Amy Allemon Student Inquiry Project ENG 580 Reader One: Amanda Amanda is a fourteen year old female at Oxford High School. She is just now finishing up her freshman year of high school and is struggling with balancing sports, clubs, schoolwork, cliques, etc. The area she lives in and grew up in is fairly wealthy and well-off, so always being in style and fashionable is a large concern for girls in high school. It is rare for Amanda to read much of anything outside of school, and a big part of that traces back to her friends; who also do not read. There is not a strong influence for her to read, and in Amanda’s words there are “too many distractions or better things to be doing with my time.” Amanda and I talked about school and its influence on her reading (or lack thereof) but also focused on her reading history. I asked a lot of questions about memories of reading, and when she stopped really enjoying the process. First, let’s start with school: Amanda is a good student; she does her work and gets everything in on time. Since the sixth grade, all Amanda’s teachers assign are the dreaded “classics”. She has spark noted her way through The Giver, poetry units she could not have cared less about, and yes, even Shakespeare. She groans when telling me about how many teachers spend too long on units “no one even reads the book for anyway”. Looking back since sixth grade, Amanda cannot remember a single teacher giving them “free-choice” on what to read. As a freshman, Amanda decided to try to be more mature about school, and actually read the books. She continued to get the grades she always got, and is now questioning why she reads them if she can ‘sparknote’ it for the same information. Once they read books in her class, they are required to do a book report or compose an essay about it; Amanda hates this part. There is nothing more monotonous than doing (and listening) to book reports on the same book. School is not all bad for Amanda though, she did say that she loved when teachers let the students have “book talks” to better comprehend what they are reading. This was infinitely better for Amanda when the teacher did more listening to students than telling. When teachers stepped in, the students were often told what to feel about a section, which made it lose meaning in her eyes. She also likes reading in class to notice literary devices, but she is given very little time to ever practice them. While Amanda could recognize a simile or a metaphor within Romeo and Juliet, she would have a hard time creating one of her own, or locating one within a YA novel. Next let’s talk about some of Amanda’s reading background. She comes from a family divided by divorce and likes escaping from it all with friends. She would rather be out of the house with her friends than in it with a book. Both her mother and older sister (22 years old) read a lot, but she lives with her dad, so the impact of them only truly exists on summer vacations when she lives with her mom. As a child, Amanda would read at least a book a day, and loved reading on her own, or out loud to her parents. She hated being read to because it made her feel inferior to the adults, so she pushed herself to learn how to read at a faster rate. In kindergarten, Amanda often read aloud in class to prove to everyone how well she could comprehend and read. As she got older, she lost that passion for reading. She would rather watch a movie version of the book than sit down with it. Her sister keeps recommending books and Amanda does read them, but for the most part she refrains from activities involving reading. To Amanda, readings place is at school and this mindset is not likely to change anytime soon. Lastly, I tried to delve into Amanda’s interests to find out more about what she would like as a reader. Call it my inner teacher if you will, but I really wanted to help Amanda rekindle her old passion for literature. I was able to find out that Amanda loves Romance, Criminal novels and dramatic plotlines. She claims to never read, but has read EVERYTHING published about the band One Direction. She follows their twitter accounts, reads blog posts, magazine articles, etc. She enjoys audio books because she doesn’t have to actually flip a page and can do other things while it’s playing. When she does read, Amanda prefers to do it in quiet enclosed places, and to be alone. She has experienced the feeling of finding another world within a book, and admits to loving it. So what’s stopping Amanda from reading? I believe that school is a big factor; her teachers force students to waste weeks of their time on lessons that they do not truly get any take-away from on books someone once said should be taught in schools. Amanda needs a teacher to give her the freedom to read books of her choice, based on her own interests. She needs a classroom that teaches literary devices, but also allows students to experiment with their own. Another factor is her life outside (and sometimes within) school. Amanda does not enjoy her home life, so curling up with a good book at home is not a top priority. She would much rather be with friends, and by the way, these friends also do not read. Amanda admitted that if her friends read more, she would too. Popularity and fitting in are HUGE concerns while in high school, as well as acceptance. Amanda is following what her friends deem as cool, by not reading. I do not think Amanda is a non-reader as she does; I think she is a dormant reader who just needs the right book to spark her interest. While they are not considered YA literature in most cases, I told Amanda to look into Stephen King novels while she is on summer break. His books are packed with drama, criminal activities that need to be solved, and some have romantic plots to them. Time will tell if she enjoyed the book or not, but the great thing is I have all summer to try figuring out books she might like. Reader Two: Nick Nick is a sixteen year old boy who attends a high school just outside of Chicago, Illinois. He is finishing up his junior year of high school, and is looking into colleges to apply for. Nick is the son of a very close family friend of mine, and I’ve grown up seeing him on school holidays. He is extremely opinionated and animated, which made our interview exceptionally honest and, admittedly, entertaining. Nick is quick to claim that he is absolutely without a doubt not a reader. He has between 20-30 books that are his but the most recent purchase was a few years ago when the last Harry Potter novel was released. Nick is very involved in school, is exceptionally bright, but alas, he is a non-reader. The kicker? His mom is a literacy coach in the district he goes to school at, and used to be an English teacher herself. The influence to read is strong in his house, and his mom even recommends books to me, so why is he inclined to not read? Let’s find out. In school, Nick is forced to read the books his teachers feel will teach them the most. Surprisingly, he has read a mix of classics and YA literature, and has not enjoyed much of what is put in front of him. In his words “my teachers love what they teach, are obsessed even, but that doesn’t help us love it.” For whatever reason, since Nick was a freshman, all of his English teachers have focused a lot on books dealing with race in some form or another. He cannot stand it and feels it is an overdone topic, so much so that racism does not feel real to him anymore and the books are not interesting. Once they finish the books, they have to write something; this could be a presentation, an essay, a book report, etc. (his teachers’ form of differentiation). Either way you spin it, Nick hates it and finds it redundant and boring. He absolutely loves when teachers let the students have class debates and discussions on the book, with minimal teacher input. To him reading has become something that you do in school and it is hard and boring. My concern was with the switch in Nick: you see as a boy he loved reading. For him, books were always a way to escape from what was going on. In Elementary school, Nick was part of an after school book club…by choice! The books he read then were “interesting and funny” but as he got older they became “more girly and boring”. He absolutely loved the nights as a kid when he would sit with his mom and sister, and his mom would read aloud to him. Between Elementary and Middle school, Nick’s passion for reading was allowed to fall through the cracks, and I cannot help but wonder if we can get it back. Big influences on Nick’s habits are his friends; they play video games and would rather “do anything except read”. They would prefer to go watch a movie, play sports outside, or hours of Call of Duty, than to ever pick up a book. He and his friends love watching things with zombies, or things that will make them laugh. As I mentioned, his mom is a literacy coach and loves reading. She is constantly staying up to date on as many books as she can, and she reads education blogs every night. Nick’s sister (19 years old) lives at home while attending community college, and she escapes in books rather than going out on weekends. His parents divorced when Nick was fairly young, and I do not know what impact of not having his dad around much has on his reading, but I’m sure the genre his sister likes and recommends is extremely far from that of his own enjoyment. Speaking of genre, when Nick did read as a kid he loved fantasy books or humorous ones. Some favorites on his bookshelf include the Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants. He sped through those books as a child, but has struggled since then to find books that he relates to or enjoys. He always wants “captivating page turners” but never finds any, so he gives up. In the last year he was forced to read both The House on Mango Street, and To Kill a Mockingbird for class. He read both and hated Cisneros’s novel, but absolutely loved Lee’s. He also really enjoyed a book his mom gave to him, Reality Check by Peter Abrahams. I had never read Cisneros’s book, but I am about half-way though it right now and while I love it, I can see why he struggled to get through it. Nick truly is a nonreader for the time being, but he was not always that way. He does read when he needs to, and is more than capable of falling in love with literature as he was as a child; he just needs the right recommendations. I looked up all of the books he named, and created a list of similar books but geared more for young adults-adults. Nick watches the show, Game of Thrones, so I told him to try reading the books this summer. I also gave him a list of books based on recommendations from my male friends. When I see him next, I cannot wait to ask him what he thinks! Reflection Once I was through with both interviews I have to say that while I was not surprised, I was saddened by what I found. Against all sanity, I had hoped they would have had amazing teachers and experiences with reading in school. Hoping this was pointless knowing that in a class full of future English teachers, very few of us had positive experiences with reading while in high school, and many of us did not complete the required readings. This experience opened my eyes to the views of students and how truly important choice is in developing their reading habits. By forcing them to read classics required by the predetermined curriculum is not helping them at all. They sparknote the book, pass the test from memorizing the night before, and do this as a continuous cycle. All the while, the students hear about simile, metaphor, figurative language, lexicon, etc. but they never are given chances to use it and practice with it. They see it once and are tested on it on state tests and then teachers are left scratching their heads when students continuously fail. Is it any wonder though? We teach them the definition of figurative language as represented in a text less than half of the students actually read, and move on. As a future teacher, I am now re-evaluating everything I thought I had imagined about teaching English. The students should leave my class with complete understanding of literary devices, an expanded vocabulary, and having read the books. In an ideal world, one could do this with nothing but classics, but even I hate most of the classics, so why would I try to “get my students through them” if I cannot even do it myself? I would much rather give my students the choice to read things they like and bring it back to lessons based on shorter stories, and occasionally a whole class novel that I truly felt all of my students would connect with. Another thing that I am beginning to question more now is the use of book reports, essays, posters, presentations, etc. Is this really differentiation or is it busy work to prove the students read…or in most cases to prove the students can properly use sparknotes or Wikipedia? Differentiation should be about helping all students get to the same goal but in different ways, to me this does not mean ‘Jon’ is doing a book report while ‘Susan’ creates a poster. It should look different for each student. Amanda and Nick both complained about hating book report-like activities because of their monotony, and I have to agree. I may relate too strongly with Miller, but I strongly believe that the more students read, the better off they will be, and it has little to do with whether or not students can write me a report at the end of a chapter, or completion of a book. Both of my interviewees seemed bored with school, and how predictable it has all become. They do the same activities with very little positive outcome. The history of education looks pretty much the same throughout the years, with teachers in the front of the room droning about what needs to be known. My question is why? I’ve learned better in classes where I had discussions, debates, and yes, I will say it, freedom. Nick and Amanda both expressed concerns to me about college and how if classes would continue to be the way they are in high school, neither would “get through” college. This struck me as sad. High school should not be something students feel they need to “get through”. It should be intellectually stimulating, a time to find out what your interests are and run with them. High school should be an escape to knowledge; a time to learn about places and things one thought only possible in dreams. It is a place to scaffold dreams into realities. In my idealistic teacher-mind, I want my room to be all of those things and more, and NEVER something for my students to simply “get through”. I am not doing my job right if every novel I give out, everything I teach is being memorized the night before a test simply to pass. While the information I was given from the interviews is not at all surprising to me, it forced it all to become real in my mind. Frustration floods through me when I think of teaching the way I was taught, and forcing students to “read” novels I know they will not simply because it is what is expected of them. Education should be about finding interests, passion, and connecting that into a career that they will love. Call me idealistic, but I believe the paradigms of education need to change and that can only happen with new, innovative teachers who are passionate about making that change. Who better to do this than teachers who were just like Amanda and Nick in high school, and demand for it to be different?