30 January 2012

A Little Help from Alan Jacobs and James Patterson

Every now and then I'll find good words that rekindle my teaching. Because my curriculum is founded on independent reading, I don't do a lot of projects or many other formal assessments besides weekly vocabulary quizzes. It's difficult to quantify student growth this way, and I find myself questioning my method every so often. It's then that I need a reminder that even though I can't always see the benefit, reading itself is worth the investment.

Last week one of my students threw a book on my desk and said, "You need to read this. It's over 400 pages, but it's a quick read." I looked at the title and cringed. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. I'm still trying to get used to the Young Adult scene, and I usually avoid popular fiction when I can. Yet, when a student gives me a book to read, I like to oblige - and I need to bite the bullet and do much more YA reading anyway.

So, I'm halfway through the book; my initial reaction is once I got used to the perspective (14 year old Max is the narrator - although it jumps at places and is a bit confusing), it's enjoyable - Patterson is a good storyteller.

What's more, at the back of the book there was an advertisement for Patterson's website, ReadKiddoRead.com. The site is great, and I'll put it to use to find books for my students. However, there was also a link to an article Patterson wrote last September for CNN: How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader.

There are some great resources for parents and teachers, including reading lists. But the encouragement for me came in something simple: Patterson said, in order to get children to read, they have to read. Yes, I've known it, but it's great to hear it again and again. Find books youngsters will enjoy and they will read. Then repeat.

Yet another voice whispering to me last week was Alan Jacobs, English professor at Wheaton College. He wrote The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which I haven't read yet. The article I did read was Don't Worry, Read Happy: Alan Jacobs on The Pleasures of Reading.

A couple things stuck with me from Jacobs. First, he was emphatic about reading what you like. Don't always worry about reading for knowledge, and certainly don't worry what others will think about you when they see you reading Winnie the Pooh. If you like it, read it. Second, he doesn't recommend books to his students anymore. Although I can't see why it wouldn't hurt to toss out the occasional list, I do see the point: reading forced upon you (and sometimes just suggested) usually doesn't get done, and it isn't fun.

Case in point: my sophomore year in college I took a class in which we were supposed to read large portions of Moby Dick. Guess what? I didn't read much at all. Yet that summer, when I could choose what to read, I flew through the whole book and I loved every minute of it. To this day Moby Dick is one of my favorites.

Read. Read for fun and let your children - or anyone really - see you enjoying a good book. Heck, why not enjoy Dr. Seuss like you used to? It's still great.


Kate Happenence said...

As a child I always read. My sister didn't. We lived in the same house, eat the same food, went to the same school, had the same teachers.

When my sister does read, she reads the same books, over and over. I mostly read new stuff. I'll read anything and everything (apart from horror).

Why there is such a difference I do not know.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I remember being forced to read certain books in school and the experience was never pleasant. Fortunately it didn't curb my desire to read and I read constantly on my own.

Man O' Clay said...

That's the problem Alex, for some it does curb the desire. Kate, sometimes it's hard to say why certain people like to read and others don't. It helps to stick with what you like though.

Anonymous said...

To quote Nancy Pearl "Good literature is what you like, bad literature is what you don't like." That may be hard for an English teacher to take but I think she's saying the same thing; if you like it-READ IT

Margo Kelly said...

Great post! Yes, it's a challenge to get kids - especially boys - to read.

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