The power of language

While talking with my new children’s literature students last night, I was telling them about some of the goals of our course – specifically about learning and using the language of literary, design and illustrative elements.

I used the analogy of listening to music. Often someone will say that they love X type of music or Y performer. When asked why, the response is commonly, “I don’t know, I just like the way they sound.” Ok – that may be true, but that explanation does not help me (or anyone else) understand what it is that specifically draws that listener to that specific style of music or performer. I was a music major as an undergraduate student. I distinctly remember that the more that I learned about music theory and music history – the better able I was to convey both what I did and did not like in music.

The same can be said of reading and literature. I don’t expect the students in my class to like everything that they read, but I do expect them to read. I do expect them to be able to articulate what it is they notice, respond to, revolt against, or get sucked into while they are reading. I expect them to use language like genre, point of view, and style; hue, medium, and layout. Not in a way that shows they only regurgitates a definition – but in a way that shows they have a deeper understanding of those elements and the ways they can impact a reader.

Many of them come in with negative memories of needing to interpret a story in a particular way or of being judged by an AR (Accelerated Reader) score. They have forgotten how to read for pleasure, or perhaps never learned. While I sincerely hope that at some point during the semester, I will put the “right book” in each of my students hands – I realize that may not happen. But I can give each of them language to help them better convey what they do and don’t enjoy about the books that they read. Language that can help better equip them to ask for specific qualities they find pleasurable.

Next week we start with picture books. I can’t wait.

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4 thoughts on “The power of language

  1. Saying why I do or do not like a children’s book is something I have to work on. I have learned, though, that liking a story’s content is not enough. You have to like the way it’s written, too.

  2. Thanks Kris. Your blog really helped me to better understand what you are doing. In Nov I attended a two day work shop on language and communication presented by Mark Cooper. It was a business course which was also applicable to ones personal life. I look back on the masterful way Mark helped us understand the way language works (you are what you say). Then we first had to talk about the words, the language of communication, before we could talk about what we were there to talk about. Still learning at 68. Fred

  3. How can you take a class on Children’s Literature if you don’t like to read? It just seems so pointless. Are these students just taking your class for a requirement and they figure the books will be short?

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