I went to the internet to help me, as Kelly Gallagher explains, activate prior knowledge about the text and frame the text and put the book in a context with which I am already familiar.
Here is what I found:
“Many people, generally those who have never read the book, consider Wuthering Heights to be a straightforward, if intense, love story — Romeo and Juliet on the Yorkshire Moors. But this is a mistake. Really the story is one of revenge. It follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy-like person, from childhood (about seven years old) to his death in his late thirties. Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant, running away when the young woman he loves decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated, and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life.”
This loss of status and mistreatment at the hands of one’s new family reminded me of the story of Cinderella.
Why Should I Care?
Concerned that you won’t like Wuthering Heights? Think you’ll get bored reading a book that’s over 150 years old? Before you give up on Emily Brontë’s one and only novel, ask yourself a couple questions:
- Do you like creepy stories about haunted houses?
- How about stories with elaborate revenge schemes?
- Are you a fan of Edward Cullen, from Twilight? (Because before there was Edward, there was Heathcliff.)
- Do you believe in soul mates?
- Are you sick of reading stories where the girl ends up with a Prince Charming or a Romeo?
If you said yes to any of these questions, we’re willing to bet that once you pick up Wuthering Heights, you won’t be able to put it down. It’s a real page-turner, full of ghoulish behavior, ghosts, passionate love, and revenge. Maybe you’ve even heard of the main character, Heathcliff, as a dark, brooding, obsessive romantic idol. This guy is definitely no Prince Charming. Emily Brontë changed the tone of the whole romantic hero thing and made Heathcliff nasty and cruel and, in spite of all that, sexy and sympathetic. One hundred and fifty years later, pop culture is still obsessed with Heathcliff-like characters (Edward Cullen, anyone?).
YouTube also has a lot of useful videos that can help frame a text, such as this summary by Shmoop.com:
Some other facts and notes that I found out about the book:
- From http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/wuthering/: “Victorian readers found the book shocking and inappropriate in its depiction of passionate, ungoverned love and cruelty.”
- From Shmoop.com: To Heathcliff, whoever controls the house has the power, so even though he seeks revenge for all of his mistreatment, he does so by acquiring real estate.
- From Shmoop.comWith her violently romantic plot line and passionate characters, Emily Brontë has no problem drawing the reader into the book. And once you get through the first two chapters, you are definitely hooked. Heathcliff seems like such a jerk, yet he is one of the most famous romantic protagonists ever.
Up next: Setting a Purpose for Reading
Before I read the book, says Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading, I need to activate any background knowledge I can about the topic, which Gallagher likens to warming up a car before driving it. This is designed to “get the students ready and focused for the upcoming reading” (Gallagher 21). He goes on to say, “By activating their schema… a sense of anticipation is built before they begin to read” (21).
Gallagher goes on to explain the importance of setting up the book before the students start reading: “…reading comprehension is tied closely to what the reader brings to the page — to what the reader knows before reading” (26). He cotinues: “Having context helps immeasurably” and “…our students often lack prior knowledge in many of the areas they are to study” (27). Gallagher then quotes a brain guru, David Sousa, who says, “past experiences always influence new learning” and Gallagher continues: “When we read something new, we are much more likely to understand it if we see connections that make it relevant” (Gallagher 27).
Not to belabor the point, here are some other points he makes:
- Teachers should do more “…frontloading of the text so that students could get past the unfamiliarity of the story and begin seeing the beauty and the universal truths inherent” in a novel (28).
- “If we expect students to find meaning, ‘we need to be certain that today’s curriculum contains connections to their past experiences, not just ours’ (Sousa 2001, 49) (28).
- “When we teach difficult literature and challenging nonfiction to our students, we need to work hard to frame the text for them. Remember, adolescents often bring very limited prior knowledge to the page, so we need to be the equivalent of that guided audio tour” (37).
- “As the teacher, what you do (or don’t do) before your students read a major literary work will determine their level of motivation and interest. This in turn will have a direct effect on their level of comprehension” (37).
- “What can (the teacher) do to shore up those gaps in the prior knowledge of… students?” (38).
Gallagher then goes on to suggest a number of strategies, including the K-W-L-R (K: What they know already; W: What they want to know; L: What they have learned; and R: Post-reading research), the “K” of which I explored in the last post.
But Gallagher also suggests additional ideas for preparing students, such as:
- a related story or article
- an art experience
- a video clip
To frame Wuthering Heights, I explored the internet and what I found is in the next post…
In books such as I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, Cris Tovani lists reading behaviours of successful or proficient readers.
These behaviours are:
- Activating background knowledge
- Self-questioning the text while reading.
- Drawing inferences.
- Determining importance
- Employing Fix-Up Strategies when meaning breaks down.
- Using sensory images to visualize
- Synthesizing and extending meaning
Here, I will begin at the beginning. I have often, if not always employed, deliberately asking students to brainstorm any preconceptions they have about a text before we begin. To put a shape to that pre-text brainstorming, I have used an Advance Organizer, brainstorming on a word web as a class, or a Value Line.
For this activity, I decided to use a K-W-L chart, with the “K” meaning that students write everything they already know — or think they know — about a topic or text.
Here are my K preconceptions:
- Gothic text (but what that means exactly I confess to not knowing)
- Considered one of the greatest texts ever written
- Considered one of the greatest love stories ever written
- Turn of the century time period
- Overly flowery language.
- Unnecessarily long descriptions.
Up next: Activating Background Knowledge, Framing a Text and Providing a Purpose
I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of Gothic Literature. In fact, I deliberately avoided taking courses involving Jane Eyre and books of that ilk when in university. I have dabbled in reading them… and, heretofore, those books don’t ‘do it’ for me.
But… in the short time I have bee in my new position as Learning Coordinator for Literacy & English and Student Success, I have had the amazing opportunity to learn by reading, by attending workshops, by having amazing conversations, by observing powerful presenters and teachers. And I have been exposed to ideas I haven’t really considered before.
In particular, the idea that explicit reading and comprehension instruction should, according to some authors I have read, continue throughout high school gives me pause. And these are ideas propounded by high school teachers — albeit American high school teachers — but they still have elements in them that have gotten me… pondering.
So, since I am the type of person who can only learn when I actually do something — as opposed to simply reading about it or watching it — , I thought I would put some of this reading theory to the test — on myself.
After reading two texts each of Cris Tovani and Kelly Gallagher , here are some of their ideas that are fueling my ‘thesis’ or my hypothesis or simply my plan:
- “Reading is hard — and hard is good” says Kelly Gallagher, and from this I take that we can’t altogether jettison the so-called classics outright simply because the language, context, story or ideas are ‘too hard’. There is value in facing and conquering a difficult text — even if we don’t like it. Gallagher goes on to say “There is a difference between liking a text and valuing a text.”
- There are behaviours or habits that successful readers perform when reading, often without being aware of them, as outlined in Tovani’s book, I Read It But I Don’t Get It. But I want to hold out hope that these behaviours can be modelled, explicit taught, learned and ultimately internalized by struggling or reluctant learners.
- In addition, there are strategies successful readers use when they run into trouble while reading (“when meaning breaks down”). And again, these strategies can be learned by our students.
- Lastly, as a teacher, there are activities that I can and really must employ to increase the chances that most of my learners will get through a difficult text.
So, my plan is to try to read a text that, from this vantage point, I don’t want to read / I am not intrinsically drawn to. But I am going to try to read this text following the ideas and frameworks of these two reading instruction gurus to see if it has some merit. And I am going to attempt to chronicle this reading excursion here….