Sunday 7 February 2021

Background to 'What shall we do with books?'

In the previous blog I talked about some things you can do with books and young readers. There's a theory (or several theories) behind what I wrote there eg 'reader-response', the 'dialogic' theory of learning, 'intertextuality', 'stylistics', 'cohesion', 'structuralism' and 'post-structuralism'. The open-ended questions and the suggestions for writing are ways of opening out those theories so that they are accessible and useful for anyone and everyone. 

The reason why I suggested 'Cinderella' at the end was because it's great for trying out some of these methods: prequels, sequels, change of setting or time or characters, interviews with characters in the story, secret strings etc. With adaptation though, you can use them on any book, poem, play or film. Some people may find that they're useful by way of 'getting into' a text before more formal direction, criticism, instruction etc - as with older school students. I'd just say to that, please remember that a 'text' does its own teaching anyway! That's to say, if someone reads or hears a text and they are interested they are already involved in interpreting it. What's more they are interpreting it with their life-experience (thus the question about whether it reminds you of anything that has happened to you) but also  with their experience of other texts (thus the question about that). We can't stop ourselves reacting to texts with this body of experiences in our minds. I've found that when we invite young people to explain why and how they've made these connections between the book and themselves, that serious engagement with the text happens. 

But what about the 'explanations', and all the references that the young people (older school students) won't get unless we tell them? 

Fair question. I'd only say that it's a matter of what order we do these things. That's to say, if we dive straight in with the explanations and references and 'correct terminology', there is always the danger that we say that these texts only really matter to us adults (teachers) , that we are the only ones who know what the text is 'really' about, and you - the young people - don't. All I am suggesting here is that perhaps there is an order or sequence we can follow, in which the open-ended questions and writing can happen before the explanations that we might want to (or have to) provide.

I have written about all these things at greater length in my booklets:

'Poetry and Stories for Primary and Lower Secondary Schools'

'Why Write? Why Read?'

'Writing for Pleasure'

'Reading for Pleasure'.

They've available through my website,

I hope you find them useful.