Author Bio: Andy Summers writes widely about teaching, as well as via the London based GSL Education.
For many literature teachers, the real measure of success in introducing any text to our students is our progress with the ones who aren’t having fun. For the A students, or the ones who love our subject area, we’re preaching to the converted. These students are receptive, hungry to succeed.But for the students who’ve have it in their head they’re no good at this, or this simply isn’t their thing, we have to go an extra mile.
So how can be bring the important texts alive for reluctant readers? Better still, how can be inspire a genuine love of literature in them?, so that the magic of books can enrich their lives for years to come.
Make it Real
Humans, and kids especially, empathize with subjects that have direct relevance to their own lives. On the face of it, a high school student in 21st century Delaware is going to pick up a copy of Romeo and Juliet with dismay, seeing only the old fashioned dialogue, the long words, the characters from a world which seems to bear little resemblance to their own.
Yet show them Baz Luhrmann’s film version, in which the dialogue is pretty much intact, and you show them conflict, burning love, violence, resolution and tragedy, all of which they understand only too well. That’s a classic example of how the same story, including the same challenging language, can be conveyed with emotions true to the original and which can mean the difference between success and failure as a teacher.
If there are no modern versions, extract the central themes of a text and give an example your students will have heard of: if you’re teaching Frankenstein connect it with Scary Movie, find that connection!
Choose a Modern Text
What is the purpose of teaching someone about literature? Is it really our job to enforce students to wade through Jane Eyre to the point where they can answer examination questions in a manner which suggests understanding? Or is our responsibility far deeper: to convey the power of words to forge the human spirit, to open up a child’s inner world to a place where imagination can run riot, to help our students experience the heartfelt connection to truth which good literature engenders.
All of this dynamic may hangs and falls on our choice of text.
Certainly, a great teacher can open up Jane Eyre for even the more recalcitrant reading student. But how much easier to meet that student on his/her home ground by choosing a text set in their own world, or which speaks directly to their emotional center. T
here’s a place for the classics, that goes without saying, but why not consider works like: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
All of these texts offer brilliant insight into our contemporary reality and may offer a real chance for connection with students not receptive to classics just yet.
Open up the Books to our Day to Day Experience
Have students connect key quotes from the work to news articles, photos and editorials on the web then tweet the links to your classes feed.
Find news and interviews from the authors and add those to a page about the current text on your school’s website.
Make discussion just as important as the reading,
Use the web to illuminate areas of the text: foods and places for example, which may be outside your students’ direct experience.
Talk to the Author: Many authors jump at the chance for direct interaction with their audience.