There is much to be said about the state of mind affecting the way one approaches a book. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” Escaping into a book can do much to alter state of mind and conversely, coming to a story in an altered state of mind can impede its message from affecting the reader. As I’ve observed my students’ reading over the last two weeks, I’ve been able to realize how the events of both their personal and academic lives influence their approach towards Lord of the Rings. If they have been stressed at school or home due to external pressures, they may look forward to our reading time together as a solid hour when they can vacate their minds and simply enter and submit to Tolkien’s influence. If they’re a bit over-stimulated from something exciting occurring that day, then they may be more reluctant to engage in a sedentary activity such as reading. To be an effective language arts instructor, the teacher must perceive these frequent changes in his/her students as they approach the material, in order for them to have the most comprehensive literary experience.
Even though we experienced a snowstorm last week, it cannot be denied that spring is on its way. As warmer weather approaches and daylight stretches longer, my students are becoming restless to engage in more outdoor activities. Never one to ignore the siren call of spring, I believe in frequently taking my students out-of-doors to experience literature. This weekend I went to Barnes & Noble bookstore to purchase some Hobbit bookmarks for my students. I purchased a selected assortment of characters from the film and also found a 75th anniversary commemorative tote bag, in case we decided to embark on a real journey with our books.
My students became highly motivated to read with their additional Tolkien materials.
As we discussed the warmer weather, I told them we may soon be able to enjoy Lord of the Rings out-of-doors, and perhaps partake of a “second breakfast”, although my students would be more inclined to eat pizza than savor “mince-pies and cheese”.
While the steno pads, I provided, are proving to be an effective way for my students to share their questions with me, as Thorin wrote today, “How can Bilbo really be 128 years old?”; they are also proving to be a medium for meddling. As many of the characters in Tolkien’s books seem to accurately depict the vast gamut of human traits, good and bad, my students are beginning to display the same tendencies as their literary counterparts. Bofur took it upon himself to use his steno pad to vent his frustration with Ori over being a “book hog”. Bofur apparently felt that Ori was not giving other students a chance to read, as he wrote “Ori reads so much! He read like 3-4 paragraphs. That is too much!!” While I suppose it is my job to enforce reading equality in my classroom, I find it rather difficult to stop a “book hog” when they’re reading with such expression and completely engaged in the text. Balin also had an interesting comment today as she asked “why couldn’t there be girl dwarves in The Hobbit”, signifying her desire to see some girl-power among Tolkien’s protagonists. I assured her that in Lord of the Rings she will encounter some very powerful heroines such as Eowyn, Arwen, and Galadriel. Then an interesting discussion ensued as to how different The Hobbit‘s journey would have been had females been involved. Ori and Gloin presumed there would have been a lot more nails, hair, and make-up. We all giggled at the absurdity of cosmetics being a part of Middle-Earth and the students asked me if they could further explore the idea through a comedic sketch to post on the blog. While I assured them we needed to prioritize reading the book over exploring Tolkien’s works with, I’m afraid, rather irreverent dramatic interpretations; I said we might possibly have time to do something like that towards the end of the school year. Stay tuned!
Ori, who has a naturally sunny disposition, asked today if he could write me a note in his steno pad and draw a picture. I told him that would be fine and was touched by what he wrote, “Thank God you let us read The Hobbit. All of us said that it’s too big. But we enjoyed it so much and we loved it. Kili said, ‘it’s going to be so boring’ and now she’s a really big fan of Lord of the Rings.” His picture (shown below) depicts how the character of Bilbo might have felt after hearing of Kili‘s conversion process from Tolkien-depressed to Tolkien-obsessed. I’m so pleased that Ori took the time to express his thoughts, which allowed me to reflect on how motivation is such a key factor in getting students to buy-in to the magic of reading.
My students and I are motivating each other as we attempt to achieve an incredible academic feat. We are motivated by the challenge of reading a very lengthy book in a finite amount of time. We are motivated by the supportive comments we receive on this blog, from all of you, as readers. The actions of the fellowship of characters we are reading about motivate us to see that a seemingly impossible task can be achieved through teamwork. My students are motivated by each other’s attitudes towards reading and my attitude towards them. In this sense, we must rely on one another, much as the characters in Lord of the Rings depend on each other to successfully destroy the ring, if we are to have any hope of completing our literary journey.