Why do authors create stories? When I ask a class this question, the first reply is usually a smiling gem – “to make money”. Returning the grin, I ask for more options. The next response, “to entertain”, is usually accompanied by the self-satisfied look of a rote learnt answer. Thankfully, after these ideas have been exhausted, someone (sensing I am looking for more) adds “maybe they want to teach us something”. Then a collective groan rises from a well of ‘here we go again’.
Unfortunately, too many students finish school believing the novels set by their English teacher were a chore to be endured. I have lost count of the number of times adults have said, “I hated reading when I was at school, but when I left and chose my own books, I discovered reading could be fun”. Within this mindset, potential learning is frequently lost. The question becomes, how do we address the problem? Should teachers choose books which are more interesting or relevant to teen readers (is it even possible to choose a book which will universally appeal to everyone in the class?) or should we be encouraging students to identify the value of reading, even when the story seems ‘boring’.
I tend to believe the latter. It has been my experience that students want to learn how to uncover the personal message each story has for each reader. This is how we build connections. Stories offer ‘us’ the opportunity to escape the constraints of real situations and explore an endless array of possible options. Reading offers ‘me’ the opportunity to travel in a state of objective awareness and play with the conflicting ideas that cross my path. This is how we learn – we learn about environments, we learn about relationships and we learn about motivations. At the most personal level, when we reflect upon our reactions to characters and events, when we question why we feel empathetic, antagonistic or even indifferent, we learn more about ourself.
Of course, reading also provides a platform for learning how to convey ideas in an eloquent, sophisticated and cohesive manner. Unfortunately, since the acquisition of these skills is easier to validate and ‘test’, English classes may descend into a ‘how the story is told’ tunnel and leave students feeling as though language evaluation, identity of themes and literary appreciation is an examination fueled, end point. Yet as we know, reading offers so much more. The ‘how the story is told’ tunnel, is simply a passage to a more brightly lit chamber. If a reader continues past the ‘what I need for the exam’ point, to the ‘how I can apply what I have learnt to different situations’ path, they are more likely to perceive reading as a relevant life skill. From here, it is possible to recognise reading as an endless map. Holders of this map have a tool for choosing the direction of their life. In other words, they may apply the skills they have learnt about evaluating someone else’s story, to challenge preconceived perceptions about their own.
Therefore, reading other peoples stories (even if they do not seem ‘interesting’) can teach us how to direct, or ‘write’ our own. In other words, we do not have to stay within the ‘how the story was told’ tunnel, we can continue forward to the ‘how I learn’ path. This is the author’s rite; you can choose to be the author of your own life, rather than being a character in someone else’s.
Welcome to the World of Expression.