Friday, December 25, 2015

Accepting The Call For the First Time (Again)

The Call of the Wild begins with an unattributed epigraph:
the first stanza of "Atavism," a 1902 poem by John Myers O'Hara.
Two weeks ago, in anticipation of our impending seven-day break from classes, I asked my Advanced Placement students if any of them had a favorite book that they enjoyed re-reading for fun. The few that did, mentioned the titles that one might expect from normal eleventh graders: titles from any number of popular young adult franchises such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the like. It was then that I hinted at the possibility of my asking them to read (or in some case re-read) a short novel that I enjoyed revisiting during break that they too may have become familiar with from middle school, The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Though I teach high school English, and the reality that The Call of the Wild is firmly ensconced as a middle school title in our (like most) school districts, it became apparent a few years ago that, for whatever reason, London's classic was no longer being taught. As a result, most students had no awareness of Jack London beyond, maybe, having been assigned (and consequently dreading the experience of) reading "To Build a Fire".

As was expected, many students balked at the idea of being assigned a book to read during this time (and more than one colleague suggested to me "it is break after all"), I reminded my charges that had I any faith that they might read anything during our time apart, I might feel differently. An ulterior motive I had for assigning this particular book was the hope that some had indeed read it in middle school, and could therefor come to the realization upon re-reading it that books returned to at different points in one's experience can reveal new layers of understanding that their younger selves may have missed. (I knew some had been assigned it in the past by virtue of their names having been scrawled in the covers by their younger selves), of those few who had, none remembered it.

The task required of students' while reading was non-threatening as it mirrored one they had recently completed: as each read, she or he would annotate using either post-it notes (in the school's book) or in-text notations identifying and explaining specific literary strategies employed by London in telling Buck's story. The course was, after all, Language and Composition so our shared emphasis would be on writer's craft. For my part, I would also be re-reading the text, albeit for the upteenth time, and share select pages of annotation with the via my Twitter feed and our class blog throughout the course of our break. (Full disclosure: I could not resist the urge to begin (again) so actually began reading and annotating prior to the start of break.)

As some of my students reluctantly accept "the call" for the first time, and others willingly embrace Buck's tale for a second, I look forward to sharing together with them after break our thoughts on the journey (and process)...

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