09/22 - Forget the classics – just get students to read, ASU professor says - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

09/22 - Forget the classics – just get students to read, ASU professor says

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Posted: Monday, September 22, 2003 9:24 am | Updated: 1:02 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Not everybody wants the "classics" taught at East Valley schools.

"They’re just dragging these kids through these books that they don’t like," said Alleen Nilsen, a professor of young adult literature at Arizona State University.

Nilsen advocates "reading by the pound," an approach to literature that puts the emphasis on how much students read rather than on what they read. She said children should be encouraged to choose books that interest them and then share their experiences with classmates in "literature circles."

The focus, Nilsen said, should be on reading for pleasure — not for punishment.

"We as adults would hate to read certain books that we don’t like," she said.

Too many of the classics deal with themes beyond the high school students’ realm of experiences, Nilsen said, such as marriage and infidelity.

But Sydney-Alexis St. John, English Department chairwoman at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, said the job of the English teacher is to straddle the line between books students don’t initially want to read and those that students read for sheer enjoyment.

"We walk a thin line," she said.

Fountain Hills English Department chairman John Vizal said high school students can enjoy the classics with proper guidance from teachers. He welcomes the challenge.

"You can give me any book and I can make it accessible," he said.

Mike McClellan, English Department chairman at Dobson High School in Mesa, said Nilsen makes some valid points, but the classics still have a place in the curriculum.

"There’s always a danger when you’re reading the classics that you analyze them to death," he said, but good teachers can avoid that pitfall.

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