Musing Monday – 1.12.09

Today’s Musing Monday asks:
How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/college? How do you think on these books now? What book were you ‘forced’ to read when you were in school that you’ve since reread and loved?

I think I will use this question as a springboard. To be honest, I do not remember my high school required reading – or at least much of it. I just remember that it seemed one day we were discussing basic comprehension and the next day we were expected to analyze symbolism on our own. I don’t remember being taught how to analyze – just the expectation. Being a very “black and white” person, the interpretation of symbolism did not come natural to me and I remember thinking how stupid I was. As much as I loved to read in elementary school, I was turned off to reading in high school.

I was a French major, so while we had to read French literature, most of our efforts were focused on the proper translation rather than the subtle analysis. I took no English classes in college.

Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am teaching high school English (don’t ask – it is truly a God thing). I am expected to teach students what I myself didn’t understand at their age. Thank goodness for the internet. I have vowed not to expect students to instinctively know how to analyze literature; I have vowed to try to learn right along with them. I first try to teach them how to discuss a book – then how to make connections with the story – then how to appreciate the author’s word choice and writing style – then how to discern the character and theme development, etc etc. We take baby steps – not one great big literary leap.

The one “work” that I think I appreciate far more now than I ever did in high school is Shakespeare. In high school we came to class – were given our assigned parts – read the written words (no dramatic interpretation – no teacher interjection) – left and repeated the same thing the next several days. While I still do not totally understand Shakespeare (and I am convinced it will take me a lifetime to do so) — I do try to make Shakespeare “real” for my students. This year we read Macbeth and we discussed each scene prior to acting it out. We had fun — yes, fun — with Shakespeare. I look forward to reading more of the Bard’s works and relating these 400 year old stories to my own life in 2009.


  • Rodger Coleman

    Yay! A new post! You’ve inspired me to renovate my humble blog. I even have you a shout-out!

    I remember Mr. Concilio (?) beating the symbolism thing to death with “Lord of the Flies.” It almost wrecked literature for me, although I have to admit I did learn from the experience. It might be interesting to re-read it, but I have zero desire to do so.

    I’ve always found Shakespeare extremely difficult, if only because the language and usage is so archaic. But that’s MY problem.

    Love the blog!

  • Anonymous

    In some books, I used to wonder if the author really meant all the symbolism we were being taught. Others, like Animal Farm, it was pretty obvious.

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