Teachers of reading? Isn't that the job of the elementary teacher or reading specialist? What does it have to do with teaching literature? Everything, I'd say, for I want to suggest here that teaching reading and teaching literature should not be distinct enterprises. Traditionally, of course, they have been considered to be different. Working on the theory that students already know how to read and that the business of the classroom is to talk about texts, teachers have made assignments that students read on their own. Then, having done the reading, students come to class and the talk begins. This might consist of lecture or discussion, but the pattern is the same: read and then talk.
Both of the assumptions behind traditional practice—that secondary students “already know how to read” and that the business of the classroom is to talk about texts that have already been read—need to be examined more closely. We might ask, for example, if it is helpful (or even accurate) to talk about reading as a static skill, a set of mental activities that, once learned, enable us to read all kinds of texts. How would our ideas about teaching change if we thought of reading as a form of thinking that changes continually as we grow as thinkers and as texts challenge us to think in different ways? And what about those texts? Is that what we are teaching? If so, are they the same for all readers and for each of us as we develop as readers?
As teachers are fond of saying, “There are no easy answers, ” but the three readings in this chapter begin to address some basic issues.