My students are tired. They’ve been working hard, most notably on their writing, which has grown markedly. But with college applications, the stress of senior year, and other APs competing for my students’ attention, I’m finding that it’s hard to keep the flow going in my class.
It all started last week when we began Beloved.
My friends and colleagues warned me: It’s a tough book to teach. But what could go wrong? After all, my students had blazed through the first three titles, happy as clams (grammar alert: misplaced modifier!).
No more. Despite my efforts, my students gave up on the book on the first day. Toni Morrison’s non-linear style confused them, and they didn’t know how to deal.
Since then, I’ve been trying to get my students motivated again, but my efforts have failed. It’s tough to find a re-entry point; for my students, it’s overwhelming to catch up.
I’m frustrated, and I’m nervous, but I’ve learned a lot. Here are some tidbits:
1. Reading is always the first thing to drop off. Reading takes a long time. It’s hard work and takes daily dedication. It’s done by yourself, privately and silently. Reading for school is usually not fun. While it makes you feel proud when you read, there’s no huge reward for doing it and no huge penalty for skipping it.
2. My students need much more scaffolding on their reading, particularly at the beginning of a book. Although it’s true that their introductory college English class will assign large chunks of reading, it’s not true that my students are there yet. We need to build, step by step, to that standard.
3. It’s a long year, a long haul, there will be failure, and it’s OK to fail. It’s important to build academic character, to show to my students that part of succeeding is failing. That’s why they write 18 AP practice essays this year. And that’s why they’ll read 12 books this year. My students have been so used to succeeding, but the only way to grow is to struggle.