Monday, June 30, 2008

Topic: A Problem in Teaching a Novel

Title: “The Cassette Tape: An Aid to Individualizing High School English.” Earl R. Danielson, Lesley Burrows and David A. Rosenberg. English Journal (March 1973), pp. 441-445. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Quote. Here’s the problem: “You open your first class discussion on a major novel only to find that some students have barely started reading it, others are on schedule, while a few with great pride announce that they have completed the novel. Frustration! How does the teacher focus a discussion along lines that encourage the slow reader to read more, provide depth for the average student, and at the same time stimulate the thinking of the reader eager to talk about the whole book?”

Summary: The authors suggest making audio tapes for discussion whenever each group is ready to discuss at different times.

Comment: As I understand the problem, the students have been told to read the novel and at a given time should show up in class ready to discuss, only some students have barely begun, some are on schedule for discussion and some are ahead of schedule and want to discuss the whole book.

I suggest beginning to read the novel in class, together. After reading the cover information and fielding any questions the cover raises, all the students begin reading the first chapter at different places near the beginning of the book—for ten minutes. The slow reader will read a little in ten minutes, the average reader will read somewhat more and the fast reader will read quite a lot.

At the end of ten minutes, stop reading. Now ask students to tell what they have read. Put key words on the board. Ask the students what questions they have about the novel. Again, record key words on the board. You will find that the questions will fit into three categories—questions of fact about the novel (Who is the person who told the lie?); questions of interpretation (Why did Character A say what he said?); and questions of literary criticism (Why does the author write in such short sentences?).

Now start to read again near the middle of the novel. Students read for ten minutes. Summarize what has been learned. List questions of fact, interpretation and criticism, not in any order. The questions can be re-grouped later.

Next, begin reading for ten minutes three-fourths through the novel. Summarize and list the students’ questions.

Conclude by reading for ten minutes near the end of the novel. Students summarize what they have read and list their questions. The questions will elicit discussion then and there. And the students will speculate and predict. (By the way, this process always elicits questions; knowing the plot stimulates and does not stifle questions.) One teacher who tried the technique with The Red Badge of Courage, said that she could not shut the students up. Organize the questions into questions of fact, interpretation and criticism.

Now the students begin to read knowing what they are looking for. But they will do so at home. Since all novels have “drag spots” in them, times when interest lags, suggest to the class that they read one paragraph a page until they are again engaged in what they are reading and want to return to reading everything.

With the students’ questions raised and the students involved in finding the answers to their questions, they should be able to complete their reading by the required discussion date and they WILL be ready to discuss, just based on the sampling done in class. RayS.

The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.

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