Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's the purpose today of continuing to read novels and short stories in English Class? (posted by Mr. Eaton)

As a middle-school English teacher, I make a habit of asking myself: What is the purpose of English class? What is the best use of each day's 54-minute class? What are the real-world English skills I should share with students (the adults and innovators of tomorrow)?

Of course, being passionate about language, I understand the important value of constantly improving our vocabulary, punctuation and grammar. Those skills, while quite dry and mind-numbing for some students (and, I'll be honest, adults too), are the nuts and bolts of improving our communication and articulation with one another.

In the ever faster and immediate methods we humans communicate and express our ideas with each other (emails, texts, tweets, blogs, comments, Facebook statuses, etc.), it is more essential than ever to use the perfect word (vocabulary) and punctuate it correctly for nuanced meaning. We can't rely on expressing nuance through emoticons; what does a winking sideways-smile face mean exactly? More than any time in history, this generation has an absolute, real-world need to harness the power of precise vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation.

But, what's the real-world purpose of reading novels and short stories in class?

In these speedy times, where the bulk of our communication is through sound bites, text messages, tweets, blogs,  and 1000-word Flash Fiction stories, why should classroom time be filled with the time-consuming process of reading those dust-covered, archaic tomes labeled novels and short story collections? Why spend weeks examining what happens when children are left alone on a deserted island in William Golding's Lord of the Flieswhen you can watch a one-hour episode of CBS's  Survivor? Why read David Drury's short story "Things We Knew When The House Caught Fire"  which is set against the backdrop of class divide in a wealthy Bay Area community called Larkspur when, with the same time-commitment, we could read five French-oriented Larkspur blog posts and a related article in San Francisco Chronicle?

I have an answer.

Yes, I have an answer, I believe, that proves that reading books is the most important activity in school. In fact, it is a reason our entire population should turn off their computers and put down their smartphones and pick up a book, or e-reader—I have no beef with that. But, before I blab on about my answer, I'm interested in comments about what you think.

Why do you believe it's important to read novels and short stories? Or, if you think it's a waste of class time, then employ your grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary powers to articulate why not.

Please comment below and join the debate.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Writers on Reading: Tips from Michael Chabon

Last Friday, two of my favorite authors Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon read from their books then answered questions from the audience. You might know Chabon's young adult novel Summerland or his recent novel set in South Berkeley and North Oakland, Telegraph Avenue. He's also the screenwriter of John Carter and Spiderman 2. Junot Diaz wrote the amazing The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One nugget of wisdom I took home from the conversation was Chabon's comment that reading, especially for kids in schools, can't just be class texts that require some kind of deep moral thinking or are guided solely by the agenda of the curriculum or the teacher. You have to read what inspires you even if you love comics or horror or some other entertaining genre rarely taught in schools. Chabon says he reads to feel bad enough about his own writing that he is inspired to emulate a writer he admires. You young writers need the freedom to read and discuss what inspires you to write.