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Literature: It's Not Just About Reading

Written by Emily Fischer

Falling in love can lead to strange behavior . In classical literature Dido committed suicide, Dante went through hell, and Menelaus fought a war . But what happens when someone falls in love with books?  In one case of such love, the young reader would not get his nose out of a book to get ready for church . When it was time to go he would make a half-dressed dash to the car holding shirt, shoes, tie, socks, and belt . Now this is not the recommended way of preparing for worship, but who would not wish for students to have this kind of love for books?

Some young readers experience love at first sight; for others there is a lot of getting to know literature that is the foundation for a lasting admiration .  Many have sought to introduce their students to the best examples of literature, and they have utilized tools to help young readers grow in their appreciation . Some have not seen the wisdom of careful selection of books or the helpfulness of aids for comprehension . But, unless educators use the methods recommended in a comprehension guide, students may not learn all they need to . This does not mean that a guide purchased from a curriculum provider must be used (that would be a shameless promotion of the contents of this catalog), but the same kinds of objectives that are in a guide should be covered.

To be clear about the assertion, the word “teaching” must be clarified . It is not defined as simply any way by which learning takes place . Learning occurs from our exposure to words and ideas in music, books and other means, too, but that is not the same kind of active and objective oriented teaching that is meant here . Teaching is the purposeful and progressive leading of a student in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

It is important to clarify the means of teaching literature . Not all teaching leads to greater knowledge, wisdom or understanding.  Many published tools accept the same low standards of education that plague the government schools . They often carry agendas outside of a biblical worldview, such as promoting emotional health, political correctness, and environmentalism . Good comprehension guides are designed according to principles that resonate well with classical Christian education . They give comprehension questions (and answers) for each chapter, vocabulary, activities, and teaching on the grammar of literature—story elements, figures of speech, and nuts and bolts skills that lead to greater comprehension. The guides contain instruction on skills such as prediction, identifying main idea, and context clues that enables students to comprehend more difficult reading. By addressing some of the relevant literary components such as setting, characterization, and theme, students can see the building blocks of literature. Understanding these building blocks will make students better writers themselves. It also helps them analyze what makes a work excellent or poor. By taking time to teach the students about the grammar of literature, teachers enable their students to advance in difficulty at a significant rate.

A literature guide helps push a student to a deeper level of understanding. A deeper level of understanding also leads to appreciation and the kind of love of learning emphasized in The Seven Laws of Teaching.

Comprehension guides are important.   First, guides provide an objective measure of understanding. Comprehension is one of the two main objectives of literature in the grammar stage . Teachers need to be careful that it is taught and tested with great emphasis . If a teacher spends the majority of the time on fun activities or projects, he is doing his student a disservice . Even though a student would prefer to not go through a written comprehension check, that does not diminish the fact that he needs it . The best approach will not only provide material to bring the book to life, it will also delve into activities that deepen understanding and appreciation.   This check needs to be predominately in written form . Oral evaluations are inferior to written ones because students need to work at communicating thoughts in writing and there is less possibility that teachers will coach answers out of children . Narration (having a student verbally tell what he has read) is helpful , but should not be the predominate form of checking comprehension. Narration lets one see what a student remembers, but one cannot tell what the student did not comprehend.

Some would argue that if their children read for pleasure a great deal, that would be sufficient to cover their literature needs . Reading for pleasure is important for children; so is listening to books read by a teacher or parent . However, a teacher needs to walk a student through a book, interact with him about what makes it good, and let the student see the teacher’s enjoyment of the book . Students understand that teachers test what is really important to them . If a teacher values his literature instruction he will be teaching his students oral reading skills, the grammar of literature, and comprehension skills .

Several objections may be raised against the need to teach according to the objectives and content of literature guides . Some would claim that their children are reading above grade level without the help of comprehension guides . Many who teach overestimate the ability of their students in this area . The reading level on the back of many books does not reflect the standards of excellence toward which teachers should strive . How much better could a good reader do if he had the kind of instruction provided in a comprehension guide? 

Some would object that they do not have enough time or money . These are limiting factors, but the truth is people do what is most important to them . Is literature the area where teachers should be skimping on time and spending on resources?

Some of you currently use many literature guides . Keep it up. T ry writing one of your own . Doing so will make you a better teacher . Some of you have used a few guides; budget time to use more . For those of you who have never used a guide, try just one and see for yourself the benefit in your teaching.

In the end, our actions follow our love . Do we love literature and work diligently toward the goal of exceptional teaching?  And do we love our children enough to prepare them to be princes and princesses—co -heirs with Christ . Obviously, we are intent on raising the bar of education for covenant children.  We should not despise the high standard, but run with all of our might toward it.