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Engaging Students in Literature

Christine Cziko , Secondary English Methods
University of California - Berkeley


This website was developed by Christine Cziko as part of the Goldman-Carnegie Quest Project, and can be accessed at the following URL:

Engaging Students in Literature

(this link was valid on 9/20/06)

Excerpt:
I have taught middle and high school English for 25 years in both the Bronx and San Francisco. The schools I have worked in have all been labeled "underperforming" and had a overwhelming number of of students who were entitled to free lunch, who were second language learners and who were students of color. In my 22 years of teaching in the Bronx, I never had a white student in any of my classes. There were no white students in these schools. After teaching for three years in another high crime, high poverty neighborhood, I was hired to revitalize and refocus the secondary English credential program. Given my own teaching experience, it made complete sense to focus on preparing future teachers to work in urban setting with primarily students of color. Thus the Multicultural Urban Secondary English (MUSE) Program was born. In the MUSE program I teach a year long course in English Language Methods as well as supervise student teachers.

Over the past nine years teaching beginning teachers, I have found that the most demoralizing and frustrating issue for them has been how to engage students in their own learning. Reading in particular - whether literature, popular texts or non-ficture often turns the classroom into a battlefield where no one wins. I have devoted a considerable amount of time working with student teachers on how to enagage students in reading - but it continues to be a struggle, especially in the "underperforming" schools in which they work with students who have been unsuccessful in school for years.

So the problem for the student is a lack of confidence, skill and motivation to make sense of texts. The problem for the beginning teacher is how to create the kind of learning community and powerful learning strategies that will engage students to keep trying.