anticipated April vacation of her freshman year by saying, “Ms. Atwell, I'm going to read six books this week. All of them are books I've been dying to read since Christmas. I just look at them and feel depressed. There's always something else I've got to do.” When reading doesn't happen at school, it's unlikely to happen away from school, which means it's unlikely to happen at all.
English teachers can help. We help by giving reading—and writing—our highest priority; we do so when we make time for them to happen in our classrooms. What single, more powerful demonstration can we provide our students of the value we place on these activities? Encircling this are other compelling demonstrations—of the uses of literacy, of writing and reading as whole, sense-making activities, of the ways an adult finds meaning and pleasure in her own and others' written expression, of all students' rights as literate human beings.
Genuine, independent reading and writing are not the icing on the cake, the reward we proffer gifted twelfth graders who have survived the curriculum. Reading and writing are the cake. Given what we know about adolescents' lives and priorities, can we afford to continue to sacrifice literate school environments for skills environments? For multiple-choice and essay-question environments? For spoon-fed and force-fed environments? I say we can't. Making time makes readers and writers, and readers and writers can remake their worlds, using language to see and shape their lives as Jennipher did in her final letter to me.
Dear Ms. A. Robert,
I finished Autumn Street. It was excellent how she told it from her childhood view of things, her feelings and then how she was back in the present in the end.
Sunday morning was special. The cats were under my bed at 4:15 doing something, I don't know how they got upstairs. I took them down and looked out the window. Low and behold, sunrise! But no, it did not rise. All I could see was a golden strip across the sky. I pulled up a chair and put my feet up. I said “Nothing Gold Can Stay” in my mind without stumbling and found how Ponyboy could have felt in The Outsiders. After fifteen minutes when the sun didn't appear I went back to bed feeling new.
We're really going to miss you.
See you sometime.
J. J. Robert
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