Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Year 10 Students Reflecting on the Classics

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Year 10 Students Reflecting on the Classics

Article excerpt

I love reading and words. I read anything almost anywhere. Yet many of my students do not read regularly and do not enjoy using words in interesting ways, except verbally in an informal setting. That may be fine--until major external assessments such as the School Certificate. Rather than repeatedly explaining the importance of understanding different language styles, endless textual analysis and modelling of text types in a teach-to-the-test style, I decided to attempt an enrichment of my Standard Year 10 class by reading classic novels.

During week one of term one, students were told that our 50 minute library lesson each fortnightly cycle would be devoted to quiet reading. Groan. Mumble. What do I have to read? 'The novel you choose must assist you in building an interesting vocabulary, and will probably have been published before 1950.' This was an arbitrary decade, I know, but I based this timeline on the available classic novels in our book room, anticipating that some students who would not choose their own text could easily be supplied.

The carrot approach became useful. I promised that every student who completed their book report by the end of term two would receive a faculty merit. This is the equivalent of three small merit cards that are usually achieved for completing high standard work and homework tasks or for exemplary behaviour. Apart from compiling a vocabulary list of twenty new words, student reports had to include information such as title, author, publishing details, setting, character profiles and plot summary. I included a reflection component to challenge students to explain their personal understandings of the novel they chose.

I developed an organised format to enable students to reflect meaningfully on their learning. This format, which I have called the 3D format, leads students to identify, analyse and critique: Describe, Disclose, Decide (see Burke, 2007). With or without using these headings, students can be lead through the process by writing specific components that produce a series of cohesive paragraphs. The initial description mimics an introduction and students disclose their thoughts, ideas and feelings about a text or event in the first person. Finally, students decide what they have learned and how they might use this learning in the future.

Most students completed the task to a very high standard and understood the need to produce a report that was polished. I was greatly impressed with the quality of writing and depth of analysis and it is these reflections that I would like to share. The range of responses represents a contemporary view of classic novels and is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, students were given no guidance as to a particular 'reading'. Secondly, students understood that their reflective statement had to include language techniques used by the author. However, I did not specify particular techniques for investigation. Importantly, because the task was conducted over a long period of time, the final reports demonstrated an accumulation of knowledge gained throughout the first two terms of the school year. During regular class lessons, we worked through several units including short stories and a novel.

An exciting aspect of this task occurred in the debrief lesson when I returned the reports. I began with praise and asked several students to discuss their choices and explain their reflections. We spent the remainder of the lesson reading reports and discussing writing techniques in small groups. This was empowering. What follows are illustrations of analyses and critiques by the students. A few 'errors' in the students' writing have been corrected.

Aidan

Aidan spent time discussing this task with his grandfather and brought three novels to the first library lesson. He asked which book he should read. I suggested he start with the shortest novel. His final choice proved to be difficult yet rewarding. …

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