Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.
I recently met several of my reading friends for brunch. We talked as we always do–rambunctiously and enthusiastically, with our words coming rapidly and spilling over one another. We are always so excited when we get together–we love to talk about what books we have read, podcasts we have enjoyed, and texts are helping us grow as teachers.
When it was my turn, I told my friends how my current reading has been an inadvertent re-visitation of classics. It all started when I read The Mockingbird Next Door, a story of an unlikely friendship with elusive author Harper Lee. That had led me to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. Which led me to seek out other classics from my reading past. Buoyed by a holiday break at school, I worked my way through many of the books I remembered as important to me as a student, from Where the Red Fern Grows to Anna Karenina to Light in August.
I told my friends over our omelets, “It’s fascinating how my reaction to these books now, as an educator in my forties, is so different from how I remember my reaction from the first time I read them.”
“How?” someone asked.
“Well, for example, The Great Gatsby,” I said. “I read it when I was 16. And then again at 20, maybe? At the time, I thought the characters lived such exotic, complicated, dramatic, difficult, wonderful lives. I envied their sophistication. I thought it was high-class to drink cocktails for breakfast. To throw elaborate parties. To gaze longingly over Long Island’s north shore in hopes of seeing someone you loved deeply. To travel into the city to carry out an elaborate extramarital affair.”
“What do you think about the book now?” one of my friends prompted.
I struggled to find the right words. “Now, I see the characters as deeply unhappy. They are people with insurmountable problems–depression and alcoholism mostly, but other stuff too. They hurt one another, over and over, for selfish and meaningless reasons.”
My friend Gretchen, a high school English teacher, made a sound that mixed a squeal and a wail. “I just had this conversation with my students!” she said. “They drive me crazy with their reactions to Gatsby. They think–especially the girls!–that Gatsby is the ultimate romantic character. They swoon at all the things he does to get Daisy back. They think it’s sweet.” She paused a moment. “But in reality, his behavior is delusional.”
Those girls aren’t wrong. They love how Gatsby loves Daisy. They love the lengths he goes to in his quest to show his love. It’s genuine and real for them. Just because we (older readers who have seen too much to admire Gatsby’s efforts) may not agree, we have to respect where our students are when they read a text.
Our brunch conversation reminded me how a reaction to a book we read changes depending on where we are in life–what we are experiencing, what we are managing, who we are spending time with. It’s a pendulum, really–our connections to a character or a story swing gently back and forth over time.
That’s why it’s a good exercise for teachers to go back and reread classics that made an impact on us when we were students–even if they are not texts we will actually teach. It gives us a simple reminder that our thinking about texts is never set in stone. Our reactions will be fluid and dynamic. Keeping that perspective will give us a broader net to cast when helping our students analyze texts.
This week we look at student research. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/.
Free for All
[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links, follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChoiceLiteracy or Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/choiceliteracy/]
Ruth Ayres uses an analogy to explore the research process in We Gather Together: On Research and Weddings:
A feasibility study is a great way to explore with students whether a new project makes sense. Don Wettrick over at the Genius Hour explains how they work:
Anna Gratz Cockerille has suggestions for helping students conduct effective internet research:
For Members Only
Andrea Smith explains why infographics are more useful than ever in the age of the Common Core, and provides many links to free infographic resources on the web:
Bill Bass has advice for Teaching Search Skill Basics to Students:
Megan Ginther revisits a classic internet research project in Webquests with Middle School Students:
Justin Stygles finds Google Earth is a marvelous tool for helping students research settings in novels:
In this week’s video, students practice creating equations and using new vocabulary in the second installment of a math lesson from Danielle French’s first-grade classroom:
That’s all for this week!