My 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.
The 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 …