In her Welcome to the 2009 NCTE Annual Convention, Carol Jago explains that the convention theme “Once and Future Classics: Reading Between the Lines, is designed to inspire courageous conversations about traditional and contemporary literature and foster lively discussions of how we teach as well as what we teach.”
Literature gives us so much to talk about, but eventually, we end up discussing how to teach the subject in ways that engage students while challenging them to think critically about what they read. The secret isnt knowing how to identify every image or literary element. Its not about finding some absolute set of classic texts. Its not memorizing facts about the authors. Its not telling students what makes a work great or even that a work is great.
For me, the secret is in my own attitude and reaction to the texts. If my choices and reactions show an enthusiastic and broad appreciation for literature, students are more likely to engage in deeper conversations about the texts.
The solution isnt simply to gush over what we read. Its far more complicated and nuanced. It has to do with how I think about literature itself and how my choices foster an open, supportive literacy community. Here are my secrets:
- Remember that any text can be a classic. Theres no useful reason to limit the definition of literature to certain genres, canonical texts, or popular choices. Literature can be anything from a graphic novel to a haiku, from the latest Gossip Girls novel to medieval madrigals. It doesnt have to be a particular format. It doesnt have to be in English. It can be fiction or nonfiction. Any text can be a “once and future classic” in the classroom. When all texts are welcome, the options multiply exponentially and readers are more likely to find a text they can engage with and enjoy.
- Recognize that the word text is not limited to print artifacts. As bookstores eagerly push ereaders like Kindle and Nook, we cannot deny that the age of paper-only literature is no more. Literature includes many media, from print to digital, and from films to video games. Classroom discussion can make connections to these many kinds of artifacts. We dont even have to have computers and projectors in the classroom. Literary elements like plot and setting stretch from one medium to another. 21st century definitions of literacy respect these connections, and I prefer to welcome the full range of literature to the classroom.
- Find and build connections to and among texts. Simply reading one word after another or viewing one image after another is never enough. Literature isnt important because of what it is. Its important because of our reactions and interactions with it. Welcoming connections openly and supportively can make all the difference in teaching literature effectively. Students may identify with a feeling or experience. They may reject a presentation of reality or a decision a character makes. They may find that events in wildly different texts have more in common than they expected. These connections are what makes literature engaging and alive.