“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
— Groucho Marx
The ‘little girl lost’ theme is tried and true in literature. It usually involves a younger girl following a flight of fancy who ends up in a surreal world surrounded my bizarre characters. She generally has to befriend some of them, fight off others, and find her way home. Think Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Labyrinth, Spirited Away….It works, people are drawn to it.
After two weeks of really getting to know my students with just a little bit of reading and Latin root work in there it was time to pick a book. I wanted male authors and male protagonists for the first book. After much deliberation I settled on The Jungle Book. After that we did a lot of picking together as a group, but someone had to make that first call. It was a little bit above some of their levels, but below others and I don’t generally care about what test scores say students can or can’t do, I only care about getting them to read. But before we get into that….Back to the boring stuff.
It’s no secret that boys and girls learn in different ways. Any educator can attest to that. Yet for some reason we insist on putting them all in the same classroom and teaching in one style and then feigning surprise when the girls aren’t doing well at math and the boys aren’t reading.
It’s also no secret that most teachers are females, but it’s not just the teachers; most administrative staff are females, secretaries, lunch staff, playground staff, librarians, nurses….schools are run by females. Male staff is usually janitorial and or math and science teachers with a few exceptions. I’ve met very few female teachers who don’t genuinely care about all the students even the boys, but it’s still a female run world.
I could get into all the stats and all the theories on gendered learning, but to be quite honest; that shit bores the hell out of me. Instead I’m just going to keep writing about my own personal experience with this. Back to the chaos of my classroom.
I thrive in chaos, I think it’s the natural state of being. My girls really loved routine so I provided them with that, but the boys were right there being chaotic with me. It was this constant barrage of questions and comments being thrown at me….
-Ay yo teacher, you like pewdiepie?
-I’ve heard of him, yet I’ve not watched….oh a phone is being shoved in my face and now I’m watching a pewdiepie video….
-Hey teacher do you…
-Hey didn’t I tell you to call me Jenny?
-Teacher, we gotta use SAT words everyday?
-Wait! Where are you going, you can’t just leave….Why not?
-Ummmm because class isn’t done yet?
-Teacher I gotta a question
-You don’t got a question, you have a question….
I was running into roadblocks when I was searching for help and resources. But that’s fine, I know how to work the internet and I have plenty of guy friends I was able to turn to. I found out a lot about their reading habits and they mostly read nonfiction. But they were able to help me out with some of the video game stuff. One even did a crash course with me. God of War? That’s the one that uses some Greek mythology, right? Great, I can use that. Next I scoured the internet. I found some great book bloggers, I found cool reading channels at youtube, book vloggers, I had already seen Thugnotes before, but I downloaded a bunch of his videos as well, I found some people doing some really cool things with narration at reddit, I found lectures and lesson plans, and reading lists, and we went forward.
These boys weren’t functionally illiterate, they were just a few levels behind and showed zero to no interest in reading. It’s not like they lit up at the thought of reading The Jungle Book, but we had to start somewhere.
People always say that girls like being the center of attention. I understand the sentiment in that thought process, but getting my girls to speak up and participate can be like pulling teeth. Once the boys realized I was serious and we would be doing this, they were lining up to participate. It took me those first few weeks to earn their respect, but they really started listening to me. We started by watching some clips from The Jungle Book and doling out roles. I thought I’d have to assign each boy a character, but they just started organizing themselves and discussing it among each other and decided who would read what. Rikki-Tiki-Tavi (in the book, not the Disney movie), Sher Khan, Ballo, Bagheera, and of course Mowgli. And this is where their need to preform, entertain, and get attention came in. They couldn’t just sit and read, they had to use movement and voices. I didn’t tell them they had to, and I didn’t see that coming, but all the sudden I had a group of boys doing voice acting with this book. They got into it. We had so much fun with The Jungle Book, it was always a favorite of mine, but no more so than ever.
After that we just killed it. Latin roots, SAT prep words (because it wasn’t just about lit, it was about language as well), monologues, short stories, classics. Dr. Seuss, Rip Van Winkle, Where the Red Fern Grows, Grimm’s Fairy tales, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, The Giver, Animal Farm, Intro to A Tale of Two Cities, Jules Verne passages from Faulkner, Of Mice and Men, we did a huge section on famous first and last lines, we made timelines, and maps,we put things in context and took them out of context, and I had them do reviews in the style of some of their favorite book bloggers or vloggers.
For those who know anything about lit, you will understand the books I listed off aren’t all in the same level. We were all over the place, we went up, we went down, we went to the side and back around.And it wasn’t perfect. We hit a lot of bumps. Sometimes I just had to let them quit and talk about video games or watch youtube videos. Sometimes I realized I had gone way to far ahead of their level and they would start freezing up, and I’d feel guilty when that happened. And it’s not like my students loved every single book we read; no one likes Dickens, I don’t care, everyone who comes through my literary boot camp will read some Dickens even if it’s just a passage or the Tale of Two Cities intro. Two of my students eventually just stopped coming. That was hard for me. But we kept going. Beyond struggling to see what would work in my class, but I was fighting against the education system as well.