This article was originally written for an Adolescent Literacy classroom blog, found here.
Chapter 3 of Randy Bomer’s Building Adolescent Literacy is about helping students develop habits for literate lives. This includes using students’ natural literacies outside of the classroom to our advantage, and encouraging them to pursue better and more efficient reading and writing habits. Previously, I hadn’t thought about the layers of complexity involved in creating productive reading and writing experiences, such as body placement, snacks, lighting, and proximity to others. I also hadn’t thought about how I’ve lost the joy of reading and writing in my own life.
As I reflect on these principles present in my life, I realize that something went wrong somewhere in my life. As a child and young adolescent, I spent hours every day buried in books. My mother visited the library every week to get me four new books to devour. I was caught up in mysteries, romances, fantasies, and sci-fi’s from that early time. But today, I have an enormous stack of books that have remained unopened and unexplored sitting on my shelves. These lonely, forlorn books are mysteries, romances, fantasies, and sci-fi’s, as well as nonfiction books that feed my personal interests, and odd recommendations from trusted friends. My Goodreads.com “to-read” bookshelf is also overflowing, but my recreational reading has slowly become very small to non-existent in my day-to-day.
My writing, too, has died slowly over the last few years. I competed and won in novel-writing competition NaNoWriMo multiple years in high school. I have started several blogs for different purposes over the years, a compiled 450 blog posts (these currently sit in a Wordpress account, unpublished and wilting away).
Why am I sitting here amidst a graveyard of literate potential? College, I believe, is my leading excuse. I spend the majority of my time reading for classes like Decadence and Modernity, Women in Captivity, and African-American Literature and Culture. I spend my time writing 10-page essays about Oscar Wilde, and composing research projects for sociolinguistics courses. When I’ve completed my homework for the day, I can’t handle any more sitting still, staring at pages of text, and I can’t get my brain to form words anymore.
And I think growing numbers of high schoolers are stuck in the same lifestyle. In an effort to do well in academic avenues of life, students have forgotten the joys offered by recreational reading and writing. English courses have sucked up the time and attention we would otherwise put towards “fun” reading, and forced us into narrow, scholarly work. Outside of school, I have no leftover energy or patience for conquering the stacks of “books-to-read,” or blogging about social problems I want to dissect.
I hope that someday soon, I’ll return to my roots of living a life of natural literacy. I also hope that as a teacher, I won’t forsake my students’ existing literary agenda for one of my own making, and allow them to build and conquer that pile of “books-to-read,” outside of the demands from the cannon.
Bomer, Randy. Building Adolescent Literacy in Today’s English Classrooms. Heinemann, 2011.