Diigo Links (weekly)

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Choice and Reading

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I showed my students this video and asked them to journal their reactions to it. Here are some selections from their journals:

I think every high school student relates to these students in some sort of way. As time goes on, and hew and more entertaining technology is invented, reading becomes more tedious than entertaining. If I am forced to read a book that I can’t relate to or understand, of course I will get bored and most likely give up on it. Now on the other hand, I read books on programming and starting businesses all the time, and really enjoy reading them. Just like these students, I would have to say, if teachers gave students the option to choose what they read, kids would enjoy reading a lot more and become better readers. Because of school, reading has gotten a bad name to kids and even some adults. If it wasn’t for my father introducing me to my first book on programming and first book on how to start a business, I don’t think I’d ever pick up a book in my life.

A great example of finding a niche you enjoy, I think.

I think the reason that teenagers around the world do not read as much as teenagers used to read in the past is because of the new and advanced technology. Teenagers go on Facebook or watch TV on their free time instead of reading and it definitely takes a big amount of time (and doesn’t have time for reading). Personally, I wish I could read more because I love it and I think it helps me to widen my knowledge and think of aspects in life in a different way.

Personal note of pride: that last student came into my English class two years ago in February of her 9th grade year with no English. None.

I agree with the fact that it is more enjoyable to read something you’re interested in or chose yourself. Another point I would add is that reading on your own is nicer because you can read at your own pace and when there is no pressure I tend to read more.

As I slow reader myself (I often really did want to finish books assigned in school and couldn’t), I can relate to this student. What do we do about that problem in light of the limited time we have in school?

I stopped reading in 8th grade, too. Then I picked books I was interested in (10th, 11th grade) and books were an amazing source because if you forget a part you can go back to it which is just the opposite of what you can do when listening to someone talk. I completely agree with the students in the video. I think what stops people to read is that they are filling a cup they do not have. That cup is the interest and without it your energy is used for something you think is pointless. I started out reading Frankenstein [a recent required read in my Brit. Lit. classes] with apathy and then I started thinking, why not enjoy this? So I took the info. and used it to gain knowledge and expand my thinking.

This student’s cup analogy is interesting in light of the image of futility it provides.

The message in this video was that forcing people to read books that they do not like then they will not read them.

  • Teens need to read.
  • People read more if they like the book.
  • People use SparkNotes if they do not want to read or use what their peers say.
  • More important to read than read classics.
  • People who like the books will read more of them.
  • Classics are okay but what you like to read is better to read.

This student really summed up the video’s main points well because I think he agreed with them though he didn’t say so explicitly.

I believe that the video was very true. I never read for fun. I think if the teacher would let the kids read what they would choose to read, more kids would read. I read all 3 summer reading books for the first time ever, the books were all boring but I still read them. I usually read 1 or 1.5 summer reading books just because they are so boring & I have better things to do.

I do pick up on a feeling of accomplishment regarding completing freshmen year summer reading.

The video is very true. I read books quicker when I like it. The Things They Carried [a summer reading selection] took me forever. Even though I was at camp, I could never get into it. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time took me not even one night & Saturday morning to read. Though it was shorter, I enjoyed reading it more and it made me enjoy reading. It doesn’t matter what we read because reading in general stimulates our brain cells and benefits our writing and the way we think. Classics might help teach morals & provide philosophical ways of thinking, but they are overrated.

The first thought that leaps to mind is that if this poor student of mine has been convinced somehow that classics should be read so that we can learn morals and widen our philosophy, it’s really no wonder he doesn’t like them.

I also have some students who were more critical of the video:

I do not trust the credibility of this video for the following reasons:

  • The data gathered for this video was taken from only one high school.
  • Never showed an interview where a child actually read the assigned books.
  • In the video the person who didn’t read the book talks about how they understood what happened by gathering information from what people in said in class discussions. This means that someone in that class read the book and understood it enough to discuss it.

Even though the credibility of this video is in question, I do believe that they are trying to get across a valid point. If someone likes what they are reading then they will most likely read the entire thing. Also if you let them choose what they are going to read they would likely read it.

I love the way that student really thought carefully about the validity of the message, even though he agreed with it.

In my opinion, these students are whiners. I honestly think that classics are important as they reflect the time in which they were made. You don’t want to do math, but you do it anyway. Reading is made out to be such a chore these days. Reading is television for the mind. What is wrong with that? Come on, people. Grow up and just read the darn book! I mean, my God! Complain! Complain! Complain! Now how do I, who is not a genius, manage to read books for skill and books for fun at the same time?

While I admire this student’s sentiments and have shared them from time to time, is it me, or does reading sound like medicine you need to take, so it’s better to just man up and take it?

Our school is examining ways to bring more student choice into the curriculum. We have no plans to eliminate required reading as a class, but more independent reading reflecting student choice and literature circles are options we are exploring. What is your school doing to encourage more reading and foster lifelong reading habits?

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Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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The Journey

SeekI think one of the reasons the hero’s journey is so popular in our culture, and arguably in most cultures, is that we inherently recognize that in our lives, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Once the hero reaches his destination, the story ends.

When I was in my English Education program at UGA, one of my classmates introduced me to Joseph Campbell. I can’t remember the particulars anymore, only that Greg mentioned Campbell’s interview with Bill Moyers, which became The Power of Myth.

Greg was one of most well-read people I’d met up until that point, and I respected his intellect. Out of curiosity, I purchased a copy of The Power of Myth. As a fan of Star Wars and Tolkien, I was drawn to Campbell’s ideas.

Many years later, my department chair asked us to dream up possible English electives, and my first idea was to create a course based on the monomyth and the work of Joseph Campbell. My department chair and principal approved the course based on the description I wrote. I titled the course “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” after Campbell’s seminal work.

Regular readers of this blog know that backward design informs my teaching and planning. Therefore, I created essential questions not just for each text, but also for the course:

  • How is the pattern of the monomyth demonstrated by various cultures around the world in various time periods?
  • How do archetypes inform our understanding of literature and the world?
  • How are the Hero, his/her quest, and his/her ideals still valid and useful in today’s world?
  • How has the monomyth been influential in shaping subsequent literature and film?

I begin the course with a WebQuest to help acquaint students with Campbell and his work. Next, I divide students into three groups, and each group reads a section of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Because I don’t have the option of assigning summer reading, and we need to hit the ground running so we can study several texts over the course of a semester, I have found that simply dividing the section of that book that discusses the hero’s journey into thirds—the Separation, the Initiation, and the Return—the work of learning about the hero’s journey can be accomplished more quickly. Each group reads the section of Campbell’s book dealing with their assignment and teaches the information to the class. Last semester’s Return group made great use of video to teach their section.

After students understand the basics, we move on to the texts. Campbell’s two books The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth serve as foundation texts. We also study the original Star Wars trilogy. No other modern work, with the exception of Harry Potter or possibly The Matrix, is mentioned so often in conjunction with Campbell’s work. George Lucas has said that he wanted to create a monomyth after reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the idea seems to have caught fire in Hollywood since then. Campbell’s famous interview with Bill Moyers took place on Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch. Another work I felt important to include is The Hobbit. I felt that The Lord of the Rings in either book or movie form would be a bit too long for a one semester course, but obviously that work is a great choice. The Hobbit contains the hero’s journey in a more abbreviated form. Aside from these works, I have also taught The Iliad. In future iterations of the course, we will instead read shorter Greek/Roman/Norse/Celtic myths that conform more closely to the hero’s journey. Achilles, after all, spends most of The Iliad stuck in the “Refusal of the Call” phase of the journey. One could argue Hector is much more heroic, and certainly medieval scholars must have agreed—he was chosen as one of the Nine Worthies, whereas Achilles was not. I have purchased a set of The Ramayana, but never managed to get to it. It is a one semester class, and the Jewish holidays often hit us pretty hard in September/October. I have to seriously curtail reading homework during that time period, which makes it hard to get through texts (also an excellent time for film study of Star Wars).

The course has proven fairly popular. The first year, eight brave students signed up. A few of them really enjoyed the course. One of them recently visited me to tell me he had been accepted to college (he took a year off after graduation), and to tell me he was watching Star Wars with his brother the other day, and kept talking about what part of the hero’s journey Luke was currently experiencing as they watched. As he said, “Oh, now they’re in the Belly of the Whale.” I am delighted that he will not be able to watch a movie again without seeing this additional layer of meaning. Before he left, he thanked me “for a great class.”

This year, the class was full, and I understand quite a few interested students were turned away, as the class was capped at 15 students. A student in my class last semester drew a Venn diagram to help his fellow students understand the prominence of the Hero’s Journey. The diagram has only one circle instead of two. The diagram is titled “Stories that follow the Hero’s Journey.” Inside the circle are the words “All Stories Ever.” I really like the idea that as a result of taking this course, students see this common story in a new light.

My friend Greg, the one who introduced me to Joseph Campbell, was killed in action in Iraq in April 2004 when his truck convoy was ambushed outside Abu Ghraib. Greg was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal for his bravery—he saved the lives of ten other soldiers before being killed. I know Greg had a deep understanding, perhaps better than most, of the sacrifices a hero must sometimes make for his people. He would have been pleased, had he lived, to learn about this course. He told me once he thought every English teacher should teach Campbell. I teach Campbell because I think his work is important and helps students put so much of their culture into perspective, but it’s a fitting tribute to Greg’s memory, too.

Here you can find a list of links I use in teaching this course or that I just find helpful and have shared with students (or just use for myself):

“For we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.”—Joseph Campbell

*For more discussion of this essay, see this previous post.

Update: This post used to contain documents I use with the course. I will post the documents again on a future post. A plugin I used to use made them unavailable to users.

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

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Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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