Over half of the students wrote things like these:
I haven't ever read a book I've liked.
I haven't read a book all the way through, for any class (or by myself) since third grade.
The last book I read was Green Eggs and Ham.
And there were not ANY students whose "joy peaks" --the highest concentrations of books they read that they liked--weren't centered around 2nd-4th grade.
As someone who loves reading, this is heartbreaking.
As someone whose job it is to get these students to read on a tenth grade level and pass an End of Course test with AP/college level analysis types of questions, this is, well, whatever the next step is past heartbreaking.
Everyone knows that the way to get kids to read better is to get them to read more. But it is difficult to get student buy-in for our impending reading-more-and-then-learning-to-analyze-on-a-college-level project unless they experience some success on the front side. I've had classes in my past that have completely shut down for good (or for weeks, at least) when I have foisted something on them that is above their heads. So Cheryl and I came up with a solution.
Saved By The Bell may well be in the top ten of cheesiest shows in the history of television. The show, of course, is centered around the shenanigans of high school friends and rivals, particularly Zach Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselar), probably the most unlikely casting of a putative "bad boy" ever. The storylines are pretty ridiculous, even campy in places, and certainly not true-to-life for our current high schoolers.
But they do have straightforward plots, even in episodes where they have multiple storylines. They are 22 minutes long, perfect for end-of-the-day attention spans. The characters are perfectly archetypal: the prep; the jock; the woman-chaser; the irredeemable boy geek; the totally secretly hot girl geek; the princess; the cheerleader; the out-of-touch principal who tries so hard to be hip. Teachers in all their passion and pedagogical furor couldn't intentionally design more perfect subjects for studies of plot and archetype.
Remember, the students in this class haven't read a book (or at least haven't been engaged with one) in 7-8 years. But they are constantly engaged with visual media and visual storytelling--movies, TV shows, and YouTube clips. So, Cheryl and I designed a unit to semi-secretly teach analytical skills with simple sitcoms like Saved By the Bell.
Here's how it's worked so far (I used SBTB, but any straightforward older sitcom, like Full House or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would work):
(We started this day with a journal/discussion about what makes a good story.)
Watch an episode. Have students divided into 3 groups, each following one conflict/plot line. Have each group write down three plot points: the beginning (how it's introduced); the climax (where it gets as bad as it is ever going to); and the resolution. Students then shared, first within their own groups, and then with other groups, so everyone got three plot points in three different plots. Simple. But they felt successful.
Watch another episode. I had students each write down the same three plot points (beginning, climax, end) for all of the subplots happening--in this case, there were 4. Then, I gave them a rough paragraph outline to fill in for ONE of the four plot lines. So, day two, we went from just recognizing plot to turning that recognition into a infant piece of plot summary and analysis.
We started this day with a journal about stereotypes of teenagers--things they see in their own lives, and things they see in the media, particularly on TV shows.
Then we watched one final episode and wrote a plot paragraph, summarizing one of the storylines. Then, we moved into labeling the character stereotypes and deciding whether the portrayal of teenagers in the show was realistic (they decided Absolutely Not).
Ultimately, we are driving towards the students being able to discuss things like author motivation (why did they choose to tell the story in this way?) and indirect characterization (what can we learn about these people by watching what they do and say?).
I have no idea whether this will ultimately be successful. I do know that I have students that haven't felt successful in English in a long time, and they are experiencing success with this. They are learning analytical skills without even knowing that is what they are doing. And when we build that success to a climax with more complicated shows and characters, the idea is that they will be strong enough analysts to be able to transfer those skills to texts on the page.
I feel like we're making progress. That's enough for me for now.