New Words - The Jose Vilson

New Words

by Jose Vilson on July 8, 2007

mausendakreading.jpgMy first day in my middle school literacy course has already made me reflect a little bit. We were discussing what it means to read. At first, it was hard for these grad students to get around the idea that, even though all their life, they’ve been looking at texts and had the ability to say out loud what those combinations of symbols meant, if they’re not able to understand or process what that means, then they’re not reading.

Definition: read – v. tr. – to attach a meaning to something

It completely made sense to me because, as many texts as I’ve read, I can honestly say there’s a good 10 – 20% of stuff I had no understanding of, and the overwhelming majority of that 20% were items like textbooks and books I didn’t want to read. Fortunately for me, I had the capacity for taking a text, memorizing a bit of it, and answering the appropriate questions on the tests administered, but it didn’t mean I fully got a depth for what I saw.

lordsofdiscipline.jpgThe professor in our class, then, shed a little light on how we read. For one, when we look at literature, reading becomes easier when we have a motivation or point of view, similar to an actor. I agree. Let’s take The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. For most of the people in my class during high school, they thought it was a good book. I disliked it mainly because I had no motivation nor could I grasp anything that was going on. However, a book like Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy was a book I definitely got into. I could relate to the storyline in a few ways: I understood what it meant to be young, have friends that turned into enemies, and be in an all-boys school.

Then, someone in the class makes a really good analogy: the difference between looking at these words and actually reading them is like hearing and listening. “I could be hearing you talk while I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing, but it doesn’t mean I listened to anything you just said.” And that’s when someone who was thus converted to the “understanding” said,

“But wait, my issue right now is that we don’t really have a word for what that means.”

Ah. Thus, our language, as much as it lets us describe an enormous range of situations and experiences we have in our lives, restricts us from finding a word that says we can take a series of words, look at them, know what each word means in the sequence, memorize them, and maybe even understand a few sentences within that passage, but not gain any meaning from the passage as a whole. Wow.

And in a room full of potential masters in education, a few writers (such as myself), and a doctor in education, we still couldn’t piece it together. That has to bode well for the kids we teach …

jose, who’s looking for new words as we speak …

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

LuzMaria July 8, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Would you read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway now? You might have a different perspective or not. I know that for me I could never muster the desire to read The Red Pony by Steinbeck but loved some of his other books. This is exactly what happens to our kids in the classroom. If they cannot relate or be motivated to read a book, they will not. What do we do as educators? Try to find ways to captivate our audience, including our older crowd. Read-alouds can be very powerful but we have to set the stage for them. Provide them with details and/or facts which will help them comprehend the plot or the author’s message. Share with them our likes and dislikes and have them do the same about the books being read in class.

Have fun with this class!!!

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nyc educator July 9, 2007 at 6:32 am

As a teacher, I try very hard to select books kids can really sink their teeth into, rather than forcing them to read classics. I’ve taught my ESL students books like Holes and Jurassic Park, and while they aren’t Hamlet, they can help instill a love of reading.

If you can trick them into loving to read, you’ll do them a much bigger favor than you would by forcing them through better-regarded works.

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Ms. Whatsit July 10, 2007 at 10:50 pm

Helping kids connect with books that interest them is half (and sometimes more than half) the battle when it comes to working with struggling readers. When they are inspired by an author or genre, they want to read more. The more they read, the better readers they become. It’s also a big reason why it’s so very important to really get to know your students — so you can help them find something good-to-them to read.

Affect = Motivation = Connections = Reading = Thinking

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Karen July 11, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Aren’t you describing comprehension?

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jose.l.vilson July 11, 2007 at 7:55 pm

That’s what a lot of people think, but that’s what happens when we get brainwashed into a certain mode of thinking. If we’re not told early on that, despite our ability to decode sequences of symbols, we’re not reading, we’d be much better readers. Comprehension is just used around academia to discuss degrees of learning, but essentially, it’s all the same: if you can’t gain any meaning from the literature in front of you, you’re not reading. Coincidentally, it also meant that a huge chunk of the technical writing I’ve read and a couple of books I was supposed to read for class were never read either.

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Cal July 12, 2007 at 10:42 am

“If you can trick them into loving to read,”

It’s amazing how many people write this, as if a) it’s a worthwhile goal, b) it’s even remotely possible, and c) “loving to read” will magically make Jose’s comprehension problem (and yes, that’s what it is) go away.

Reading should not be romanticized. It’s merely an extremely efficient method of transmitting information: a tool, not a way of life.

Students might respond more readily if they understood that. Reading a piece in Sports Illustrated is functionally no different from reading Holes. Instead, teachers and parents create an absurd morality structure around the whole process of reading, as if people who enjoy reading are superior human beings.

The student with a fifth grade vocabulary who loves to read is far less educated than the student with the college level vocabulary who thinks reading is a waste of time.

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jose.l.vilson July 12, 2007 at 1:08 pm

I think it’s important to romanticize reading because, unfortunately, kids that I work with don’t get motivated unless they get to use their imaginations. For instance, the difference between reading something about Derek Jeter in Sports Illustrated for Kids and reading the instructions in a math book is technically not different, but with motivation is a completely different story. We can’t expect kids to wantto read something if they don’t have any motivation for it.

And of course we know that it’s an extremely effective method of conveying information: I personally don’t blog for self-aggrandizement. We do it because it’s our way of expressing ourselves and getting our opinions across as efficiently as possible while maintaining its longetivity. Some of this information is written in articles, books, and other blogs. Yet, the reason whypeople read my blog is because the topic and the style in which it was written gives one motivation to 1) read it and 2) respond to it. In other words, motivation is just as important as the skill in getting anyone to read anything.

I agree that too much romanticization is dangerous for a teacher, and I agree it’s a tool in life, and not a way of life, but for a student, that’s something that they can latch onto, and that’s why we have to project such images.

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LuzMaria July 14, 2007 at 12:45 am

One of the things that we, as educators, struggle with is to help our students find that inner-motivation to read. The resistance is due to so many factors, but our challenge is to be able to provide them with the forum to read for different purposes and relate it to the real world. Upon reflection, there were many times that as a student I thought that half of the things I learned in school I would never use. That is exactly what my kids tell me and it keeps it real for me. I think that due to the emphasis place on standardized testing scores has alloted for some “educators” to easily use this data to put labels upon our kids. By prescribing a curriculum to solve all the exisitng academic problems and lack of creativity from teachers, there are too many “educational leaders” whom forget the basic needs our kids have. If we foster a nurturing environment which allows for our children’s curiosity to be developed, validate their experiences, and share our common interests, then we might have more success with our students. Reading is no longer about basic decoding skills and reading comprehension. It serves a purpose in school, jobs, life, advertising-in our lives, therefore we need to be able to empower and provide our students with this lfe-long skill.

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