Reading the Whole Book

Much debate among educators these days revolves around the preference in the Common Core State Standards for reading book-length works in excerpts more than in their entirety.

The argument in favor seems to go that there’s too much to cover, and that the skills we need to inculcate can be adequately covered with bits and pieces of text, rather than by slogging through entire works.  Besides, kids today won’t read a whole book, anyway.

Those with such a view are missing out on a huge, obvious fact about reading.

Reading an excerpt isn’t the same thing as reading the whole thing.

I’ve read summaries of and excerpts from long classics plenty of times, and not long afterwards, I’ve forgotten the themes, allusions, stylistic features, and even much of the plot.  Shallow experiences only bring shallow memories.

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“More Analysis, Less Commentary”

This was the advice I wrote in the margin of a couple of dozen college papers I returned to students last night.  I put the directions for their recent assignments back on the projector and showed them again that they both called for evaluating an author’s evident strategies, based on things like structure and style, for effectiveness.  Nothing in their assignments asked for personal reflection about the topics of their texts, and yet, that’s the majority of what I got.

Coincidentally, I just read this excellent essay by Mark Bauerlein, which perfectly echoes my experience.  In short, students need to be guided to write analytical work, not fluffy reactions.  Amen.


At one point in the discussion, Coleman paused to note a problem in the teaching of writing in English classrooms: the dominance of “personal writing … the exposition of a personal opinion … the presentation of a personal matter.”  Continue reading