Monday, May 3, 2010

Exploring Genres

I have been looking forward to this day with my freshmen for a week now: today is when we started our final unit in Introduction to Genres. In the past, I have ended the year with a free choice reading where I suggested they read genres they enjoyed over the year, but inevitably 90% of them chose the familiar novel. This year, I shifted my guidelines to try to encourage exploration of a less-familiar genre they discovered this year. So, we began with brainstorming:

Which genre have you enjoyed reading the most this year?
A. Rank them from 1 (most enjoyed) to 5 (enjoyed but not as much!):
  • Short Stories ("The Most Dangerous Game," "To Hell with Dying," "Bluestown," "Death by Landscape," "Singing My Sister Down," "Rules of the Game," "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge")
  • Drama ("Trifles," The Importance of Being Earnest, Antigone)
  • Poetry (see our poems here)
  • Nonfiction/Autobiographies ("On Being a Cripple," Night)
  • Novels (Frankenstein)

B. For your #1 choice, how often have you read something in this genre entirely of your own choice?

C. For your #2 choice, how often have you read something in this genre entirely of your own choice?

D. Final question: Of these two, which genre have you learned you enjoy but choose to read the least?

Then, I asked them to consider reading in this genre that they found they enjoyed but really had never chosen to read on their own. And this is why I love my students: they went along with my suggestion. Out of my ten students (I had only one of my classes today), only 1 chose novel, and he chose it because he rarely reads them. I teased him that I would make him read Twilight so he could really get caught up on the novel genre! Of the other students, 2 chose short stories, 3 chose poetry, and 4 chose nonfiction.

I am using a modified literature circle for this unit where they will meet in genre-similar groups to compare what they are reading (since they will be reading different representations of the genre) and tease out a deeper understanding of their chosen genres. My final goal for them is to understand not only their genre but to understand why that genre appeals to them -- what style techniques and topics are common.

I always want to give my students choice in their reading, but I also really want to push them into new territory so they grow as readers and thinkers an discover new loves. I do not always strike a great balance between these sometimes conflicting pressures, but I think I have struck a homerun with this one.

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