A classic tale: Thoughts on Teaching Classic Literature by @perkins254

Instead of telling children that they should be reading the classics, we should be enthusing them about the stories.

Recently, I was really interested to read that Nicky Morgan and David Walliams are on a mission to encourage children to read the Classics http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34341656 and I was equally interested in some of the comments that followed on twitter,  mostly agreeing whole-heartedly with the Education Secretary’s ideas.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Michelle Perkins and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Now before I go any further, I need to point out that I actively encourage my pupils to read (as well as reading to them) and I understand only too well the advantages confident readers have over the less confident, and it is with the less confident in mind that I write this blog.

In all of the articles I have read about classic literature, I have become intrigued by the fact that such novels are only ever referred to as the ‘Classics’ as if that is a genre in its own right, and this is where I feel we are missing a trick.

I believe that in order to enthuse our pupils about reading the classics, we must enthuse them about the genres of these novels, instead of implying that they are worth reading just because they are ‘classics’. I base this on my own experiences with classic literature, and my own sense of failure because, frankly, I found some of it incredibly dull. For example, I absolutely love Frankenstein, it’s one of my favourite books, telling a poignant and tragic tale, yet when I read Wuthering Heights (hoping for an equal sense of tragedy) I wanted to stick pins in my eyes – finding the process of reading it completely laborious and painful (and I was left wondering why everyone died of a cold…)

This experience left me feeling cold and not a little upset. I wanted to be an English teacher, and yet I had found one of the most lauded works of classic fiction to be, well, a bit rubbish – I was mortified! Clearly, I wasn’t fit to grace the corridors of any English department and immediately needed to hang my head in shame, or so I thought.

How could it be that I loved one classic, but truly hated another? Then it struck me, it wasn’t a classic I hated, it was the story. This experience leads me to my point: instead of telling children that they should be reading the classics, we should be enthusing them about the stories.

We need to really think about what type of classic literature will appeal to the pupils we teach, and what it is about the stories they tell that will interest them, instead of trying to convince our pupils that a book has merit simply because of when it was written.

I believe that by approaching classic works in this way,  we can truly open them up to all of our pupils as books to be enjoyed, not endured – after all everyone loves a good story…


Featured Image Source: By Jason Parrish on Flickr under (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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