A Dose of Reality and a Reaction Thereunto

Apparently, I’m about to have a severe problem in my profession of choice. I’m about to teach high school English, right? Guess what my professor told me today:

“Not all of your students will be able to read on grade-level, especially not in an average class. No matter what you teach, you must expect it.

“And it’s not their fault.”


To be fair, this was told to my entire class, which is a seminar on Reading in Secondary Schools. And we had good reason to believe it: we’d just spent some time discussing a short article by Charles Hargis that had respectable data to back it up. Tough to argue with data.

(Here’s a link to the first page; you can see the rest if you have access through JSTOR)

If I’m reading the data right, at least 25% of high school sophomores won’t even be able to read at the eighth grade level. And some will still be down at about the 4th grade level.

How do you teach The Tragedy of Julius Caesar to THAT group?

Okay, cool. So a pretty good chunk of my kids might not be that literate. Shoulda’ stayed with the coffee shop.


BUT WAIT! Maybe my kids ARE pretty literate!

Yesterday, I mentioned the other stuff we’re supposed to be learning about Web 2.0 and the classroom. Again, it makes me a little nervous. But not my kids. They’re already way, way up on the tech stuff. I’d say, in fact, that they’re plenty literate,  (if u don’t mind ur sentences lookin like a txt msg.)

Example: at one of my tutoring assignments, I worked with a few kids who had to take credit recovery courses online. Most of the time, that’s because they never bothered to learn the material in the first place. So what’d they do to make it up? Actually read the book? Heck no. At test time, they’d Google the answers in a separate window and cut-and-paste.

I mean, my dad’s proud that he can make a PowerPoint. I’m proud that I can actually create this blog  post you’re reading right now. But my kids? More than capable of Oliver Twist-ing their way through a semester’s-worth of coursework with just a few points and clicks. Ingenious. Let’s nurture that.

What if I can help my increase one form of literacy by using another? What if I can get my kids to read and write better by playing around online?


Now here’s where Part III comes in:

Drew this guy in that reading class today...

Look what I just uploaded. A cartoon. One of a literary figure, no less.

If there’s one thing I can be sure all my kids CAN read, it’s a comic. Not just the white-boy nerds with their copies of  Superman. Naw, also my skater and Hot-Topic kids with their Manga. Or the hispanic students who take advantage of the fotonovelas at our local library. Or anyone who’s ever cracked a newspaper to read The Boondocks or Garfield.

Cartoons and comics are still regarded as trash, in some ways. This is not me griping. But I also know that if you want to get up a mountain, you gotta start at the foothills. And comics are a great way to take rudimentary decoding and cognitive abilities and use them to extract understanding.

And my kids can totally draw a stick figure with a caption box. Also interesting anatomy, if they’re so inclined (and probably in the bathroom stall).

So what if… I started the year off by having my kids read a comic and teaching the literary principles therein? That would lay groundwork and build some confidence. Then, what if I had them respond to the reading by BLOGGING about it. Or inviting them all to Google Wave and having them post to that and comment on each others’ posts in real-time?

What if I even had them draw their own cartoons and upload those, to comment on the stuff we read and talk about in the classroom?

I’m not saying that this is an all-year kind of deal. But if I can show my kids that they’re skilled enough to comprehend a thing they read, and then competent enough to respond to it by PUBLISHING something (even online), might that not help the overall literacy of the kids I teach?

I dunno. But taking the old, old art of picture-writing and mixing it with the new wave of online authorship?

That’s poetry.

And given a little luck, maybe we can even get my kids to read THAT!


Filed under General Musings

5 responses to “A Dose of Reality and a Reaction Thereunto

  1. Anna

    if you’re teaching shakespeare then this is probably where Neil Gaiman comes in….but then, you probably knew that already!

  2. Wow Fuz, super excited for you. I’ve been teaching high school the last two years and the biggest issue I have had is that all my students are great at texting, great at surfing the web, but when it comes to Word, Power Point, or blogging it’s like teaching a kid to read. That my just be the area I teach in. I will say though that you are right on with the comics. My kids love them. One thing though that at the end of the year they all said was their favorite- I read out loud to them the entire first book in the “Hunger Games” series. Many of them went to the library for their first time to check out the second book they loved it so much. Super excited about reading through your first year! It’s an adventure!

  3. This sounds like a great idea!

    It’d be fun to experiment with a classroom comic blog where the students upload their drawings and then comment on each other’s stuff.

    Google Wave has a lot of potential for this sort of thing, too.

    You’re gonna make a great teacher, sir.

  4. benjamite

    Thanks guys. Anna, I just read the first issue, so I’m warming to the idea. Hannah- I may need to get more of a download for your insight. I’ll keep an eye on Collins’ series. Matty, thanks for the encouragement. Let’s play with that Wave sometime, eh?

  5. Julie

    You will make an excellent teacher, Ben. Unfortunately I can relate to students not reading on grade level. I was astounded when I taught junior high and found seventh-graders on a third-grade level. It’s good that you were prepared for that ahead of time. That said, you’re absolutely right about their computer literacy. They grew up with technology and aren’t afraid of learning in that environment. In fact, they get excited about it.

    Bringing your imagination into the classroom is excellent — LOVE the idea of reader response blogging and Google Wave. It’s so easy to get bogged down in traditional book learning. We forget that we can teach the same skills, foster the same intellectual analysis, by approaching the material in a nontraditional way. I have no doubt you’ll be an excellent teacher! Let me know if you ever need a cheerleader.

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