As I transitioned from elementary to middle school, I was ushered into the world of literary analysis- to begin comprehending novels on a level beyond the written word. With this transition, I noticed that I no longer got to choose what I read. I’ve always been an avid reader but I didn’t always like what my teacher picked out. Classmates always think I’m weird for liking to read; most of my peers don’t even read outside of class. I feel that the passion for reading was erased when literary analysis was introduced. How are students expected to learn from reading, if they have an established distaste for the act itself? I think the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for educators to change the curriculum into one that better suits the modern student.
I remember at my elementary school, there were numerous contests and challenges in order to keep kids interested in reading. I would argue that’s the case in many elementary classrooms- encourage children to find books they like in order to develop their skills. Why should it be any different in high school? Students will be much more willing to read if they can choose a book that caters to their interests. Perhaps there is a middle ground, such as less class-oriented reading in exchange for a semester long book review or journal.
Another problem within the English curriculum is Shakespeare and other archaic writers like him. Are Shakespeare’s works examples of great English composition and story? Yes. Were they written nearly four hundred years ago, when English dialect was completely different? Also yes. It takes precious time to decipher the language of even the most basic plot. In high school, students simply do not have the time to sit down and work through the novel (especially if they are not allowed to use SparkNotes or modern adaptations.) Students also cannot connect on an emotional level with the novels if they can’t even read the page. For me, I think reading from the heart is vastly more important than simply reading from the eyes. A strong connection with a piece of literature fosters self-reflection, changes of opinion, and learning. Not to mention that the characters in these ancient novels have little in common with the modern teenager. Maybe some core values, but last time I checked, no student has lived through the French revolution or the Trojan war.
The key to getting more kids excited about English class is allowing them to choose the books they read. Or at least read material that may be more relevant to teenagers, rather than Roman Senators and warring Italian families. I’m not saying we should throw away all “classics,” or even that they don’t necessarily belong in class, but merely change the curriculum to support students who loathe to read.