Part One: Reading List Update
I have finished two more of the books off my 2014 professional reading list: Literature as Exploration by Louise Rosenblatt and The Experience of Reading edited by John Clifford. The former is a classic text in the formation of reader-response theory and the latter is a book of literary essays written about or in response to Literature as Exploration.
Unless you are a nerdy English major like myself, I wouldn’t recommend The Experience of Reading — it’s pretty complicated (I had to keep looking terms up) and the essays vary highly in interest and quality. Literature as Exploration, however, is one of the most accessible works of literary theory that I’ve ever read and would be particularly applicable for high school literature teachers. In a nutshell, Rosenblatt was one of the first people to advocate for the importance of the reader in the reading experience. She argues that literature is not a body of knowledge to be digested or gained but rather a “series of possible experiences.”
In terms of application to teaching, Rosenblatt argues passionately for a discussion-based classroom that encourages students to reflect on their personal reactions to the work — not just a search for examples of literacy devices or a hunt for “the point.” She encourages teachers to not convey the message that there is only one “correct” reading of a text or passage, although she does rightly proclaim that there are certainly interpretations that are more valid than others. Additionally, she argues that students should be tasked with delving into their initial reactions and asking why they reacted that way, how and why others may have reacted differently, and what their reactions reveal about their blind spots or biases.
I really appreciated reading this book and it got me thinking a lot about working with my second graders. It can be a challenge to give young students credit for the things that they do know. I definitely want to work more on asking my students to bring their gut reactions to a text in our follow up conversations about things that we read. Because they are learning so much about the world every day, I think it would be particularly beneficial for my students to engage in a dialogue with each other and to feel as though their opinions and reactions have value and are not discounted for a more “adult” or “correct” interpretation.
Part Two: A Good Week!
The sun is finally shining here in Maine and that Arctic air that hung around for far too long in March is starting to lift. (We are projected to have freezing rain or sleet today, though…) As the snow begins to melt, my students have finally seemed more happy to be at school and much less testy with one another. We had the first full week without anyone getting tremendously upset with a classmate about a little thing that we have had for a least a month. I left school yesterday feeling like we are really getting somewhere and that we got some good learning in during our continued work with Dr. Seuss. It made me feel much more hopeful about the rest of the year!
Next week I am trying something new with my students — we are going to make recycled paper as the culmination of our work with The Lorax. I’ve decided to not practice extensively beforehand so that my students can see me working through the learning process and we can all make mistakes together. Hopefully that will be a valuable experience for them and we will end up with at least a small amount of viable paper!
I end this week with a question. Fellow teachers — what do you do for Earth Day with your students?