So, no one’s interested in showing off their languages. Moving on, then.
Stephanie Trigg, in responding to the Books You Loved meme, turned the question around to ways you performed reading in 2007. An excellent question . . . particularly as one of my Christmas presents responds to both halves of the meme: it should be on the original list as a book I loved in 2007 (and which actually came out this year), and I have been performing from it to anyone who will listen (mainly Sir John and the cats). The book is Decca, the letters of Jessica Mitford, and it has me (as the Mitfords would say) in shrieks.
Performing reading comes in two flavors, for me: private and public. Private performance happens at home, when Sir John and I read bits we like to each other (from newspapers, magazines, books). I probably read to him more often than the other way around. We don’t do extended reading-aloud sessions, like some of our friends. (We know a couple who take turns reading a chapter or two aloud every night, often from young-adult fiction.) But snippets are a good way to share our reading interests.
Then there’s public performance of reading, which happens in the classroom. I read to my students, and make them read aloud, quite a lot. In Middle English classes, it’s a way to work at pronunciation and comprehension, demystifying some of the spelling, insisting on the difference made by the Great Vowel Shift. In other classes, I hope to train students to listen to the rhythms of prose and poetry, to get away from reading for plot and hear the language. (Suddenly I am very conscious of the clunkiness of my own prose.) Many students read aloud very flatly, slowly, dully; I aim to change that, to make them lively readers.
I am planning an assignment sequence that begins with preparing a reading performance. Rather than my calling on people randomly in class, students will pick a passage they want to read aloud, and practice it, figure out what its rhythms are, what words should be stressed, what they want to convey, and then read it to us. I guess I’m trying to mimic private reading performance, in this: “Here’s a bit I love and I want to share with you.” I will use the reading-aloud prep to segue into the Close Reading: why did you stress these words, what’s important about them, how do pieces of this passage work together to create the whole?
I hope this will work. I believe in Close Reading as a tool: it’s worth paying attention to details, thinking about all the layers of meaning in a selection of prose or poetry, unpacking metaphors and images. And for some reason, my students have a lot of trouble with the concept. They tend to read for the big picture—plot, themes—not details. Maybe working on presentation first will make clearer why the details matter.
The drawback here is grading. Grading close readings is easier if everyone does the same passage; then I look to see if they hit most of the high points, or at least some of them, comment on writing style and mechanics, and move on. If everyone does an individual passage, papers will take longer to grade. However, hearing them read in class will make me fairly familiar with their passages. I might also do this as an “informal” assignment, checked off rather than formally graded, as a preliminary to a formal paper for which everyone would work on the same passage.