Aw…I hate it when books totally warp my thinking…
Fast forward to December 31 at 12:01 pm when I finished the last of my 45 books for 2009 and you would have heard me stomping around the house, yelling about my high school classes, and generally expressing my frustration at books that muck everything up.
I’ve taught World Literature, a grade 12 required class (if a student is not taking AP English) for the past 3 semesters. A co-teacher developed the course – chose novels, assignments, etc. (with some input from me). I really like the class. I really like most of the assignments. I’ve put my own spin on the class with introducing an element of technology (Nings – 2009 & 2010) and a discussion method (Ackermann).
And now The Reading Zone really mucked it all up for me.
The chapter on Reading Workshop at the high school level really got me thinking about what I do in World Literature and if I’m truly doing what my syllabus says is my goal: “It is the goal of this class to provide you with a place to explore literary movements and world authors. Their ideas and stories both reflect and shape the global world that you live in.” And is that the goal that I really want for the class?
This morning I sat down with the chapter titled “High School” and tried to think about how my class can not contribute to the overall hatred that many students have for high school English. I realized that parts of my class honor the reading workshop approach. We have two all-class books (Silence by Endo and Nervous Conditions by Dangarembga) and one all-class play (A Doll’s House by Ibsen). Students are required to read two books of their own choice (must be from two different continents). Then students do an in-depth study on a world author of their choice. That in-depth study results in a teaching time – presenting the author and teaching a short story by that author – and a research paper.
I’m happy with the amount of time that I give students to read. Together, we read the whole play aloud as a class. I read much of Silence aloud to the students who would like to listen to me read. I’ve made it possible for students to listen to a recording of Nervous Conditions as they read. Probably 3/4 of our class periods, while working on these novels, is spent actually reading. We have a double-block period on Thursdays that students have half of the class period to read their Outside Reading books.
What I don’t like is the perceived busy-work that I assign students with these novels. Each of the two whole class novels and the play have a packet of questions, a project of some sort, and an essay. I would doubt that there was much, if any, overlap between these requirements and the in-class discussions that we had.
I also found out at the end of the semester that a number of students did not finish their two outside reading books. However, because of the way that I was marking, they could still received full marks because I was looking at their online Ning entries rather than marking whether they finished the texts or not.
So what does this semester hold for us? This will likely be my last semester teaching this class at this school but I don’t want that to keep me from making the changes that I believe are fundamentally necessary.
Potential changes for this semester:
- A change of language: common texts (our play and two novels), personal texts (outside reading/student-choice).
- More frequent, voluminous reading: if not daily in-class, personal text reading then at least 2-3 times per week. (I found that having a 45-minute block put more students to sleep than sent them into the world of their book).
- Ask students to take responsibility for their reading by jotting down quotes, questions, or insights rather than forcing chapter questions.
- Have a prescribed discussion day each week.
- Allow more time in class for research and writing for their big project.
- Require two Ning entries per week (too many students waited until an hour or so before they were due at the end of the semester to write their entries).
- More teacher reading. I was so focused last semester on reading young adult literature that I neglected my Grade 12 students. I need to be reading what they are reading and whispering those books to them as well.
School starts next week Tuesday so I still have a week to figure out what it looks like to have a high school classroom where reading is central and choice is essential.
Are you doing Reading Workshop in your high school classes? Do you have suggestions?
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