Friday, June 21, 2013

In search of readers

Teachers have said, read, or heard it multiple times: good readers make good writers.  In fact, a quick search via Google yields about 46,800,000 results, all attempts to illustrate, explain, or build programs around the need for getting students to read and to write--whether more, a little, or at all.

This week, one of my classes (college seniors) is working on a written change management plan.  The students understand the concepts, can describe the organizations facing the change, and can answer my questions about the what, why, when, how, where, and who.  As a group, they struggle with writing.

I hear myself using phrases such as "narrative thread" and "tell the story" and "lead me to the conclusion," all of which make sense to readers. And I wonder if these phrases have any resonance for my students.

Somewhere during the week, I happened to actually see (as opposed to passing without noticing) one of the many stacks of books in my house.  I read.  A lot. Sometimes, I read mindless fiction (clay feet) but, far more often, I read texts that require my full attention. Authors who use metaphors I may not grasp immediately, words I rarely read or use (another trip to the OED, still my favorite dictionary), complex sentences that make me slow down or read twice (at least), concepts I don't understand, or premises with which I disagree.  Poetry, history, mythology, religion, political commentary, humor, biography, autobiography--whatever the genre, I've read it and I probably have it.

Fortunate enough to be raised by readers, taught by readers, and befriended by readers, I recognize good writing when I see it.  I may not be able to articulate why a particular phrase lingers well beyond the reading or what it is about a poem that beckons me to return (some of the best reading is well beyond the second or third go-round), but I know it when I read it.  Just as a catcher knows a good pitch, through a combination of experience, training, and practice, a reader knows a good writer.  And both good reading and good catching require work.

I don't have an easy answer for my students. Perhaps searching for an easy answer is, in fact, part of the problem.

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