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Posts Tagged ‘class texts’

In just three days, our Year 12s will be sitting their end of year English exam.

While this exam marks the culmination of their compulsory English studies, for their teachers it marks the beginning of next year’s cycle.  Preparations for the 2020 cohort of VCE English students began several weeks ago as English teachers met, discussed and selected the texts that would be used next year.

And, as has been the process seemingly forever, these ‘class texts’ will become the focus of students’ English classes in which they will be required to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

My passion to nurture students’ love of reading remains as strong as ever.  So ….. as I read over a post I published nearly four years ago, in which I responded to VCE students’ disdain toward the books they had been required to read for their English studies, I feel sad to think that not much has changed.   The strength of my words then, remains unchanged:

I’m passionate in my belief that reading is a core skill which underlines all educational achievement. We need to ensure that we inspire students to read, to read anything and everything they possibly can. We need to ensure that students leave our classes and schools with an embedded love, desire and appreciation of just how much reading can bring to their lives – forever. Reading does not just fit into English or Library periods, but is a skill which extends across all aspects and subjects of the curriculum.

NovaNews: Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading? November 8, 2015

The entire post can be read here:

Do required reading and class texts inspire a love of reading?

November 8, 2015 by NovaNews

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By the time I finished reading an article in last week’s Age which reported on students’ completion of their English exam, their first formal exam in the annual final school year VCE Examinations, I felt sick and totally grief stricken!

The title of the hard copy newspaper, set the mood of the article:  Relief and thoughts of book burning follow the exam. (The Age. October 29, 2015, p12) While reporting on students’ response to the English exam was the article’s major emphasis, tucked into the article was the students’ response to seeing the English exam over and done with:

Anger boiled over at some schools, with one student burning his Death of a Salesman book, and posting the image on Facebook.

Really?!

The online version of this report garnered an altered title: Whether ’tis nobler to recycle or burn one’s books – the big post-VCE English question, but still bred the same feelings within me. Reporting on the same incident, the text was softened and somewhat less specific:

Anger boiled over at other schools, where students posted images of burning VCE papers and books.

Both the hard copy and online articles started with the same lead line stating that the school captain of a Melbourne school was “tossing up whether she should recycle her VCE English books or burn them.”

The question: ‘Would you ever read it (the studied texts) again?’ was posed to a few students (see 2.03 minutes into the video at the top of the online article). While one student commented that it was good to examine books in depth and gain a better perspective of what the author was aiming to say, the common response from other students  was no – they’d never pick up the book again with one student adding:

I’ll probably never touch them ever again,” he said. “I’m pretty sick of them, to be honest. I’m pretty glad to be done.”

My response:

Heartbreaking!

Burning books?  Never wanting to touch books studied again?  Discouraging the exploration of underlying messages and meanings shared by authors? Turning students off reading for life?  Is this the end goal of our English and Library classes?

I can see some head shaking in response to the veracity of my words though.  Some of you may well be commenting that these are the actions and response of only a few students or that the quoted words of students in these articles are merely their light-hearted response to the joy of finishing their much dreaded final English exam. 

But hang on …. is this really the case?

It was a few years ago when I had a Year 11 class in the school library for a Wider Reading session that I experienced one of those jaw dropping moments that stay with you for life.

With my characteristic enthusiasm to inspire and motivate a love of reading among this testy bunch of teenagers, I held up the first of the pile of books I’d assembled on the desk in front of me, sure as anything that this one would ‘hook’ them in!  To my horror, a collective groan emanated from the class as they saw the cover of Brian Caswell’s “Only the Heart”.  Unable to restrain myself, I proclaimed the brilliance of this novel.   No, they collectively responded.  That was our class text last year.  Engaging with them to suss out why they really disliked it, the answer was plain and simple.   The book had been ‘hashed to death’ with requirements to analyze, discuss and respond to exam questions.  Quite simply, this bunch of teenagers told me quite honestly that they never wanted to see or hear about this book or author ever again.   I was devastated and saddened to think that they had been so cruelly turned off not just one great book, but an accomplished and talented author.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of ‘heart-to-heart’ chats with senior students about books and reading habits.  Many have expressed their dislike of class texts and the inherent requirement to analyze texts to death.  Many of my chats have been with reluctant readers, who openly confide that they just don’t like reading.  Teasing out the reasons for their disinterest has almost always come down to their experience of being required to read specific books that they have found boring and then having to spend copious amounts of time – often a full term – analyzing, discussing and handing in written reports.

These conversations always leave me feeling bereft.

I’ve spoken with English teachers often about this issue, but always have the same facts thrown at me: students need to study class texts over an extended period of time so as to hone their analytical skills, their critical thinking skills and their appreciation of the classics. This ‘full stop kind’ of response invariably allows no openings to my pleas to  incorporate additional or alternate opportunities aimed at inspiring students to read, read and read some more – just for the joy of it!

Yes, I’ve also faced the argument that I’m not an English teacher who has an allocated number of periods a week within which to teach a curriculum and ensure that students complete inherent required assessments.  I’ve also been reminded that I’m a Teacher Librarian who has lots of time to spend dreaming up, creating and staging a range of enticing literary activities.

Well, yes, I guess that’s correct.  A big part of my job as a Teacher Librarian is indeed to inspire a love of reading.  And that’s just what I do and will continue to do for as long as I work as a Teacher Librarian!  I make no apologies for this!

I’m passionate in my belief that reading is a core skill which underlines all educational achievement.  We need to ensure that we inspire students to read, to read anything and everything they possibly can.  We need to ensure that students leave our classes and schools with an embedded love, desire and appreciation of just how much reading can bring to their lives – forever.  Reading does not just fit into English or Library periods, but is a skill which extends across all aspects and subjects of the curriculum.

As a Teacher Librarian I constantly grapple with the issue of engaging students with literature.  Over the years, I’ve devised many an alternate approach to put books into the hands of students in my school.   Many of these alternate approaches were incorporated into Literary Festivals I organized at one school.  I have also blogged, written and presented about some of the many activities, programs and events I have organized over the years in my library sessions.  If interested, have a read of this post: Engaging readers: Tried and tested ideas that work!

Perhaps it’s time for all of us – secondary school English teachers and Teacher Librarians alike – to step back and take a look at the nature of our program content and question whether what we are doing is encouraging or discouraging our students to become lifelong readers.

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