After teaching a mini-lesson to one of my Reading classes on how to analyze a character, I was again struck with the question of, can everyone learn how to read well? I recognize that not everyone loves to read, in fact, it was not until my Junior year of high school that I actually read a full book longer than Clifford Goes to Hollywood. But during that summer between my Sophomore and Junior year, I was assigned to read both Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby. I struggled with Of Mice and Men, but was enthralled by The Great Gatsby. Now, I read voraciously, but still struggle at times to understand--and I am an English teacher.
But back to class. As my reading groups rotated through the period, from the Reading Zone to the Computer Zone and on to me for Direct Instruction, I became aware of just how many of my students didn't get it. Using the story of Arachne and her challenge to the goddes Athena, I instructed them on analyzing a character. Of course, these students are here to improve their reading levels, but even inside of the class, there were distinct pockets of students who picked it up and others that just stared at the page, presumably wondering what in Athena's name we were reading.
Cris Tovani's book I Read it, but I don't Get it: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers has been a helpful book in understanding the scope of today's reading problem. I think, ultimately it comes down to the purpose for which we read. Critical thinking skills are necessary to understanding literature; we must be able to ask those questions of motive and intent; we need to recognize what is said and not said; we need to recognize themes. But, does a student need to know how to do all of those things in relation to a novel? Yes, as a life skill I think we want students to question motives, infer meaning, and understand the general themes of life. If they don't, the world will take full advantage of them. But is this life going to take advantage of them if they cannot recognize the themes in Of Mice and Men? Do all of our student really need those skills in life? Or is simple functional reading what we should focus on?