Category Archives: Reading

Another Book Bites the Dust

I posted a brief about the books I’ve been reading recently and thought I’d update my list with a couple additions.

I finished Fragment by Warren Fahy and have to admit that the fast-paced action interrupted by some scientific theories captivated me, but then Fahy went where I feared the book might go. I enjoyed finishing the novel–and I don’t mind the ending preparing for a sequel–but an element was added (a creature I feared might appear) that disappointed me a bit. Still, I could give the book 2.5 or 3 stars out of 5.

This weekend I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and I really enjoyed it. It’s one of those books that kept me wanting to read the next page and then the next episode and then the next chapter. One of my students recommended I read the book and then my wife and a friend read the series, so I decided to try it out–well worth the time. I just started Catching Fire, the second book in the trilogy, and I’m hoping the second matches the intensity of the first.

Hope your reading is going well too!

[P.S. I have no idea why I keep using allusions in my post titles; I just seem to be in the mood for it.]

A Post of a Different Color

Normally, I only post about education issues or lessons I use in my classroom; however, I do like to do other things outside of school. I do have a sort of a life unconnected to students.

I set a goal for myself this year to read at least 30 minutes each day–not school reading but pleasure reading. So far, I have accomplished this goal. Here are the books I have read since the beginning of the school year (and, yes, I do like bubble gum reads to chew on and spit out):

I have quite the stack of books by my bed right now, but I’m currently reading Fragment by Warren Fahy. This novel is about a remote island ignored by humanity which is home to an ecosystem which has followed its own evolutionary path. So far I’ve enjoyed the scientific lectures, the action, and the feelings while reading which remind of reading Jurassic Park before I saw the film.

Have you read any of these? What are you reading?

Books, Not the Internet

David Brooks of The NY Times reported how disadvantaged middle school students were given up to 12 books to take home and keep over the summer. And then a surprise met those involved in the study:

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

Books have power! They make a difference! And these results were duplicated in Europe.

In a related educational study, researchers discovered another finding:

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.

This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.

Any language arts teacher could have told you this, but no one believes the footsoldier in the trenches of a battle. A commission or a study of “outside experts” has to be employed to tell the powers-that-be what we English teachers could have told them: books, not the internet, are better for students and their intellectual and academic development.

Now, admittedly, the “books are better than technology” argument is a bit simplistic (though still very important and true); however, the key may not be what’s in the books, but how the books make people perceive themselves.

But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.

The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

I often harp about the idea that relationships are critical in the classroom, and one of the by-products of these relationships is how students begin to see themselves as valuable and people of import. This allows them to risk and to explore. Instead of being intimidated by the tome in front of them, the students begin to develop a confidence and pride in reading–and debating and evaluating and synthesizing–great ideas from great minds. The students begin to wrestle with grand ideas and to incorporate them into their world view.

In fact, when researchers study the effects of the internet on academics, they consistently find that internet access may be a detriment to learning:

Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.

Ofer Malamud, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, noted they “found a negative effect on academic achievement…I was surprised, but as we presented our findings at various seminars, people in the audience said they weren’t surprised, given their own experiences with their school-age children.”

What we knew to be true only came to be accepted through another study.

Still, immersing our students in literature, giving them books, and providing them with a new self-image–all the while limiting their web surfing–can lead to a smaller achievement gap and a larger academic record of success for our students.

Teaching Fahrenheit 451

I just thought I’d throw out into cyberspace what I like to do when teaching Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

  1. First, we read Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian” and talk about Bradbury’s views.
  2. I begin the next few days by sharing a number of statistics about television and media in general. Each day I provide 5-8 stats or statements by researchers about the effects of technology, television, and media on people. Then, I have the students compose a reaction which kickstarts a daily discussion. We do this for 3-4 days.
  3. Each of these 3-4 days I show a clip from I Love Lucy, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Honeymooners, and Leave It To Beaver to see what types of shows Bradbury may have seen on TV.
  4. I share the article “Hell Is Other I-Pods” with the students. First, we pull out the thesis statement, identify the evidence provided, and other essay elements. Then, the students discuss the article as part of a Socratic Seminar.
  5. I also shared this linked article this year. This interview with a neuroscientist fascinated my students.
  6. All the while I spread out the reading of Bradbury’s novel.
  7. Lastly, I show the students interviews with Ray Bradbury from his website.

My students told me this was their favorite unit of the year. Maybe it was all of the technology and TV use. 🙂

The Great Debate

Over at the Seattle Times a blog post from Ed Cetera has sparked some conversation around the water cooler in our English Department. In the posting Ed Cetera wonders why people love J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and then he mentions his love for Twain’s Huck Finn over Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.

I believe it’s a difficult comparison to make since the two novels are so vastly different. While Huck journeys south, Twain uses Huck’s experiences to comment on the inhumane treatment of humans, the need for human equality, and the importance of education. However, Salinger seems to want a young protagonist to point out how superficial and “phony” society has become. Holden searches for something real while Huck searches for a reason to remain in society; still, both seem to be looking for their places in the world.

Feel free to weigh in on here or on the comments section of the Seattle Times blog post. Either way, I’m curious to hear what you have to say.

Upcoming in January

I just finished planning for January, and I’m going to be teaching the following this month.

American Literature: First, we’ll review the Edgar Allan Poe writings (“The Raven” and “Masque of the Red Death” and “The Tell Tale Heart”) as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.” I actually used an excerpt of Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, which is in our textbook, as an introduction to the Poe unit. King’s piece is great for explaining how people’s curiosity is virtually uncontrollable and how the unknown is the scariest of all scares. This was a fun unit, and the kids loved it. It was the most energetic and intrigued they had been all year.

In January we will be reading Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and looking at Impressionism, Naturalism, and Realism. Then, we’ll follow that up with Nathaniel Hawnthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

Mythology: We almost finished our examination of Greek mythology but need to finish The Fall of Troy and the tales of Odysseus. That should take us the first week of the month.

Then, we’re going to read Beowulf, compare and contrast Norse Creation with the Greek version and then read some Norse tales. This will finish the semester. We completed our major project this semester, so we have a fun finish to the class. I will probably show a couple films after school and look at how the myths are changed for films (maybe Troy, the early 80s Clash of the Titans, The Odyssey, or the new animated Beowulf).  Sometimes I show the kids the documentary about the mythology of Star Wars if time permits. It’s one that the students like (especially when the film director Kevin Smith says “of course” Annakin is the perfect villain to ruin the universe since Annakin is “an emo kid”).

Sophomore Honors: We finished up Ender’s Game before the Winter Break, which the students really enjoyed. Most of the class went out and purchased or shared the sequel during the vacation time. I got a number of e-mails regarding the Ender and Bean books. It’s nice to see the kids inspired to read more.

This month we’re looking at classic fairy tales and then reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. We’ll compare and contrast the film with the novel, and we’ll look at how Goldman satirizes fairy tales and contemporary society. We may even compose an ABC story which I’ve blogged about in the past.

That’s all for now. TTFN! 🙂