Nancy Atwell: The Case for Literature
I hear what Ms. Atwell is saying. But I also agree, in a way, with the first commenter, who says, "English education has never had a convincing rationale for teaching literature; thank heaven for writing, as at least a teacher knows when a student does it! Literature has always been--and continues to be--use-less: it doesn't have a clear use that translates into a value for non-literature-teachers. What Ms Atwell notes as a positive point, the intimate and private nature of reading, is its Achilles' heel as well. Teachers don't know if and when students really read. They can't know; reading is wonderfully private. If we really want to talk about changing the way literature is viewed, we have to propose a new measure for assessing the reading of literature. I suggest that we devise a way to track students' interest in reading and the pleasure they take from it. To Ms. Atwell's point, it is only by reading that students become readers. So let's find a way to self-report on their readership."
Interesting point, especially the idea that reading is so intimate and private.
My 9th graders read only 5 books the entire year, with two of those being plays and one of them being a graphic novel. Yet, I graded final (re-takes) of the A Lesson Before Dying quizzes the other day, and, while most students did well, there were a troubling number of students who are scoring aroudn 10% on a short answer quiz - clearly not having done any reading at all. What to do?
This idea of "tracking students' interest in reading and the pleasure they take from it" is something we are trying to do with the next unit, which will begin shortly after whenever we come back to school. We're incorporating more student choice with both the books being read and how they will be assessed. We're going to focus much more on skills and hardly at all on the content of the novel (especially since it's a Lit Circles unit).
Yet, I'm still not sure how to gauge the interest and pleasure from reading. In my nearly ten years of teaching, students are coming up less and less as readers, and I want to head it off, but am not sure how. I'll keep trying.
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