Getting English Class Started
First Edition: Academic Exchange Extra (Greeley, CO [University of Northern Colorado]), 2010, Final Issue.
Second Edition: Island Scholastic Press (Quesnel, BC), 2014.
Revised Edition: Island Scholastic Press (Sardis, BC), 2015.
In my school, McNaughton Education Centre (Quesnel, BC), I teach English, English Literature, Communications, and Creative Writing to secondary alternate high school students, many of whom abhor reading and writing. Often I have asked students, “Do you mean you have never read a book? Not ever?”
A typical response: “I’ve never read a book. I hate reading.”
My starting off class with their reading Dickens’ David Copperfield won’t work. I don’t think their reading Joyce’s Finnegans Wake will work either. That said (I feel a little laugh coming on), I remind myself of a song that my daughters sang in kindergarten: It begins with “inch by inch, row by row, I’m gonna make this garden grow.”
One summer (1988), as my wife and I and our three girls (aged 5, 8, and 11; we have four daughters now, all adults, I think) headed south to Disneyland, in our deluxe Hyundai Pony, those girls, bouncing their legs, sang that song from the back seat, adding delightful harmonics to the underpowered drone of the 1600cc Mitsubishi motor.
In a literary sense, each class, I apply the words of their catchy song by giving each student a haiku or senryu printed on a little, non-intimidating sheet of paper. I ask students to write any comment on the back of the sheet: “Any memory, any image, anything your imagination conjures up, anything, any criticism, any comment about what you like about the poem—anything. No comment can be wrong.”...