Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 21, 2008

Guys Reading … in bits and pieces?

My children’s lit class just ended and I feel sad. I met so many wonderful people, some of whom will go on to become fantastic teachers, librarians, writers, parents, and doers of work yet imagined. I’m proud and I will miss them. Of course joy is ahead, too. Tomorrow I pick up my ugly black smocky-thing and flat hat, and on Saturday will join the cheering graduates at UMass stadium. I’ll be the weepy one, but I guess my students, who saw me choke up at Charlottes Web, Bridge to Terabithia and Secret Garden, won’t be surprised.

Meanwhile I’ll slip in one more class post. It was great ending with projects. One future teacher, Spencer Fetrow, recently coached lacrosse, and took the opportunity to talk to some of his team members about reading, or perhaps more precisely why they think English classes suck. Most didn’t like old books, what we might call classics, which brings us to the oft-repeated need to match readers with intriguing content. Many did not like the vague language of feelings used in English classes. Need feeling and reading be the same thing? Some wanted something to be measured within the class, having some way for their accomplishments to be validated. Some didn’t feel good at English class, so didn’t like it.

Spencer mentioned that someone wasn’t so great at lacrosse, but he still liked playing the game. This guy replied well yeah he wasn’t great but he was good at a few particular moves. Spencer thought he’d try to look for ways to break down progress within reading, to help students find shorter goals, rather than reading and understanding a whole novel, that they could feel good about.

It’s worth a shot. Maybe some day I’ll hear how things work out.


  1. I think this may actually be true for many readers–that its one part of the book that pulls us in–the voice, or the characterization, or the fast-pace. In the best books, of course, there are many, if not all of these traits. I just finished a very fun book that was really mostly fun language, “bad” jokes, playing with the interaction between the author and reader.
    Maybe students get overwhelmed thinking they have to get it ALL?

  2. That’s an excellent point and yes, well worth thinking about it.
    As an offshoot, when I talk about writing nonfiction to kids, I mention skimming. All those research books we pile up? I know I don’t read them word for word, as we may be taught to read in lit classes. It’s fine sometimes to skim along and let what will jump out.

  3. Love the analogy to lacrosse! That’s funny. I think poems scare people as much as novels, and it’s that same feeling that you have to understand it and get it right. Trying to find a balance between helping kids find poems that connect with them in their daily life that they like reading AND also teaching kids some basic poetry comprehension and appreciation skills is a tough battle for today’s teachers, I would guess.

  4. Absolutely, poems may scare people even more. Really, I’d rather run a classroom more like a bookclub — what did you like, what did you hate, pass the cookies — than overdo analysis, which I like, but, as you wrote, must be delicately done.

  5. I agree! Get the kids connected with it FIRST. Then, once they’re hooked and not intimidated, delicately introduce some analysis.

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