The need to read difficult texts

Over the summer, I had this post about the struggles of teaching a difficult text. You can read a little more about my questions and thoughts in that blog post, but I want to draw attention to something that a friend of mine and current teacher made in one of the comments for that post. I bring this up because, while teaching seniors this year, I’ve run into students who won’t do the readings for class discussion because they find the text too difficult. Now, that post back in July was actually more about teaching “dangerous” texts as opposed to “difficult” texts. But what Sean said in the comments stuck out to me as I was thinking through some issues with student motivation when it comes to reading:

On another note, was “teaching this book” how this was worded as you discussed in class? That is how I remember the verbiage in my Pitt Ed classes as well. But, since I have been in the classroom my mindset has focused more on the text as a vehicle to teach skills. The difference may seem subtle linguistically, but has serious pedagogical implications for one’s approach to planning and teaching.

He goes on to suggest that students, then, might be more interested in reading if it’s something that they chose or have more of a say in. That doesn’t always seem feasible when it comes to public schools and their curriculum – and it seems even more difficult to pull off when I take into consideration that I am only an intern right now and don’t necessarily have my own classroom.

But in going back to the comment, I think we do need to use texts as a “vehicle to teach skills.” Yes, we can ask our students to read to broaden their knowledge on a subject or prepare for a test. But broadening knowledge will only work if students are genuinely interested in that and preparation for a test is too short-term.

I’m starting to believe that we need to use texts to teach our students skills. We can use these difficult texts to prepare them for the next step in their life.

If they go on to college, they will need to read, comprehend and interpret a vast array of textbooks, essays and other documents. If they go into trade and mechanical schools, they will need to read, comprehend and interpret various directions, signals and instructions. If they go on to play a sports in college or professionally, they’ll need to read, comprehend and interpret playbooks. If they go on into the work force, they’ll need to read, comprehend and interpret different documents, research, graphs and a wide range of other texts.

The point being, teachers need to use these texts as a way to teach reading skills. In my case, and I’m assuming most others, it’s to use these texts to show students the importance of deciphering and dissecting these texts because they’ll need to do it in some capacity – and it doesn’t matter what way of life or profession they go.

So, while this doesn’t entirely help me reach a conclusion on student motivation, it does help me work toward an understanding of why I need to teach difficult texts, like Beowulf. I need to show my students that comprehending a difficult or foreign text is an important skill.

Now to tackle that motivation issue…



Filed under Education, English, Motivation, Personal, Reading, Student Teaching, Students, Teaching

2 responses to “The need to read difficult texts

  1. Hi, Jay.

    I think challenging texts are often vehicles for teaching reading skills. What is even more important to me is that by creating lessons that scaffold their reading of difficult literature like Beowulf, teacher provide access to rich and wonderful works that would otherwise be impossible for students to read on their own (How many of us did?). Powerful literature isn’t written the way it is to make reading hard but to express complex ideas artfully. It’s worth the trouble!

    Best/ Carol

    • Thanks, Carol. I definitely agree and that’s something I’m trying to do as I continue my preservice teaching. The biggest thing I struggle with right now is how to get every student involved or engaged. I wonder if it just starts by holding them accountable for their reading assignments, whether it’s participation points or letting them know that anybody is fair game for me to ask them a question.

      We’ve had some good discussions as of late, especially with students who have previously not done that reading homework. So, I’ve stressed the importance to my students to just try to do the reading and come in with questions. Chances are somebody else was struggling with the same thing. So, we can work together as a class to discuss these problems and do close readings to help everybody understand. It’s just difficult – and even just plain frustrating – when I can’t get students to attempt it in the first place.

      And as a side note, I’ve used a couple of the activities in your With Rigor for All book that you suggest as alternatives to reading quizzes.

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