Act I in Active Reading

The following seems so incredibly obvious, but reading the passage brought an extra, sharper ‘ping’ to the concept’s crystal clarity: “In fact, given what they have experienced in literature classes, most students never had the opportunity to learn that reading, like writing, is a process of making meaning or text construction that is frequently accompanied by false starts and faulty visions, requiring frequent and mess reconstruction and revision” (31).

Pivoting to a its small, albeit attempt at thoughtful application, this week I assigned students a chapter on active reading (annotating, highlighting, paraphrasing, etc).  Knowing most of them didn’t read the chapter on active reading, oh the irony, I went over the genuinely straightforward section.  In the middle of our discussion, one of my elder students asked, “So, what’s the difference between active and inactive reading?”

Here I was presented with a perfectly wrapped teachable moment on a silver platter—and alas, I feel as if I feel short.  I used the word to describe its definition—a major no, no.  My haphazard response, “Well, active reading is exactly that, taking some sort of action with the text, be it note taking, writing in the margins, marking areas of confusion, the whole gambit—whatever you feel and notice as important, so at the end you have a deeper understanding compared to inactive surface level reading which casually absorbs every other word.”  I felt I didn’t reach or answer her question to its fullest illuminating potential.

So, another route was taken; as their first papers were due today I circled back to our writing process and its parallels to the reading process—similar as Bleu mentions.  Revision : Rereading; Free Writing: Read Though Once for General Understanding.  I’m pleased to report a few more light bulbs went on…

Still, while the aforementioned ideas may have helped, the underlying problem stems from their lack of metaphorical acceptance of the text as fluid instead of more literally a tangible, heavy object.  With the majority of students, it’s a one-way street; they read, absorb, and regurgitate.  When I do—excitedly, mind you—point out areas of disagreement with the text, they hesitate and retreat.  I feel the following statement applies to all texts: “readings that treat texts as objects requiring mechanical analysis rather than as invitations to genuine human illumination and pleasure” (101).  Reading for the sake of learning, fueling a spark of curiosity—gone. All gone.  I then spend the rest of the semester making sure students aren’t afraid of their own insightful shadowy thoughts.

Huge digression, when the author was discussing his frustration with tests and formulas for AP exams, all I could think about was this:  It astounds me how relevant and topical testing is ten years later—perhaps exacerbated.