Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's the Point?

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in! 

My Pre-AP students have trouble reading for a purpose. These students are usually my most qualified readers, scoring well on standardized tests and being able to comprehend above grade level. By now my eighth graders are developing their reading styles…some read closely for details, others can’t recall simple facts but can tell you overall impressions of a story, and others just absorb one book and move quickly onto the next.

Setting a specific purpose for reading beyond gathering information or reading for enjoyment can be difficult, and asking students to read for more specific purposes challenges them. Setting the purpose for non-fiction is easier for students. Depending on the text, the main goal is to get the information out or analyze the opinion/argument being presented. Students can manage this easily with a set goal.

Fiction presents a different challenge. By now my students automatically analyze character, plot, and theme. They can determine point of view and how it influences the reader. But setting a purpose for close reading of literature becomes problematic when there are so many different areas in each book to focused on.

My students recently studied Night. I wanted them to trace the changing relationship of Elie and his father. But I also wanted them to connect with provocative passages, analyze the role religion played in his experience, and focus on the motif of the eyes. Obviously these were too many purposes to read for, so I had to choose one and just touch on the others in classroom discussion. So, I chose the father-son relationship as our purpose for reading , then I worried that I had not chosen wisely, that one student might have connected to the text better if I had chosen the role of religion, or if I had just allowed them to choose provocative passages. In the end it went well, but when we finished up I still felt like I should have done more with the text, focused them a different way.

Students need to be able to read for specific purposes. They need to know what the goal is, what to look for in a text, and how to extract what they need from text to reach the end goal. But sometimes, when it comes to reading literature, the best purpose for reading of all is to embrace the text and let each student determine why he or she is reading.  


  1. As I was reading your post, I was drawing out this very conclusion, "the best purpose for reading of all is to embrace the text and let each student determine why he or she is reading." I think it is a good thing to teach students to set goals and a purpose for reading, but sometimes the purpose gets lost once the reading starts, especially a rich text that has so much more to offer. Thanks for this reflection.

  2. I liked reading and pondering along with you. I know for a fact that I am a plot reader. And it is just know, after learning how to really read at TCRWP, that I slow down, make jots about characters and their relationships and think about theme and symbolism. But it is taking me time. Your students are lucky that you are modeling this kind of deeper reading for them and pushing them to do this kind of reading. Keep reflecting and even asking the kids for feedback. Together you are all growing as readers of literature, a life skill we all need to perfect.