Thursday, October 16, 2014

Teaching Lit, or "Magic-Zapping 101"

I have been trying to find a focus novel for my classes to read and have a few potential winners selected: Collins's The Hunger Games, Tolkien's The Hobbit, Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Golding's Lord of the Flies.

My 8th Grade girls are full of spunk, and because many of them love a good story, I have been debating on giving their class The Hobbit. As I was searching Google for creative ways to teach Tolkien's novel, I came across Yovovich's 2005 article "Failing to teach The Hobbit."

As a first year teacher myself, many of her claims resonate with me.

And now I am shaking in my boots.


In her article, Yovovich discusses how teaching (failing to teach*) literature to students who already dislike reading is a debilitating series of events. By no means is she saying that this lack of success comes from the students themselves; failure in the classroom comes from teachers.

Yovovich says that she chose The Hobbit for her 10th grade class because she remembered how much she loved reading the book as a child. While I haven't read The Hobbit (scandalous, I know), I do know the burning desire of wanting to share words and stories and knowledge with someone else.

Also like Yovovich, I know that crippling feeling of failure.

In my own practice, I have deviated away from my initial goal as a teacher: to help students develop a love and appreciation of reading. Now, I am more focused on vocabulary acquisition or "quick comprehension checks" or skills learning, all at the expense of the love of reading.

I have seen my students' bright smiles slip away; I have heard the groans and the over-exaggerated sighs; I have seen the glassy-eyed looks on their faces. 

Like Yovovich, sometimes I feel as though I am draining every last drop of magic out of literature, as though I am sacrificing any love students may have of reading for some hyped-up version of what literature "should" mean to them and how they "should" interact with literature in the classroom. This "magic-zapping" feeling kills me as a bibliophile and as person who genuinely loves helping people learn and appreciate new things.

How do we get back into the mindset of building a love for reading, for a genuine understanding of stories? Or an appreciation of form? Of clarity?

Can we?

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