I used to hate reading. In fact, I began high school at the plateau of my resistance to literature and had a particular aversion to the “academic reading” pushed by my teachers. In hindsight, I am so grateful they kept assigning such intellectually stimulating books and stories. Now, in addition to being a Corps Member at Cody High School, I am privileged to hold the title of “Literacy Coordinator” for my team. My interests have evolved greatly, to say the least.
At Cody, I have found unsurprisingly that many of the students share my former mindset. Teachers often find it difficult and futile to assign reading for homework because so few students return prepared for a discussion. Therefore, in-class reading is a staple in lesson planning. Fortunately, this allows for frequent comprehension checks and fluency practice. Perhaps even more fortunate, however, is the reality that those who would otherwise neglect the assignments (as I used to) are at least somewhat engaged with the assigned books and poems.
Currently, the ninth graders are nearing the end of Steinbeck’s classic, Of Mice and Men. This has probably been my favorite story we’ve read, and I get the sense many of them are really interested to find out the ending. The simplicity of the plot and the limited number of characters to keep track of makes this a really accessible and easy-to-follow part of the curriculum. What’s more, the lessons they are learning from George and Lennie’s friendship are hopefully ones that they can apply to their own lives long after we’ve finished reading.
In contrast to this renowned novella, the teachers have let them analyze several popular rap songs in class. Fittingly for Detroit, Eminem has been our most studied artist this semester. Cleaning Out My Closet and it’s quasi-sequel Headlights have given the students practice understanding symbolism and imagery in literature. Through the contrasting tones of each song, students discussed the complicated emotions surrounding an estranged mother and a drug addiction. Furthermore, Stan was an excellent example of dialogue and character development in writing. The students are, not surprisingly, really excited whenever songs like these are studied as literary works.
While many students still have a long way to go, literary pieces like these have undoubtedly helped improve interest and performance in the classroom. I am personally looking forward to the rest of the year, and to seeing fewer aversions to reading through the continued encouragement of their teachers and City Year tutors. Who knows, we may just find the next great American author right here at Cody.
-Jimmy Johnson, Literacy Coordinator