Monday, February 6, 2012

A movie coming out is all the more reason to read the book

I am part of the summer reading committee at school. The goal of this committee is to select a book to use for summer reading for our entire 9-12th grade population and it is intended to be a cross-curricular read rather than just to apply to the English classes. Because of this wide range of readers we have the challenge of finding something that is both accessible as well as stimulating enough for 9th graders as well as 12th graders. This be comes particularly challenging because during the first meeting the group leader proposed a set of standards we could use to evaluate the books based on a similar standards used at Hiram College but the group quickly glossed over them and never adopted anything. The leader pleasantly joked that we were more intested in talking about books than standards. Now, two months into the process that seems to be going no where I can see the importance of having some guiding principals when it comes to something so broad.

This is what has happened. My school recently started using an online course management system for all our classes. Because of this we have the ability to synthesize and distribute and share information with the whole school instantly. So I thought, as the budding instructional technology professional I am, that we should use this system to administrate some sort of enrichment activities to go along with the summer reading. When I started working here in August the English department had a conversation about how to integrate the previous summer reading book into our classrooms as well as how to encourage other departments to do so as well.
So, the second book I read in search of the summer reading book was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonethan Safran Foer. (The first book I read was Girl in Translation and I really didn't like it.) I liked it, though it was a little too po-mo for me. But I thought it would make an excellent summer reading book because of the opportunity for cross-curricular enrichment projects that it could facilitate. The book talks about logic and faith and spirituality and history and all of these topics could be easily translated into fun and engaging projects for any grade level. 

I couldn't make it to the last meeting of the summer reading committee so I sent all this information, along with specific suggestions for projects, to the head of the committee and she genuienly thanked me in person for my thorough input. After the meeting I read the minutes that were sent out about all the books and next to Extremely Loud all it said was "new movie coming out, will discourage reading". 

I was very disappointed.

Why does the movie have to be discouraging to read the book? I feel with every bit of my teaching philosophy that an multimedia approach to a piece of literature would only add to the experience.

Couldn't we ask students to read the book AND watch the movie? Couldn't we use this as an opportunity to talk about the blend of cinema and print storytelling that is a huge part of our modern worldview? Couldn't we rent out a theater for the school ( we only have 400 high schoolers and they would of course then buy a ticket and pay us back) and have everyone watch the movie as a school wide experience?

Why must cinema be the antithesis of literature?

I think this is very backwards.. I think that in order to be relevant with the skills our students need and want that we must embrace modern culture when it is rich with positive opportunity. It think that I will write my own summer reading enrichment project for this book and offer it to those who would like to experience literature in all its richness.

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