The Is No Secret That Sites Like? Essay

The Is No Secret That Sites Like? Essay

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Ever since I started teaching, I have struggled with the idea of how to get students to actually read the books I wanted them to read. It is no secret that sites like Sparknotes and Schmoop give students what they need to know from the reading, and in the faculty room, we often joke (sardonically) that the students who excel are often not the best and brightest, but those who learn to fake it the best. They trick us into telling them the details they didn’t get from the internet, and write papers that tell us what they think we want to hear: the same boring analysis or plot, characters, and theme that shows up on the websites. We know many, if not most, of even our top students are doing it, but we don’t know how to stop it, so we give quizzes on content in an effort to make sure they are reading. The reality is, that only encourages our students to find quick, easily digestible summaries so they don’t risk missing any details they might need for the quiz. The question remains, unanswered for generations (because before the online sites, there were published books from Cliffsnotes): how can we make kids actually read literature?
Eventually, I realized that was not the right question. The question we should be asking is not how, but why do we make our kids read? At first, the answer I came up with was simple: we want them to read so they can participate in discussions in class that grow their intellectual worlds. If they can do that by reading bite-sized summaries instead of the books themselves - which many fakers can - then maybe we shouldn’t care if they actually read.
I got by for a few more years, not too worried if students were actually reading. I gave a lecture at the beginning of each school year, in which I admitted th...


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... of reading great books, to help young people grow by engaging with great thinkers of the past and present. While we will always struggle with reluctant readers, we can encourage an environment that encourages reading on the reader’s terms, to explore whatever connected they are drawn to, whatever thoughts they have. Obviously, students need a foundation in the basics of literary vocabulary and analysis in order to enter a text on their own terms, but those basics can be developed in middle school. In high school, the best use of the English classrooms is as a venue for academic discourse that starts with the book, encourages students to think anything, then moves beyond what they thought because of the book, to refine and develop original ideas about the human experience. That is what literature is for, and no website will ever be able to replace that experience.

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