Paola Lisimberti is one of the teachers using our method to get students into reading. Here’s her experience.
One of the main features of social reading is participation, engagement. An element that, in your case, is proving higher and higher: how important is it to engage students, in your work, and how do you get them to participate?
In my answer I will focus on some principles that for me are key to carry out meaningful reading and writing activities in class.
Reading is emotion. Engagement is essential. I do my best, I try to lead by example. I read and talk about myself. For instance, I share my first time, my first book: I was 7 and the book was Little Women.
Reading is self-discovery. In books we can search and find ourselves. For example, in time I’ve discovered that all the four March sisters coexist within myself, with their obsessions and dreams.
Reading is imitation. At home, everyone used to read, and books were everywhere. Thus, reading is first of all a kind of “contamination”. To let it happen, you need some thrill. Some authors were forbidden, such as Pier Paolo Pasolini or John Updike, but marmalade tastes so good when you can steal it… that’s how I realized that if you protect a book, hide it or forbid it, then someone will do anything to read it.
Reading cannot be imposed. If reading a book becomes an assignment, failure is almost guaranteed. I often used a trick: I took a book out of my bag, presented it, let some yellowed pieces of paper fall, saying they dated back to my youth. I told it was very interesting, read some excerpts and concluded by saying I would have never lent it to anyone. Many essays of Jacques Le Goff came back in quite a bad state, changing hands many times…
From a strictly didactic and pedagogical perspective, some argue that a methodology like this downsizes the teacher’s prestige, who reduces the gap with the students. What’s your opinion?
We have to agree on what is meant with “prestige” and, even before that, we should wonder if it makes sense to talk of prestige when talking about teaching. Also “reducing the hierarchical gap” is not much relevant to teaching. Teaching and learning are based on trust and relationship. Prestige, or whatever you may call it, is gained by authenticity, it is not due to a status decided elsewhere. How could you educate readers without being a reader? I believe that the secret to motivate people to read lies in the ability to spread an emotion. And definitely, this cannot be done from a pedestal. You have to be able to make them feel how much life lies between the pages, to arouse the curiosity to know how the story ends, to generate a desire for discovery.
From reading companions to colleagues
Together with your students you developed an evaluation framework for the social reading on project on Dante’s Inferno. How did you work on it?
I think the TwLetteratura method for social reading, through the use of the app Betwyll, is a very powerful didactic tool to achieve our most ambitious goal: turning our students into passionate readers and competent writers. Brevitas and labor limae remain the cold features of the poetry of poetae novi that you learn from books. With Betwyll you can practice them. But school is a complex system, where results, i.e. assessments, count. We often try to engage the class also in this difficult step and share our evaluation frameworks with them. Unfortunately, they are written in didactic jargon and, despite our efforts, we do not always manage to make them understandable. Why not involving the students in their design? After all, you learn by doing.
I thus introduced the framework fundamentals (indicators, criteria, levels) and invited them to design one for the social reading project on Dante’s Inferno, divided in groups. First, they had a brainstorming to identify its main elements. Secondly, equipped with a dictionary and a template I provided, they tried to design their own. One student, Marika (the second on the right in the picture), then carefully completed the job. Of course this framework needs to be revised. But, as a first attempt, it’s not that bad.
And finally… grades
The need to be assessed comes from your students, first: why do you think they felt such a need?
I have to say that students got into it. After all, the issue of being assessed always has a strong appeal on them, I think the peculiarity of the writing work carried out on Betwyll arouse curiosity about how it could be assessed, being an “unconventional” activity they had never done before.
high school teacher
I have the privilege to have been teaching since the last century, now. One of my students told me: “You know how to take challenges”. I couldn’t remember a better compliment. I like to communicate and experiment with my students. To scout talents, listen and solve problems. I was a Digital Champion and now am a Digital Facilitator. I believe in change and I’m not afraid of innovation. I teach at Liceo Scientifico “Ludovico Pepe” in Ostuni (Apulia).