For years I have been trying to solve the mystery of what makes some readers stronger than other readers. I have read countless books and educational journals, and I have observed teachers and students alike engaging in reading tasks. Unfortunately, I still have not solved the case. However, this week, I think I did stumble on a few truths.
As we read, "The Cask of Amontillado," by Poe you all participated in a mock trial to determine who was ultimately to blame for the destruction at the end of the story. One side of the room tried to prove Montresor was to blame, while the other side of the room tried to prove Fortunato was the culprit. The twelve jurors in the middle of the room had to weigh the evidence presented by both sides and determine a verdict. My favorite part of this activity was when the jury needed a private space in the hallway to deliberate. It was fun to see how excited you all were to prove your side and try to sway the jury. Even better was the fact that none of you seemed to recognize the role play as work, and certainly not the kind of work you will be doing on the FSA test later in the year. Yet, it is exactly what you will be doing, determining a stance and building an evidenced-based case to prove your argument. Each of you found text evidence to support a specific character trait and you argued effectively. You were reading with purpose and meaning, which made me so proud, and in doing so, you were becoming stronger readers without even realizing it.
The next day we read "The Stolen Party," but before we did, I asked you all to silently read the poem, "Fences," during your bell work. I wanted you all to make thematic connections between the poem and the short story for the day. In order to make this possible, I asked you all to provide four annotations and answer three higher-order thinking questions. Most of you broke out your highlighters, marked a couple of lines, and went straight for the questions, which most of you agreed, made no sense. As I was circulating the room, I discovered many of you had no idea why you highlighted certain lines. When I asked you why you marked a particular line, some of you said because it sounded good or I don't know. I spent some time talking with each of you and began to ask you questions. As you responded to my questions, I encouraged you to record your responses and new questions. I explained asking questions is the basis of comprehension.
I did not intend for the activity to take as long as it did, but I am so glad we took the time to slow down, so we could move more quickly later. By the end of the activity, I was thoroughly impressed with the annotations I now saw. It was no surprise to me that (both in my honors and regular English classes) after you annotated in a more mindful manner, the questions were not so overwhelming. It is my sincere hope that each of you will continue to develop your skills of annotating the text. I know it will help you with FSA, but more importantly, it will help each of you become a stronger reader, which is my highest goal for you this year.
As a colleague told me this week, good readers have the ability to make the simple, complex and the complex, simple. Poe is an entertaining author, but his writing is by no means, easy. His vocabulary is inflated, the language is archaic, and the verbal irony can be easily missed. Making the complexities of his language, simple can be a difficult task, even for the most skilled of readers.
Yet, you all embraced the challenge and were astounded to discover Montresor had used his cunning ways to lure Fortunato down to the catacombs and bury him alive before he even noticed what happened. I told you all I loved the analogy the author presents in the text. We are all quick to judge Fortunato for being lured into captivity and ultimately destruction through intoxication, but we have all been deceived at some point. We have all found ourselves being led down a path that we do not realize is sinister until we are literally way in over our heads. I equated it to one of my favorite quotes by Warren Buffett, "The chains of addiction are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken." However, the same could be said of good habits. You can start out with a curiosity about something good for you and find yourself eventually fully involved in something you never even knew you might love. This is my hope for each of you who so candidly told me at the beginning of the year that you did not like reading.