TOP TEN QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT
1. What?! You mean I have to read?! A book??!?! Yes. As students of English Language Arts, we need to develop an awareness of and appreciation for existing works of art, namely books, stories, plays, poems, etc.
2. So, what am I supposed to do? You’ll be assigned part of the book, one story, a set of poems, etc., to read each day. After you’re finished reading, you need to go into your classbook and write a response to what you’ve read. You’ll be given five to ten minutes of class time to write. This will be your “C” (classwork ) entry for that day, and this is required for each individual reading assignment.
The classbook entries you write are your way, and the only way, of demonstrating to me that (a.) you read the text, (b.) you understood it, and especially (c.), you thought about it and have something meaningful to say about it. Your “C” entries need to show that all of these things took place. Remember, there will be no test. You must keep up with the reading, and the writing, every day!
3. What am I supposed to write? What the book is about? Not quite. That’s not RESPONSE. Although you may do that if you feel the need to refresh your memory, you can’t just leave it at that. A response is a written exploration of the reading; not a plot summary or your opinion of it, but what it makes you think of, what ideas come to mind while you read, and after you read. It’s sort of like having a written conversation with yourself about what you read. In a way, we respond to reading the same way we respond to quotes, only on a much larger scale.
As with the quotes, the idea is to keep writing as new thoughts and ideas come to you. One thing you might want to do is jot down notes, thoughts, ideas, questions, etc. while you read, then write your response after you read based on the notes you take. Remember, it’s up to you to make meaning out of the text; it’s not always going to be obvious.
Click here for a more detailed discussion of reader response.
Demonstration: The Natural by Bernard Malamud (novel – Chapter 1)
Demonstration: The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn (memoir - Introduction)
Demonstration: Animal Farm by George Orwell (novel – Chapter 1)
Demonstration: “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes (short story)
4. Can I bring the book home? No. We will be doing all the reading in class. If you’d like to bring a copy of the book home, see Mr. Bressi for a book receipt, if there are enough copies to go around. You are certainly free to purchase the book at a bookstore or Amazon.com, or borrow it from a library. Some older books which are in the “public domain” can be read in their entirety on the internet.
5. Can I bring my classbook home? You can, but you shouldn’t. You will be in trouble if you come to class without it, and you’ll really be in trouble if I grade them and yours isn’t there.
6. How are you going to grade it? There are three things I’ll be looking for: VOLUME (how much and how often you write), COMPREHENSION (how well you seem to understand the text), and RESPONSE (how much of your own thinking you’ve added). The more you write, the better your grade will likely be, as more writing usually indicates more thinking. Click here to see a detailed assessment rubric, which explains exactly what your classbook needs to show in order to receive a high grade, and what constitutes each level of performance.
7. I still don’t get what I’m supposed to write. Do I just give my opinion? No. While they can be useful, opinions and judgments tend to be very limiting. And they’re not really relevant to our exploration and study of the text. Again, response is whatever the text makes you think, not whether you “like” it or not. There’s nothing specific that you need to have in your response, but you need to show that you read the text, have something meaningful to say about it, and can discuss it in an intelligent, scholarly way. I don’t think any of us is qualified to judge literature like we’re writing a review for The New York Times. Click here for a more detailed discussion of response.
8. I read the detailed discussion and I still don’t get it. What should I do? Don’t give up. Here’s something to help get you started, a few questions you can ask yourself and answer in your “H” entry:
· What’s going on? Take a sentence or two to recall what the chapter was basically about. While you don’t want to spend too much time summarizing, this will at least get your mind going. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand absolutely everything; a partial understanding is a good place to start. You might also want to consider the role of the chapter in the book as a whole.
· What’s the “big idea?” Beyond the text itself, beyond the details of who the characters are and what they do, what was this passage really about? What larger ideas are at work here? What does the author want us to think about? Find the “big idea” and explore it in your writing.
· What’s the author doing? Notice any metaphors? Similes? Symbols? Interesting or clever use of language? What’s the author’s tone? The narrative point of view? How are the characters created? Any use of foreshadowing? Irony? There are dozens of literary elements and techniques in every passage we read; you should be able to find and discuss at least one. Click here for a comprehensive resource on literary devices, including definitions of each and examples of how to recognize and discuss them.
· What’s my discussion question? Since this is part of the in-class requirement, now might be a good time to figure this out. Remember, discussion questions must be open-ended and meaning-oriented; the answer will probably not be in the text itself. Come up with your question and then…
· How do I respond to my discussion question? …try to answer it.
9. What if I do it wrong? As with everything else, the only way you can really be “wrong” is to not do it at all. If you follow all the above guidelines and try to meet the requirements, you can’t really do it wrong; you may not get an “A,” but you will pass. There are, however, a number of things you definitely shouldn’t do:
· You shouldn’t let yourself fall behind with the reading and the writing. You need to read and write every day so you’ll be prepared for class, and ready in case I suddenly decide to check or collect the notebooks. It’s very hard to do this successfully if you try to write numerous entries at once.
· You shouldn’t decide not to write at all because you feel like you “didn’t understand the book;” never confuse a partial understanding for no understanding at all. Just because you didn’t understand everything doesn’t mean you didn’t understand anything. Having difficulty with the text is one of the best reasons to write; remember, writing is thinking, and the writing will lead toward a greater understanding.
· You shouldn’t simply write a plot summary without responding to the text. This is not what you’re being asked to do. You need to start thinking above and beyond the basic facts of what the book is about. Pure plot summary is also a “red flag” that suggests you may have read SparkNotes, or some other secondary source, instead of the actual book.
· You shouldn’t read SparkNotes, Cliffs Notes, pinkmonkey.com, or any other print- or internet-based secondary source materials, instead of the book itself. These sources are meant to enrich and inform your reading of the text, not take its place. Watching the movie, if there is one, is also not a substitute for reading the book.
· You must not copy, or even paraphrase, from secondary sources when you write in your notebook, as this may be grounds for failure, or even a zero.
· You shouldn’t copy from another student’s notebook; you will both fail if you do this. Helping each other out is certainly encouraged, but not to the point where one person does all the reading, writing and thinking and the other merely copies it. Also, if you copy from someone who copied from SparkNotes, you’ll get a zero too.
10. What if I don’t like the book? Your personal opinion of the text has no bearing on these requirements. Don’t let it affect your work. Remember, it’s your job as the reader to find an interest, and meaning, in the text; it’s not the book’s job to “interest” you.