Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Reading? Why Literature?

Yesterday I flew to Washington state to visit my family and to attend my high school reunion (20 years!). When I unpacked my bags, I realized that I had brought 10 books with me. I'm staying less than a week. And what did I read on my Kindle while waiting at the airport and flying on the plane? Fantasy in Death by J.D. Robb, book 30 in a series that will publish its 37th title in September. What did I read at the start of the flight when electronics had to be off? US Weekly. During landing? Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children's Writing, edited by Thomas Newkirk and Penny Kittle.

We read for a lot of different reasons, obviously. I see a lot of anchor charts on Pinterest about "author's purpose" when writing. I'm sure I've pinned some, though I'm not sure why. As teachers, the new standards have us pushing to incorporate reading into other disciplines, and reading from other content areas in English class. But how much do we honor the different reasons for reading in our classrooms? Do we do enough to encourage these reasons for reading in our classrooms?

I am not the same reader that I was 5 years ago. Yes, I probably brought a similar number of books on a trip like this, but I'll bet they were exclusively romance novels, thrillers, and YA. This time, while the stack IS heavy on YA arcs from ALA that I want to pass on to friends, there are also two books of adult literary fiction (Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter), the aforementioned writing book, and a graphic adaptation of the Gettysburg Address. And, yes, I filled my Kindle with J.D. Robb before I came (as if there wouldn't be working Internet in the wilds of Tacoma), but I will, depending on my mood, probably read a little of everything.

In my classroom, I use two categories in my reading class: "Reading" and "Literature". (I could just as easily have called the categories "you choose" and "I choose" or "your books" and "my books".) This began as categories in the gradebook, but has now started to shape how I organize our time and my teaching. I remain absolutely and fully committed to the importance of choice in a reading class, and the value of independent reading. If I had to choose between reading and literature, at any grade level, I would pick reading.

But there is something to be said for literature, for the teacher-chosen book, be it your read-aloud in 3rd grade or the Shakespeare play in an AP Lit course. Students don't have to like every work of literature put before them; real readers and scholars don't read like that. But as long as they are continuing to pursue the books that they do love through independent reading time, hopefully time in your classroom, it doesn't usually hurt them to read a great book or two along the way.

I love that my mom has these two books in her guest room.

Currently Reading: A little bit of everything. (Translation: Finishing the book I was reading on the plane.)

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