I thought the meeting went very well. It's absolutely apparent that the student is an intelligent young man with great intellectual curiosity. He said he feels like reading/writing don't come quite as naturally as some other academic subjects - he mentioned science and math, in particular, as his favorites. He also said he sometimes questions the value in reading fiction, preferring instead "applied" knowledge that can be used to examine the mysteries of life. A profound philosophical dilemma! I think part of our challenge will be helping him to see the value in other forms of knowledge - in art and literature, and the ways that they can help illuminate social, historical, and political dynamics and possibilities.
Another thing I noticed is that he holds himself to a very high standard of interpretation. He feels like he doesn't grasp the text's meaning as quickly as his classmates; says he prefers texts that are less "subtle." We read the first chapter of The Giver together and, while I was impressed with his intuition about the text and his inferences about its possible meanings, he seemed unsure whether passages were more ambiguous due to the author's intention, or whether he was just failing to interpret them correctly. In fact, I think he just needs a bit of confidence on this point. His intelligence and critical thinking skills will serve him well, so he just needs to trust that if a meaning isn't clear yet, he'll probably grasp it in time.
I encouraged him to think of unclear parts of the text as "clues" that he will use throughout the book to encrypt the text's deeper meaning. As you well know, this kind of critical analysis is a skill that, first of all, can be practiced and learned, and second, will serve him in every subject he encounters throughout his life, including the sciences. I shared a strategy that I use as a reader - to underline parts of the text that I either anticipate will be important or want to return to later, because I find them unusual or confusing. Then he can move past those sections without getting stuck on them, and will be able to find them easily if he wants to return to the text for deeper analysis later. I also encouraged him to allow himself to read a bit more quickly, without expecting that he'll grasp the meaning behind each passage immediately. He can ponder those ambiguous passages while he continues to advance in the book and, I trust, the meanings will become clearer in time.
Here are some ways I think his parents and I can support him to become a stronger reader and writer:
- Encourage him to devote an hour a day to focused reading, if possible. He said he finds reading more challenging if he's faced with distractions, so finding a quiet place to read is ideal. He can spend the last five minutes of the hour writing down any questions he has about the book and particular parts that he thinks are meaningful, interesting, or confusing (with their page numbers). We will discuss those reflections together in our Tuesday session and analyze the passages in greater detail.
- Help engage him in conversations about the deeper meaning of the books he's reading and why they might have social value. How do the books encourage us to think about our lives, politics, beliefs, etc.?
- Encourage him to finish The Giver by tomorrow evening so that he can write his 50-word response by its Friday due date. To help him formulate the response, his parents may wish to prompt him to consider some of the meanings or purposes of the book. How does The Giver help us think about our own lives and political/social circumstances? How is the setting similar to and different from his "real life" experiences? They can also ask him to tell them about the arcs of its central characters. Do they change over the course of the book? How? What conflicts do they encounter - emotional, moral, physical, etc.?
Next week, I have asked that he bring in the summary of The Giver that he's going to write for class. I'll read it and provide writing tips. I'll also engage him in a deeper discussion about the book and its literary devices. Finally, I'll bring a list of book suggestions that I think may challenge him and match his interests.
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