The pages turn hungrily and without realizing it, I've read clear into the middle of the night. I had to know how it ended. It was no longer a choice, but a longing, an aggressive desire to understand what compelled me to continue reading. The house is quiet and the tears are running down the side of my face.
As cliche as it is, it transports us to another place and gets us to feel emotions for characters we grow to know in worlds that are different, yet similar to our own. Great literature makes us think critically about the world around us, its connection with history and about ourselves. The way we connect and deeper reasons why the impact is great for some of us sometimes and not so other times.
As a teacher of literature, these qualities are the eye candy we use to develop a deeper understanding of writing. Teaching students how authors achieve these amazing connections through their words, syntax, and settings. It's my job to learn enough about my students to know what is going to hook them, what will compel them through the discomfort of not knowing and motivate them to pursue their own truths of understanding.
Some of my most resistant students over the years are the ones who are the brightest. They struggle with authority or rules in general, but still thirst for knowing; their curiosity demonstrated by the texts they select to read on their own or the activities they engage in when they think no on is watching.
So make sure you're watching.
A good reader becomes a keen observer - we notice. Whether reading books, watching movies or people, readers experience nuance and are driven to ask the important questions that force pensive moments to extend over time. It would be foolish of us not to capitalize on these qualities.
Ironic as it may seem, sometimes I forget how much I love to read. Getting caught up in the busy world around me, slowing down enough to immerse myself in these other worlds seems like a distraction I can't afford. But that is life.
Often, I envy the students who walk around with their faces in their books (not the assigned ones, but the ones of their choosing), eager to have a conversation about what they see.
Always take the opportunity to have that conversation.
Consider the following when choosing literature for class:
What kind of choice can you provide them?
Who decides what has merit and what doesn't?
Are you having this conversation with them?
What are your intentions for choosing this book?
Are you demonstrating craft you want your students to learn and then do?
Are you working thematically, trying to get them to connect and analyze?
Be intentional, always.
Re-read the literature you share with your classes while you teach it. No matter how many times I encounter texts, my current context always changes what I see. This is so for kids too. So let them re-read texts they love too.
Literature, like art begs to be noticed. It wants to be regarded, read, and enjoyed or maybe even hated. It wants to be a part of the hushed whispers of learning, so let it be.
Empower your students to make reading choices and then lead the discussions based on their own interest and inquiry. Go where the discussion finds you, not in a contrived direction based on what scholars say a text means. That is only one way to read.
What was the last great book you read that you took the time to talk to someone about? Please share, I'm always looking for good reads.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress on 8/27/14