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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

On Reading As Exploration

I was a beginning teacher in a very old inner-city Baltimore school.
One day, wandering in the school's basement, I pushed an unlocked door and saw books, mountains of books, that may have been undisturbed for decades. After blowing dust from a stack of old readers I lugged them to my classroom. I suggested that my students pretend to be time explorers. "Let's try these books and see what school was like for your grandparents," I said, not knowing how they would respond. They began reading.
One of the stories was John Ruskin's 'King of the Golden River." First published in 1841 in England it became a Victorian classic. It's a tale of good and evil on a mountain where amazing things happen. (To reassure you: good wins out.) The author used very big words; the characters were outrageous. The tale seemed to come from another world, which we all thought appropriate for a make believe story. My students loved it.
After that I discarded our reading text and made copies of some of my favorite reading fare. We read (and loved) T.S. Eliot's poems about cats; all agreeing that Macavity the Mystery Catwas the best of the litter. We never went back to the assigned commercial reading text. The basement books and library books (chosen individually and shared) kept us occupied. A supervisor encouraged: she was happy to have us reading and writing. We wrote stories and published a class literary journal that was placed in the library. We were proud.


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