-up for under 18s.

Randa Abdel-Fattah | Tony Birch | Ezra Bix | John Boyne | Isobelle Carmody | Paul Collins | Kate De Goldi 

Briohny Doyle | Anthony Eaton | Elizabeth Fensham | Archie Fusillo | Raimond Gaita | Morris Gleitzman | Andy Griffiths

Jack Heath | Lia Hills | Simmone Howell | Michael Hyde | Danny Katz | Paul Kelly | Kon Karapanagiotidis | Chrissie Keighery

Joey Kurtschenko | Margo Lanagan | Justine Larbalestier | Julia Lawrinson | John Long | Geoff Lemon | Melina Marchetta

Andrew McDonald | Mischa Merz | David Metzenthen | China Mieville | Kirsty Murray | Joanna Murray-Smith

Richard Newsome | Mandy Ord | Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli | Bruce Pascoe | Alice Pung | Hannie Rayson | Gary Simmons

Alicia Sometimes | Shaun Tan | Penny Tangey | Tony Thompson | Urthboy | Scott Westerfeld | Chris Wheat | Gabrielle Wang

Read about more details here.

This is an excellent opportunity for schools and school librarians to engage and extend young readers.

We hope the program will assist to enrich your own reading experience, and promote the ways in which writing and reading are engaged in our schools.

  

Here is an opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors, as well as discover new talents:

We have an array of talent for your enjoyment and edification, and I hope you’ll spend some time with both our better-known authors, as well as with those who are on the rise. As in past years we’ve mixed the new with the established so that you can tell your friends and colleagues that you saw them here first!

Go to the website for more detailed information.

This is great timing for Book Week, August 22 – 28. There’s a good reason why Melbourne is the City of Literature. An excellent opportunity to take books and reading out of the library and amongst the people.

Just discovered that there is a Melbourne Writers’ Festival blog. You may be interested in the possibility of being among the first to see Neil Gaiman’s Coraline on film.

Join us for a very special Melbourne Writers Festival fundraising event, which will be –

  • Introduced by Shaun Tan (award-winning creator of The Arrival)
  • Screened at Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at 6.30pm sharp
  • Raising money for the MWF Schools’ Program  

Coraline is created by cult author Neil Gaiman, directed by famed stop-motion animation expert Henry Selick, and voiced by the talents of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.


2 Comments

Filed under Children's books, Literature, reading, Teacher librarians

John Green at the State Library of Victoria

CIMG7754

Amazed is how I would describe how I felt at today’s author talk. I kept thinking, the response from the audience is more like what you would expect for a rock star or a popular comedian.  John Green, author of YA books such as Looking for Alaska and Paper towns,  bounded into the Village Roadshow Theatrette at the State Library with the energy and enthusiasm that his online followers would know, and was greeted by an impressive and prolonged cheering.

And this is where he is perhaps more like the rock star, or at least the comedian, because John Green doesn’t just write books, he relates to his readers as a person, and he does this through a number of online exploits – a blog and videos, amongst other things.

CIMG7763

As a teacher librarian, I’m always thinking about how to engage students in reading, so I started writing a blog which would hopefully seem less like an academic, teachery (just made up the word – still fresh from John Green’s way of talking) thing, and more like something from popular culture that young people would read. When using the blog to talk to students about what’s worth reading and why, the best thing has been the availability of John Green’s nerdfighters.com videos on his Vlogbrothers YouTube channel. They’re very funny, extremely entertaining, quirky, witty and intelligent. Very popular was the video where he filmed himself carrying out a challenge to climb onto a table. John is incredibly afraid of heights, and Justine Larbalestier had dared him (publicly) to stand up on a table for money that would go to a charity of his choice. He did this at home and filmed himself. Now that’s putting yourself out there. And this is, in my opinion, John’s secret. He puts himself out there – through his blog, ning, videos, etc. He doesn’t present an author persona, he actually extends what he writes about by having discussions with his readers about what he thinks, what he believes, and why he does that. And it helps, of course, to be so dynamic, so genial, and so funny.

As a last-minute thing, I asked my 15 year old son if he wanted to come with me. I was really expecting most of the audience to be made up of librarians, so it was surprising to see that most were adolescents.

Today is food for thought. I’d like to incorporate more of what John Green does on my reading blog. He brings to authors a fresh, personal face, not the usual brief biography readers usually get.

Here’s what he says about what makes a good book. My camera isn’t flash, so you’ll have to excuse the poor quality. John says that a book doesn’t belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader. The reader decides the value. He says it’s a good book, in his opinion, if it makes him think, wonder about, and feel; if it has emotional complexity; if it makes him re-examine the map he’s drawn of his world. Good books, he says, have real and lasting value.

What I think makes John Green a successful writer, is that he doesn’t underestimate his readers’ intelligence and maturity. He says that you can’t write a book that is too smart or complex for teenagers, because they are capable of reading critically and thoughtfully. He gives the example of the popularity of The book thief, by Markus Zusak , which maintains high sales.

I’m happy that I managed to get a ticket to the second of two sold-out meetings with John Green in Melbourne. There were many people in the audience from outside of Melbourne, one even who had travelled from New Zealand. John seemed sincerely thrilled that so many had come to see him.

 CIMG7762

My son isn’t an avid reader, but he wanted to buy Paper towns after hearing John talk about the book, and not only the book, but his thoughts and ideas that went into the book. We bought the book, and when Maxim went to get it signed, John made him laugh by saying that he wanted to trade names with him. Good on you, John, for doing such a great job in relating to young people in such a real way.

CIMG7766

If you’re interested, have a look at John’s ning, and the videos that he and his brother, Hank, regularly create.

10 Comments

Filed under author

Shakespeare on Facebook

This made me laugh. Some of my favourite Hamlet statuses:

Hamlet wonders if he should continue to exist. Or not.
Hamlet added England to the Places I’ve been application.
Ophelia loves flowers. Flowers, flowers, flowers. Oh look, a river.

I wonder if other versions exist. This could be a creative writing idea. You actually do need to know about the play to be able to write the statuses.

Photo courtesy of Sakypaky on Flickr

 

Our Head English teacher is using Facebook in the hope that it will allow boys who don’t usually contribute in class to have a voice in front of their peers. How do you explain to cynics your choice of Facebook as a platform for learning?

Adolescents have moved to Facebook for networking and communication. I’ve become a Facebook addict myself. One of its offerings is a non-threatening form of communication with a potentially large group. Another is the satisfaction of belonging to a group. It’s more accepting and democratic than face-to-face interaction – it doesn’t judge you by your appearance, age or abilities. You can choose your own hours. You can stand back and observe, or you can jump in and lend your voice.

Transfer all this to a learning environment, and you have a potentially brilliant scenario. Those who are slower to respond to discussion will not be pushed out. There’s time to think, respond, edit. The teacher can set the stage and then creep back to give control to the students. Hopefully, students will feel more comfortable to ask questions, give suggestions.

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog will know that I believe we should use technology and social media in creative ways to facilitate learning and engage students. Not for its own sake, and never without good reason. Recently my webpage on the school library intranet has evolved into a blog ‘What’s new in fiction?’ I’m so over people saying things like ‘Oooh, a blog! You’re really into all that technology stuff!. Well, no… I’m not. I’m not into it. I’m just looking at what possibilities it has for engaged and creative learning and teaching. Here is a list of things I appreciate about the fiction blog when talking to classes about books and reading:

It evolves nicely; each post introduces a new book, author, series, etc.
I can use casual, relaxed language, with even some humour
I can include pictures (book covers, author photos, etc.) and videos (book or film trailers, interviews, etc.)
Colour, font size, layout make a difference
I can include links to author and series websites, transcripts, extracts, maps, etc.
There is choice in what the students read, how much, when, etc. Compare that to a teacher’s talk;
Authors become real people as students link to interviews, blogs that reveal everyday chat or writing processes, weaknesses, personality, background, musical tastes, etc.

(OK, the above points are not unique to blogs)
Here come the blog-specific points:

The students read and write comments, ranging from the non-threatening two-word comment, to the more elaborate or passionate response;

Reading peer comments is more satisfying than listening to teachers’ views (hence Facebook idea);

Other people in the school community can write a post or book review, eg. non-librarians (leading the students to the realisation that it’s not just librarians who read, and that reading is ipso facto not solely a librarian’s past-time;

These other people could be students of all ages, teachers, teachers who wouldn’t normally be associated with reading by students (don’t take offense, but I’m thinking sport teachers, science and maths teachers, male teachers…)

The combination of different readers, each with their own reading preferences, their own way of writing, provides students with a kaleidoscopic view of what’s interesting to read;

Students take ownership of the blog by writing or commenting, by suggesting content, and the school community becomes involved in what was previously a librarian’s domain.

Reading is actually discussing, arguing, agreeing and disagreeing, thinking, wondering, escaping; and you know all this because of the discussion;

Reading becomes collective, cool, broader (you realise that tastes vary greatly and it’s okay to have your preferences; reading can be student-directed and even fun.

What I regret is that my fiction blog is a closed blog on the school intranet. It serves its purpose, but misses out on further possibilities and connections.

What are your views about using Web 2.0 tools like blogs and Facebook in teaching and learning?

4 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, author, creativity, Education, learning, Literature, networking, reading, Teacher librarians, technology, Web 2.0

1000 books you must read

malcolm-mcdowell-as-alex-001

Malcolm McDowell in A clockwork orange directed by Stanely Kubrick. Photo from The Guardian.

 

 

The Guardian has created the definitive list of must-reads: 1000 novels everyone must read.

Selected by the Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time in a single list.

What I like most about this massive fiction recommendation are the genre synopses which make me want to start reading right here and now and not stop until I’m finished. To give you an example, here’s what you’ll read about science fiction and fantasy:

It is sometimes assumed that science fiction, fantasy and horror must mean spaceships, elves and vampires – and indeed, you’ll find Iain M Banks, Tolkien and Bram Stoker on our list of mind-expanding reads. Yet these three genres have a tradition as venerable as the novel itself. Fiction works through metamorphosis: in every era authors explore the concerns of their times by mapping them on to invented worlds, whether they be political dystopias, fabulous kingdoms or supernatural dimensions. JG Ballard, the writer who brought SF into the mainstream, has remarked that “Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.” Ballard’s visions of “inner space”, Orwell, Huxley and Atwood’s totalitarian nightmares, Kafka’s uneasy bureaucracies, Gibson’s cutting-edge cool – all are examples of a literature at the forefront of the collective imagination. Every truly original writer must, by definition, create a new world. Here is a whole galaxy of worlds to explore.

What follows is a truly impressive list of synopses under genre headings. Here’s an example:

Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)

One of the first attempts to write a comprehensive “future history”, the trilogy – which also includes Foundation and Empire (1952) and Second Foundation (1953) – is Asimov’s version of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, set on a galactic scale. Hari Seldon invents the science of psychohistory with which to combat the fall into barbarianism of the Human Empire, and sets up the Foundation to foster art, science and technology. Wish-fulfilment of the highest order, the novels are a landmark in the history of science fiction.

You’ll also find Susanna Clarke’s article on Imagined worlds, including these authors – Lewis, Tolkien, Pullman, Pratchet and Le Guin. Her introduction is enough to draw me in:

The children’s author Anthony Horowitz recently pointed out that all books are doors – when we open them we expect to be somewhere else. All books are doors; and some of them are wardrobes.

Michael Moorcock reviews the best dystopias:

George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)
Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975)

Top 10 novels that predicted the future is an interesting read. Don’t hesitate, go to this website and run off and read!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature, reading

Reading in the margins with others

goldennotebookproject

I’ve been involved in a discussion lately about different types of reading. Most people have agreed that reading a novel is very different to reading a website or anything else online. Some people think that deep thinking and understanding are becoming extinct since reading online has distracted a large part of the population. People are concerned that online reading is superficial, and that commenting revolves around less than challenging subject matter.

Well, today I discovered a very interesting project which combines serious literature with the trappings of online interaction. It’s called The Golden Notebook project.

Doris Lessing’s The golden notebook was digitised by HarperCollins. The book was allowed to be reproduced in digital form in its entirety without any cost.

Here is some information from the website:

What is this?
It’s an experiment in close-reading in which seven women are reading the book and conducting a conversation in the margins. The project went live on Monday 10 November 2008.

Why are you doing it?
It’s part of a long-term effort to encourage and enable a culture of collaborative learning.

What do you hope to learn?
We don’t yet understand how to model a complex conversation in the web’s two-dimensional environment and we’re hoping this experiment will help us learn some of what we need to do to make this sort of collaboration as successful as possible.

How come only the seven women can comment in the margins?
Good conversations are messy, non-linear and complicated. The comment area, a chronological scrolling field just isn’t robust enough to follow a conversation among an infinite number of participants. Seven may even be too many. [Note: the forums are open to everyone and we do hope that readers beyond the initial seven will join the fray there both as regards the text and the process. We really want to know what you think works and what doesn’t.

The seven women authors are profiled on the homepage. Towards the bottom of the page you can see recent comments, pages with the most comments, and recent discussions.

A reading schedule is included

We’ve developed a reading schedule; so for the next six weeks, you can follow along with the readers and discuss the same passages that they’re dissecting.

The blog, a collaborative one amongst the women, is fascinating. Here’s part of a post on reading by Nona Willis Aronowitz

For me, what is inspiring and magnificent about reading is the sense of communion with one single other human mind. No other artform, I think, is so direct, so unmediated, so simple. There’s no need for lighting, makeup artists, camera operators or directors. There’s no studio or network calling the shots. No orchestra or actors have to interpret the work. I don’t even have to be in the presence of the artist’s personal handiwork. A scattering of printed characters on a page or a screen and I am in the presence of another person’s creation.

Here’s a short section from Naomi Alderman’s post

A recent story in The NY Times asked if stories have a future. If we’re blogging, texting, doing rapid response communicating, who cares about the narrative, tortoise slow and painfully digressive? Naomi’s comment that she needs to come up for air now and then from TGN to overcome the characters’ depressive tendencies makes me wonder WHY DO WE READ? What do we get from books; what are we getting from Lessing? I have just moved from NY to Portland, Oregon with 140 book boxes, the collected treasures of a life spent in books. In each box I am finding approximately one book per 30 worth saving. Looking at them all with fresh west coast eyes, I’m not sure what these books have given me. I can tell you what they’ve taken away: an ability to live a good life OUTSIDE of books.

I’m thinking about the possibilities of a pared down project for students. How would this look?

Fascinating… fascinating….

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Is the book dead? Is reading dying?

dogreading

Photo by Sansanparrots on Flickr

Another article about whether reading – in the way we have known it – has changed forever; and is reading books becoming extinct as we are lured by  online offerings.

People of the screen by Christine Rosen in the online journal The New Atlantis: a journey of technology and society is certainly worth reading. It tackles this subject with a wide net, and even though you may not agree with everything that is stated, it is an excellent basis for discussion.

 The article deals with many aspects of the reading issue. Here it talks about the decline of reading for pleasure:

In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published a report, To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, which provided ample evidence of the decline of reading for pleasure, particularly among the young. To wit: Nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure; Americans ages 15 to 24 spend only between 7 and 10 minutes per day reading voluntarily; and two thirds of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all. As Sunil Iyengar, director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis and the lead author of the report, told me, “We can no longer take the presence of books in the home for granted. Reading on one’s own—not in a required sense, but doing it because you want to read—that skill has to be cultivated at an early age.” The NEA report also found that regular reading is strongly correlated with civic engagement, patronage of the arts, and charity work. People who read regularly for pleasure are more likely to be employed, and more likely to vote, exercise, visit museums, and volunteer in their communities; in short, they are more engaged citizens.

Here is an interesting take on the type of personality apparently suited to online reading:

 For centuries, print literacy has been one of the building blocks in the formation of the modern sense of self. By contrast, screen reading, a historically recent arrival, encourages a different kind of self-conception, one based on interaction and dependent on the feedback of others. It rewards participation and performance, not contemplation. It is, to borrow a characterization from sociologist David Riesman, a kind of literacy more comfortable for the “outer-directed” personality who takes his cues from others and constantly reinvents himself than for the “inner-directed” personality whose values are less flexible but also less susceptible to outside pressures. How does a culture of digitally literate, outer-directed personalities “read”?

I disagree with the contention that screen reading discourages contemplation; in fact, the commenting in blogs, for instance, creates a string of contemplative replies. That this type of contemplation is interactive is surely a positive outcome.

There is too much in this article for me to cover it in a short post. The advantages and disadvantages of the Kindle are discussed, the attention span of young people, the changing nature of libraries, research and librarians’ roles, as well as the future of literature with the advent of hand-held devices that save books as iPods do with music, creating mashups of the paragraphs within different books.

Have a read. Tell me what you think.

Leave a comment

Filed under reading, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0

Teens reading critically

I often wonder if I’m suited to my role as teacher librarian. From the point of view of my own taste in particular. My library ‘superior’ (who will remain nameless in case what I’m about to say will incriminate her – I’m joking), has said in half  jest a few times that I’m a reading snob. And I am. My tastes are often on the edge of out there.  I mean, my undergraduate thesis was on Max Frisch’s Graf Oderland – a play about a lawyer who put an axe into his briefcase and joined the underground movement. My point is, my reading tastes do not often coincide with the general population of students. This bothers me since, obviously, I need to be able to inspire the students (in my school, boys) to read. I should be reading action and adventure, fantasy, sports fiction, and crime. But it ends up that the books I read and recommend sit neatly on the shelf and remain so.

This was the case when I read Looking for Alaska by John Green. I was convinced that teenage boys would love this book but it didn’t happen. Well, obviously, I knew that not too many would rush to read it, but I didn’t expect almost nobody. And so I’m often pondering my role in this situation. Should I give in and read and talk about the popular books, authors and series that have their due date slip stamped all over, or should I stay true to my conviction that teenagers’ fiction menu needs to be expanded  to include those books they would normally not touch. I don’t mean cater to the reading minority, I mean somehow inspire the majority to read outside of their comfort zone.

Reading John Green’s blog, I recently came across a post that gave me hope. In this post John talks about a comment he received from a (presumably) teenager who sees in Paper Towns references to Orpheus. Having read this comment, John questions whether we should presume that most teenagers are incapable of critical reading. In fact, he actually questions whether we should exclude more challenging writing from teenagers or presume that they haven’t read widely.  Here’s a little of what he says:

I would argue that when we think about teens as readers, we need to stop thinking about the teens we know. Like, around us, teens can be awkward and intellectually unimpressive. But they often aren’t showing us their best selves, precisely because they feel the intellectual distance between us and them. I’d argue that the ONLY way to bridge that distance is to deny its existence.

And here is an extract of the student’s comment where he sees connections between John Green’s novel and Orpheus.

I was so blown away by Paper Towns I reread it right away. And the second time, I was really struck by the scene where Margo gets bit by the snake. It reminded me of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which I especially love Rilke’s version of. I realized that the whole book could be loosely seen as within that framework. She is taken from him – not through fate but through her own will – just when they begin to redevelop some sort of a relationship. And she is, from his point of view, lost in the underworld; he actually thinks she is dead. She has gone to the world of the paper towns, and he is willing to follow her despite all the dangers and obstacles.

The comment is longer than that and I recommend you reading the rest of it.

So what’s my point? Well, the first point is that we shouldn’t assume that readers like this one don’t exist. They may be hiding. There may be more of them than you think.

My second and more important (for me) point is that if we don’t expand teenagers’ reading tastes we do them a disservice. Yes, they should read what they enjoy. Yes, most boys will still read Matthew Reilly – but in between I’m going to come out of left field and surprise them with something different. That’s how I functioned as an English teacher – not suppressing what I considered thought-provoking, not keeping silent if I thought that something was worth pointing out. Shock them a little, confuse them a lot, and they’ll gradually get used to it. Their world view will expand. They’ll surprise you.

As for me, I think I might consider staying true to myself in my role as teacher librarian.

2 Comments

Filed under Children's books, debate

Different kinds of reading – internet and literature

noteasytostayfocussed

 Photo courtesy of imago2007

I’m aware that my reading behaviour on the internet is different from when I read a book, in particular fiction. In addition, I think that my book reading focus has altered since I’ve discovered hyperlinked online reading.

I’ve included a paragraph from a piece written by Sven Birkerts on Britannica blog, Reading in the open-ended information zone called cyberspace.

Again, I’m not saying good or bad, I’m just saying. When I am online I am perpetually aware of open-endedness, of potentiality, and psychologically I am fragmented. I make my way forward through whatever text is in front of me factoring in not just the indeterminacy of whatever is next on the page, I am also alert, even if subliminally, to the idea of the whole, the adjacency of all information. However determined I am to focus on the task at hand, I am haunted by this idea of the whole. Which is different than what I might experience sitting in a library chair knowing that I’m in the midst of three floors of stacks. The difference has to do with permeability, with the imminence of linkage, and it is decisive.

 Here is the complete article.

I’d like to explore this topic to gain an understanding of something that affects our students and us as teachers.

What do others think about the author’s views? What are your thoughts about the different kinds of reading? Do you think our generation of online students are affected, and is this positive or negative?

2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, learning, Literature, reading, teaching, technology, Web 2.0