Saturday, February 1, 2020

Finding alternatives to classics helps student love reading


You know what kills the love of reading faster than anything else?  Making students read literature they're not ready for and then repeating that over and over, feeding teens a steady stream of classics many of them may find long, boring, and unrelatable (and which were mostly written by white males—though that's probably gotten better since I was in high school). 


Many modern novels have beautiful language, metaphor, personification, foreshadowing, symbolism, themes, good plot structure and characterization, and all those other things we studied in junior high and high school.  They also show different perspectives and help you relate to people very different from you (super important for understanding the world and becoming a good person).  And…they're interesting.  I really think we should teach more of these modern novels in the classroom.


I was a kid who loved to read.  I was also quite academic, with good reading comprehension and a big vocabulary.  Yet I wasn't ready for a lot of the books we had to read in junior high and high school.  It's not that I couldn't read them or understand them, but I didn't really appreciate them, didn't FULLY understand them...and often didn't like them.  Many were a slog.  I believe it totally turned some students off from reading.  And that's really, really sad.

One of the things I try to teach the parents of small children in my storytimes at the library is that you need to make reading fun.  You want kids to WANT to read.  I think that's the most efficient way to turn them into good readers.  As kids get older, it's also the most efficient way to turn them into continuing readers and voluntary readers…which in turn contributes to success in many areas of life. 


So, if you're a parent or educator, consider this when planning your approach to your kids.

If you teach them to love reading, they'll discover the classics in their own time, and the rewards will be much sweeter.  


Some examples from my own education:

Hemingway in 7th grade:  yawn. 
Hemingway in college:  fascinating! 

Heart of Darkness in high school:  yeah, yeah, he went native. 
Heart of Darkness in college:  possibly the most brilliant book ever written. 

The Great Gatsby in high school:  let's sit around drinking mint juleps and feeling sorry for ourselves.  
The Great Gatsby in my 30s:  okay, yeah, I see why some people think it's great. 

Steinbeck in junior high and high school:  yawn (with a  few good heart-rending parts). 
Steinbeck in my 30s:  amazing. 

Orwell in high school:  interesting, but not as good as it's cracked up to be. 
Orwell in my 30s:  just as good as it's cracked up to be.

Shakespeare...ok, let's be real.  Shakespeare hasn't gotten much better. 

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