Active reading (or “listening to the words”) involves not only the writer’s ability to communicate but the readers ability to “hear” what is being said. For example, I was reading an article on the topic of inflation and its history. Given I am old enough to have lived through some history and have taken the subject in both high school and college (I relished both classes), I was able to rather poignantly understand what the author was communicating. So, I was able to read the article with some knowledge of the world around me so I could tie both the definition of inflation and some of its history to foresee present day consequences for my beloved United States of America. All this real-world connection took place when I was only a quarter of the way though the article! On the other side of the same coin, active reading requires good writing. As a reader, I feel most engaged when the writer has invited me into their world or explained a complex piece of information, otherwise as clear as mud. Reading and writing can incorporate all the forms of communication. For instance, which is more engaging to listen to: someone who reads in monotone or someone who changes voice to match character and narrates with passion? Similarly good writing can make the mind and imagination their chalkboard to illustrate the scene or concept they are communicating Have you ever picked up a work of fiction intending to read for thirty minutes, only to put the book down two hours later? Or read multiple blog articles on a certain topic and come away ready to practice (or share) what you’ve learned? Have you ever stopped to consider how the author wove their spellbound tale or how they put together the written education you just received?As two sides of the same coin, both writing and reading have been considered building blocks of a child’s education. Why? At its most basic level, language is humanity’s primary means of communication whether verbal (speech), non-verbal (body language), written, visual, (art) and listening. A toddler’s first words might be “no” accompanied by a stiffing of their body indicting defiance or “I love you” accompanied by a hug or kiss, signaling a bond of recognition and trust. As the toddler matures into a child, they might write the word “no” in a sentence accompanied by a picture or drawing of a stick figure with their tongue stuck out, shaking the finger. Or they might write “I love you” alongside another picture or drawing of a stick figure hugging and kissing their loved one. Listening, like all forms of communication, is developed throughout the child’s life into adulthood, an art and discipline which takes a lifetime to perfect.
Real Reading: “Listening to the Words”
Learning to read effectively requires slowing the reading pace and studying the text for what the author (regardless of genre) is trying to proclaim. For instance, I was teaching a small class of 5th graders who were reading an article. According to the lesson plans left, I was supposed to lead the class in highlighting important information. As a result, we broke the article down one, maybe two paragraphs at a time, and discussed what the author was saying and why the individual participants held the opinion they did.
Like the reading of informative articles or books, fiction of any genre (i.e., sci-fi, historical, contemporary or flash fiction) have lessons everyone can potentially learn. How did the protagonist deal with the loss of his loved ones? How did she handle getting kicked out of the house? What about the antagonist causing his opponents’ grief, or her not allowing her archenemy room and board? How can the reader emulate the protagonist in the how he provided for his family during the Depression or how she, an African American, taught former slaves in the one-room schoolhouse in the Deep South in the late 1800’s? How can the reader avoid the cruel behavior of the antagonist as he tries to stop this woman by any means possible, or the vixen’s vice in trying to seduce the hardworking family man?
It are these lessons and more written as examples literature can teach us: courage in the face of adversity, boldness in the face of fear, wisdom in the face of foolishness which can inspire us as we live our lives and encounter various people and situations. The protagonist, not excluding her mistakes and foibles acts as our guide; the antagonist, not including some excellent character qualities, acts as our warning as we live our daily lives. It are these errors and mistakes, which make the protagonist human, not hero. For who in real life knows a person who has not made the wrong choice with a stinging consequence, the silly mistake which costs, the error resulting in a chain of setbacks? Yet, slowly, ever so slowly they rise from the dirt to which they have fallen, dust themselves off and keep moving forward. Maybe the qualities shown after the mistakes is made, the harsh word is spoken, the action regretted, perhaps this is what make the protagonist a true hero worthy of imitation. As concerns the antagonist, how many people have no admirable qualities at all? Cannot the alcoholic be a wonderful family man when sober, or the shopaholic desire the best gifts for her children and family? So as in real life, the antagonist, is not purely evil. Maybe he is stealing to provide for his family or she becomes a prostitute for she sees no way out and must eat to survive. But maybe, just maybe it’s these wrong choices and thorny paths which ultimately lead to redemption; utter desperation which leads to hope; dying that leads to life.
Reading Life Themes
Not only does literature have lessons to be learned from the protagonist and antagonist but has themes included in multiple bound volumes, which gives us the assurance the trials and dark days we face are not new but have been endured by man since the beginning of time. Every generation from history’s beginnings to the present day have grappled with and lived through war, disease, death, economic woes- – you name it. The study of literature provides an array of case studies on how to get through these dark themes, by getting to know the characters and how they either survived (or did not survive) the same situation.