Friday, November 4, 2022

Change Your Students' Responses to Text Using the Three Book Approach

One thing that inhibits student discussion at all levels is the fear that they did not come to the correct answer.  We, as English teachers, know that there is simultaneously a correct response and a validation of practically all responses, but students have a difficult time compressing that information in to trust that they can give their thoughts and epiphanies on a reading passage.

In my AP class, we do this first week, when we take "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and break it apart using as many different literary criticism as possible.  In my regular inclusion English IV class, we use this in our first book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when we discuss the chapter where Father hits Christopher.

I draw this on the board, stopping to explain before drawing the next image:

Once I draw BOOK 1, I say this is the author and the book he wanted to write.  It is what was in his head as he envisioned the plot, characters, setting, etc.

Then I draw BOOK 2 and explain that this is the book that was written.  We all know that the ideas in our head does not always come out clearly in our writing.  Plus, this has undergone revision, editing, advice from trusted readers, publisher mandates, and many other things that changed the original idea.

I wrap up with BOOK 3 - this is the book we read in our head.  Everyone in the classroom read the same text, but because we all have different life experiences, different relationships with parents, friends, neighbors, different cultural backgrounds, and different environments in which we read (some of us were distracted, others hyper focused) - all these things lead to different feelings, different interpretations, different focuses.  In the "Woods" poem, our experience with snow and nature and possible previous interactions with Robert Frost impact out reading.  In Curious our relationship with our own father (or lack thereof) and our connection to someone on the spectrum will determine if we can forgive Father after this.  All these reactions are legitimate and part of the reading process.

It's why some people can (wrongly) enjoy the Star Wars sequel movies - they don't have the same baggage I bring with me to the movies.

Of course, just because we have certain reactions to characters and situations that differ from everyone, that doesn't dismiss the intention of the author and that can lead to a discussion of whether or not Shakespeare was successful in his intent to create an intense scene or Twain's ability to get his point across.

This discussion carries through my entire year and we often reference that third book.  It has increased participation in class discussions tremendously for me.

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