Learn to Speak the Local Language

In addition to the literary vocabulary you’ll develop over the year, there are a few words and phrases you need to know if you want to communicate well here:

Student, Studenting (v., part.): to student is to perform the behaviors that result in learning; these are the characteristics of effective studenting:

  • You are aware of and you know how to use instructional materials.
  • You work with the intent of learning – you are consciously aware of purpose before you begin an assignment.
  • You utilize class time productively.
  • You collaborate in a meaningful way (both giving and taking), in person and online.
  • You apply technology in ways that facilitate your learning.
  • You are not afraid to be wrong or to try things you’re not sure you can do.

At the end of each reading unit, you will be asked to reflect on the quality of your studenting, in addition to the processes by which you achieve the unit’s objectives.

Critical Reading – When you read on your own, you typically read for the sake of enjoying the story or finding yourself in a favorite character. Ain’t nothing wrong with that; that is the default setting for all of us who enjoy books.

But here in school, you’re reading for the sake of learning how writers make their novels, poems and plays, and that different purpose will require you to adjust your default settings and read differently. Keys for effective critical reading include:

  • Understanding that everything that happens in a text happens because the author made it happen; we do not embrace the fallacy the literary characters possess free will.
  • Understanding of beginning – middle – end
  • The ability to recognize patterns, particularly repetitions
  • Awareness of literary and rhetorical devices

Controlling Idea – When you are a strong reader, you observe much more than you can manage to address in the limited space of a chapter response or essay about an entire novel.  When I refer to a controlling idea, I’m talking about you taking control of what you’re going to address, NOT how you figure out a way to control everything you noticed.

In a response, for example, you might name the two or three specific details or passages that you’re most interested in, and use writing to explore why the details of those moments led you to a thought you had about the reading. Sure, there was more in the reading that you could have addressed, but YOU TOOK CONTROL, and you made your task manageable by limiting the scope of your inquiry. Never feel that coverage is the goal, or that I’m asking you to write in order to prove that you noticed everything you think I think you should have noticed.

Line of Inquiry – Because novels are complex, they will deal with many themes, or big ideas. And because they are written by humans who love language, whose imaginations are devoted to creating unique characters who also somehow resemble someone you could know, you can inquire into literary style and characterization if the themes of the novel aren’t addressing big ideas you care about. When you’re about halfway through a novel, you should have an idea about what interests you the most – there’s nothing wrong with devoting your attention to the development of that specific thing as you read.

Secret – shhhhh!: You do this anyway. Whenever you read something for pleasure, you focus on the things that interest you the most. But there’s no class or teacher to point out other things that you didn’t pay attention to. So in some ways, we’re back to the beginning – just pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Context – Believe it or not, the other definitions are brief compared to this one; click on the link if you dare.

Ambiguity, tension, complexity – Um, I’m not sure, exactly; kind of pulled in a few directions on how to address this one, or these three, depending on the contexts where we find them.

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