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Where Reading Can Take You

Youth Literacy

A taste of what can happen in a That Reading Thing lesson

The Deal in That Reading Thing is: “you never have to know anything we haven’t learned together”. The flip side of The Deal is that students do need to know what we have learned together – and the result is often higher expectation than our students have ever experienced before.  That high expectation is reflected in our choice of reading material. That Reading Thing intentionally tries to take young people beyond their worlds to places where they will encounter new ideas, knowledge and vocabulary.

Lee was a young man with big problems. He was a violent young offender with serious anger management issues. He was also a joy to work with once he figured out that he could make mistakes with me and not be considered a failure. When that boy smiled, the room lit up.

One day (near Liverpool) Lee and I were walking to my car so I could drive him home. As we crossed the street well away from any corner I said, “If I did this in Vancouver, I’d get a ticket.” He laughed and said, “What? Cross the street?” And I explained jay-walking.

Fast forward two months and I see this article on the front of a weekend travel section.  (Read it – it’s entertaining and you’ll see the connection.)

I knew this would be a good text because it would be both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Familiar –  being stopped by the police. Unfamiliar –  the setting, the crime, the police culture, the language of the broadsheet journalist. I did, however, think that the complexity of the text might be a bit much so I typed up only the first bit of the article in size 14 font and 1.5 spaces to make it easier for him to follow. I also took the real newspaper with me because I have a non-negotiable policy that our strugglers know they’re reading “real” texts.

The story ignited his sense of justice and he was flabbergasted by the attitude of the police. (I don’t think he’ll be heading to LA, ever.) Then he noticed the paper and said, “That’s not the whole story; I want to read all of it.”

And he did. It was the missed photo-opportunity of my career: a proper old school shaven- headed “hoodie” up on his elbows reading the Telegraph. Sadly it was 2003, before ubiquitous camera-phones, and the image remains only in my memory. But so does the discussion about justice and the culture of policing in two countries.

That’s why I suggest you ask your adolescent struggling readers about their interests then take them somewhere else, even if only a little beyond the familiar, to get them thinking and learning and expanding their vocabularies and their ideas about the world.

 

One Response

  1. Kaleeg Hainsworth
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    This is a fantastic article and a very memorable moment. Your non-negotiable policy of making sure that struggling readers are engaging with real texts just feels so right. Manufactured texts feel fake and therefore irrelevant. A real text to engage with is invaluable because you feel that you are learning while interacting with real-world questions and topics.

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