Wednesday, September 27, 2006

ON TEACHING: Serious Readers

I was astonished by the performance of my students yesterday, especially during our literary discussions. The 9th graders are reading a dense and challenging book -- Dickens' Great Expectations -- and, based on yesterday's discussions, they are rising to the challenge beautifully. I was particularly impressed by their ability to recall details from the previous night's reading, which they did far better than I could have when I was their age (or, perhaps, even now ). I threw out some random questions covering minute, precise, and often obscure details, and many of the students were prepared to answer all of them. A similar thing happened in the 8th grade classes. Granted, To Kill a Mockingbird is nowhere near as difficult as Dickens' novel, but still, it is loaded with minutiae, and many of the students were able to quickly answer my fussy questions. I praised them effusively and saw many proud smiles on their faces throughout the class. Of course, their strong performance does cause me to worry that some of them might be spending an inordinate amount of time on their reading, just so they can recall small details in class. I'm hoping to teach them how to read efficiently, which means quickly but carefully, and I don't want them spending more than 30 minutes per night on their English assignments. This is material for a few formal class lessons in the next few weeks.

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