In the Students’ Minds

By: Megan D. Davis

To an English major reading is as important as eating and as exciting as a roller coaster. However, schools do not give this portrayal when they assign books in their Literature classes. In the first chapter of his book “You Gotta Be the Book”, Jeffrey Wilhelm discusses the observation he makes in his eighth grade remedial reading class. His students adamantly voice their hatred for reading and their unwillingness to even read books of their choice. He also notices a change in the reading habits of his neighbor’s son from what they are when Wilhelm reads to him and when he begins to read at school. Therefore, Wilhelm’s goal is to discover what causes this rift between students and books.

“I hate reading, it’s stupid.” This is not an uncommon phrase to hear in the hallways and classrooms of schools; I often said it myself. When a book was assigned and I was given deadlines to get it read is when I would utter those cursed words. During his research, Wilhelm also adds that he believes it is the way students are taught to interpret what they read that is the culprit. He says that because teachers force the students to learn the way someone else interpreted the story instead of finding their own that the assignment becomes less about the reading and more about figuring out what the critic wants think is right. He states that the criticism the teachers are advocating for is New Criticism which says that there is one meaning behind a text and it is the job of the reader to find that single meaning and not others. He goes on to say that what should be used it Reader’s Response which allows the reader to find their own interpretation along with being presented with what other readers determined.

This research and person experience is something I will have to keep in mind when standing in front of a class and assigning them to read Of Mice and Men. I know that not all my future students will enjoy reading but I will make that worse if I try to force them into someone else’s mind set while reading. What will make this difficult is that the classic books have been critiqued by so many people that the possibility of students find new meanings is slim. But it is still possible, so I must listen to every interpretation they are willing to make. It will be my job to show students that reading is enjoyable and that they have a voice in what the book’s message is. Students may begin to like reading for homework if they knew that what they thought about the plot and theme really do matter.


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