Teaching a novel is one of the biggest challenges a high school English teacher can face. The reason is relatively simple: a teacher has to find a way to bring the book to life for his students and help them engage with the book’s content without turning the process into sustained drudgery or mindless trivia. And because novels are long, a teacher has to do this consistently over multiple classes, in a way that helps weave the book’s narrative together in a meaningful way. I don’t pretend to be any kind of an expert in this process; in fact, I’m very much experimenting and trying new things each semester. But I’ve taught three books in the past six months (The Stone Angel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the non-fiction Man’s Search for Meaning) and as my English 11 students begin our study of Ray Bradbury’s iconic Fahrenheit 451 I’m optimistic about my approach. The audio recording below is our first class, where I introduce the book.
The ability to learn how to read a book well, and thoughtfully, and slowly (as opposed to rushing through) is one of the most important skills students can learn in school. As fewer teenagers (and adults) seem to possess the ability for sustained silent reading, our job as language educators becomes increasingly important.