You call THAT reading?

I keep thinking about two specific comments from my AP Lit workshop that I am struggling with in regards to adolescent reading and writing practices today. When I first started researching new literacies and the ways in which students (and really all of us) are becoming increasingly multiliterate, I truly believed that “Literacy as we know it is not in a crisis, but instead evolving as we know it.” This belief still holds true today as I think the majority of kids are reading and writing, a lot, just not in ways that the traditional classroom has always valued.

With my belief in place, I think many of you will see why the two comments below got my attention…

  • “It’s just too hard to fight for certain books.” This comment stemmed from a discussion about what books were and were not allowed in the various school systems around the room. First, I have a problem with books that are NOT allowed because I feel that ALL books should be valued. You never know when that one book that you would never even think of picking up might be the “light” someone else needed. (I also think this belief stems from when I was a child when I can specifically remember my Grandpa telling my mom to let me read everything.) Anyway, what bothered me the most is that here was a large consensus of educators saying that it was too hard to even TRY to have certain books brought into the curriculum. And that it was “too hard to fight.” It just makes me sad to hear those words. I know I’m not the only one out there willing to “fight,” but how can so many simply just not care? (note: checkout #yasaves and #speakloudly for connections to two powerful movements that deserve to be heard!)
  • “Reading and writing practices are not natural activities for kids.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think we give kids enough credit for all of the reading and writing they ARE doing. I also think the basic, inherent need of communicating ties into reading and writing practices. I’m not advocating for “txt talk” in academic or workplace settings. However, I am advocating for code switching and helping our students understand the how’s and why’s behind code switching while gaining the knowledge and communication skills for any realm they are living/working in. In my opinion, and from what I have found within my classroom, there’s a whole other “world” of reading and writing practices taking place. These “underground literacy practices” are running rampant in our schools and communities if we would just open our eyes! Just because the reading and writing practices today don’t follow the traditional route, doesn’t mean they are any less “unnatural.” The bottom line is I think that if we, as educators, approach the classroom with the “superiority complex” that reading and writing activities are natural for us while these practices are not normal to the faces staring back at us in our classrooms, we are in for a big wake-up call. Kids are reading and writing. Pay attention. It’s our job to help show them all the ways they can read and write, AND it’s our job to validate all of the ways they are reading and writing outside of our classroom, too…that’s how we build confidence, make connections, and create more critical readers, writers, and thinkers!
  • (note: Ironically enough, after these comments about reading, writing, and books, we were presented with this. Not even all of the “natural” readers in the room got all of the in’s and out’s of this poem down. It’s tough! I can’t wait to work with my students on it this year!)
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3 thoughts on “You call THAT reading?

  1. I love that poem. Thanks for the link. I agree with all your comments. I grew up in a house where no reading material was forbidden, and I practiced the same with my son. It has paid off! I will fight for what I think my students should be allowed to read, and I have usually worked in a school with a librarian that feels the same.

    Your “superiority complex” comment is right-on. I imagine that students today do read and write more than they did in the past. We should be capitalizing on that, not denigrating it. One of the big lessons of life is context, context, context . . . and working with literacy requires that mantra, also. Right on!

  2. A couple of comments based on those comments:
    “It’s just too hard to fight for certain books.” — I understand this, although it also saddens me. Our community has a contingent of parents who constantly challenge books. They don’t seem to care if they win or lose; they just always want to have something going. Whenever they launch a protest, it literally takes up hours and hours from the principal, department chair, and teacher involved. It’s not that the book isn’t “worth it,” but it’s tempting to just go on to something else that will also allow the educators involved to do productive work for their students rather than sit through meetings explaining why certain books have merit, which the book challengers won’t acknowledge anyway. Until someone in authority has the guts to say, “OK. You’re being a nuisance here. Get out. We have important work to do,” the challenges will continue and teachers will be forced to make hard choices about how they spend time.
    “Reading and writing practices are not natural activities for kids.”: This is just flat out wrong. Kids like to read and write. They do it all the time. Academic reading and writing may not be natural activiies, but we can build bridges toward that, if we do the kinds of activities that you’re talking about–acknowledge, validate, activate, and build upon the literacies that students that students are doing naturally. If we start from where the students are, good things happen.

    • Gary, I totally understand what you mean about the time involved with books (and do agree). I just think some people in the room really didn’t care at all which was most concerning for me. And then the final point IS just flat out wrong! There were many in the room that truly believed it was their way and your (the student’s) way was wrong/didn’t count. Needless to say, there were a lot of looks my way when I challenged both of these points! We’ve got to start from somewhere, and like you said, good things can (and will) happen!

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