How does CLTL Change Lives? An Interview with Dr. Robert P. Waxler

Kids reading in Brooke's classroom

Brooke Joseph is a graduate student in education at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She has a bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Social Sciences with a concentration in Sociology and Elementary Education.

In a recent interview with Professor Robert P. Waxler, co-founder of the Changing Lives through Literature (CLTL) program, I focused on finding out how CLTL changes lives.  Three themes emerged from this interview: Putting Yourself in the Story, Becoming Friends with Characters, and Breaking Down Stereotypes.

Putting Yourself in the Story

Reading and writing can change people’s lives by helping individuals to focus and increase their awareness through self-reflection.  Waxler explained that when you are reading a good piece of literature, you often put yourself in the story and empathize with characters.  Even though during the CLTL sessions everyone is reading the same story, each individual will read the story in a different manner.  Therefore, when the story is discussed, the characters are seen from opposing angles and people “begin to understand that stories, like our lives, are richly textured possibilities.”

Although stories do not offer definitive solutions to people, they do “raise profound questions about our lives.  And as long as we continue to ask important questions, we are doing something worthwhile with our lives.” Waxler says reading the right stories helps us to “pursue our identity as if we are on a journey through life;” by “expanding our perceptions, offering new experiences and deepening our thinking, stories move us and they make us self-reflective. They offer us questions, and then the stories give us the opportunity to pursue answers to those questions.”

Becoming Friends with Characters

Dr. Waxler also gave an example of how a particular character can change people’s lives. When people are reading they allow the characters to become a part of their lives; characters in the stories “become our friends.  Their voices are embedded in our hearts.”  For example, take Santiago from Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea novel. Even though Santiago does not catch a fish for weeks, he continues to wake up every morning to “fight the good fight; his endurance is admirable.”

After reading OLD MAN AND THE SEA, one CLTL participant claimed, “in essence, Santiago saved my life.” The CLTL student had been thinking about going back to his old neighborhood and returning to drugs.  But then he thought of what Santiago had endured, and decided not to take the turn back to his old neighborhood.  Santiago was a friend in his heart, inspiring him that day.

Breaking Down Stereotypes

Another way that CLTL changes lives is by changing people’s perspectives, and, more specifically, breaking down stereotypes. Perhaps this is best illustrated through a passage from Waxler’s 2008 essay in the Journal of the Modern Language Association:

It is interesting to witness, through CLTL, court officers (judges, probation officers, lawyers) and criminal offenders sitting around a long wooden table in a seminar room talking together about a story they have read.  Customarily the criminal offenders at first see the judges, in this context, as the officials in the dark robes who employed the harsh language of judgment to rule over them, and the judges often see the criminal offenders through the other side of that lens, as marginal characters in need of discipline—if not punishment, at least rehabilitation.  The offenders agree, recognizing themselves defined in the narrow prison of such perception.

CLTL facilitates a breaking down of stereotypes, and the participants around the table take on new identities as they discuss the literature before, As Dr. Waxler says, “stories evoke stories, and through that process stories can help build a democratic community.”

At the end of our interview, I told Professor Waxler I teach second grade and I asked him for any suggestions that he might have for ways that I could engage students. He suggested that stories can be magical and this is what young children know and love.  These magical stories offer imaginative possibilities for the children.  My challenge as a second grade teacher is to make sure that my students never “lose that sense of enchantment.” That is a challenge worth pursuing!


45 thoughts on “How does CLTL Change Lives? An Interview with Dr. Robert P. Waxler

  1. I found this very informative. I had not heard of CLTL until recently. The use of literature to illustrate different perspectives, foster understanding and breakdown previous stereotypes and misconceptions is apparently highly effective. The notion of “becoming friends” with characters may instill responsibilities in the reader; responsibility to respect and honor the traits of the character with whom they connect. This would seem to be a useful approach with all readers. Adolescents, while trying to establish their own identity, have, through literary characters, a catalog of choices. They are exposed to positive and negative traits, as well as actions and consequences.

    I have recently volunteered to run a book discussion group in the local middle school ELA class. I’m glad I have something like this as a resource. Although the themes Dr. Waxler spoke of seem instinctive to experienced readers, I fear they might also be overlooked, especially by students. Adolescents are highly self-conscious; drawing their attention to characters in literature can give them perspective as well as guidance.

  2. I agree Tom. Getting to know characters as friends can bring back the type of fascination with reading that some have as children (and keep our whole lives!) – or teach people who have never felt that way to find that interest.

  3. This is great information! As a new high school foreign language teacher, I am training my students to “increase their awareness through self-reflection” just as you mentioned in this blog. I encourage my students to cultivate the ability to use accurate and more complex words to describe their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in English so that they can make those same communicative connections in Spanish.

    We start each class with introspective discussions in English about music, current events, sports and other topics related to the unit or story we are reading. Starting effective discussions in English boosts their confidence enough to try speaking as effectively in Spanish. Eventually, as I play the devil’s advocate during our discussions, the students are able to debate on their own in class about said topics, including ways to squelch stereotypes as Americans who might travel abroad.

    I use this discussion process to help get my students thinking deeper than “It’s cool and neat.” Students learn to gain confidence in their ability to communicate effectively or justify themselves in ways that characters in stories might do. This confidence is life-changing.

  4. I really love the discussion of being friends with the characters. It is so easy to lose oneself in a story that takes on a particular meaning to one’s life. It is at that point as CS Lewis notes, we, “become a thousand men and yet remain myself….” Not only do we empathize with various characters by somewhat becoming them, but we really to carry them with us, as a collection of friends, through our lives. There are days when I am faced with a situation and my mind recalls a character from years past. I will often think of what their reaction to my situation would be like. Sometimes it can bring humor to a situation as I imagine myself acting the same way. Sometimes it can bring encouragement or courage to face a situation with a reaction that would not be natural, but ends up being the higher road, mainly because I have read and admired a character’s bravery in unfavorable situations. I think the realization that characters can be our friends is definitely something to help our students unlock, especially when teaching literature or writing. It begs a whole new world to participate in the workings of our minds and allows a certain freedom to borrow the resources of others. In essence these characters have come from an author’s mind and perhaps this author would be our friend as well if we knew him or her as we have found a connection to our own identities within the author’s character creations. In a confusing and often unfriendly world, our students could greatly benefit from finding a new set of friends on an intangible and completely different level from the lives they live.

  5. It’s amazing the range of comments this interview has generated, especially among those who deal with adolescents, who are often confused and in search of a workable and interesting identity. Making friends with the characters in a story can ease a teenagers sense of isolation and offer him or her a wide array of choices (identities) to choose from. This post has generated a real conversation, one I find a pleasure to follow and respond to myself.

  6. I once mentored a first grade student under a reading mentoring program. In the short time that I spent with the student, I was able to see how he grew enthusiastic while listening and reading different stories. The student appeared shy at first, which I attributed to his reading disability, but as we progressed through the program, his attitude changed. He started choosing books that he wanted to read, he responded to questions about the stories we read, and he even asked questions. The stories we read helped me to know him better as he relates the stories to his own experiences. The reading mentoring program also gave me some valuable lessons about the importance of reading especially to young children.

  7. I enjoyed reading the comments on this essay about Waxler’s vision for how CLTL can change lives. I am inspired by many of these respondents, many of whom are in the classroom everyday. Their approaches to teaching are inspiring, and their students are lucky.

    Alisa emphasized the power of new friendships that readers make with characters in a story:

    “In a confusing and often unfriendly world, our students could greatly benefit from finding a new set of friends on an intangible and completely different level from the lives they live.”

    Tom clarified the ways in which these new friendships might shape the reader:

    “The notion of ‘becoming friends’ with characters may instill responsibilities in the reader; responsibility to respect and honor the traits of the character with whom they connect.”

    Liz shared the ways in which she motivates her students to become more confident speakers of a foreign language:

    “I encourage my students to cultivate the ability to use accurate and more complex words to describe their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in English so that they can make those same communicative connections in Spanish.”

    And Charisma pointed out how sharing books with a student helped her to know her student better, “as he relates the stories to his own experiences.”

    All of these responses illustrate the deep thinking which underpins skilled pedagogy. Their compassion and care for student learning is evident.

  8. I think the CLTL Program is an excellent way to reach young people who have chosen the wrong path, but I also think it would be helpful in the classroom, and anyplace that people might be leaning towards the wrong path. Especially, young people should be encouraged to read literature with good moral examples and character traits that benefit society, to emulate.

    Classic literature is excellent, but I think we writers should be taking a leaf from classic writers and write stories that make the world a better place. If a child reads my books and makes a wrong choice, maybe I didn’t write the book the way I should have. Maybe it is even partially my fault. With this attitude in mind, I write what I call therapeutic science fiction.

    Science fiction has always been a springboard for social comment, but much of today’s science fiction is really horror, and some of it glorifies bad behavior. I really think about my characters’ morals as I write the story. If the main character starts out as not a very good example, I have that character learn healthier, positive behavior by the end. I usually have a supportive character in the story to lead that character into healthier communication patterns and honesty, but gentle honesty. I write about relationships and how to cope with bad situations. Hopefully, as I weave the story, the reader, who might be suffering through the character’s problem, learns something to help him or her. I also bring faith into the story, not to be preachy, but most therapists agree that faith in a higher power is helpful to a person’s mental health.

    Many Christian writers feel they must add vulgarity to attract young people. I oppose this. The CLTL Program proves that what people read affects their behavior. If someone reads my stories and maybe decides not to use profanity, they have befriended one of my characters, and my mission is a success. My writing business is built upon this mission: I will not use profanity or glorify villains. My characters are imperfect, but make good choices, or change for the better. While I am writing, I try to have good examples of “I” statements, positive, honest communication, and healthy coping skills.

    For more about DanniStories and Dannis’ mission to write therapeutic fiction, please see; Dannis is a disabled single mother of two grown girls, a former psychology student who read up on healthy communication. She decided to self-publish in 2009.

  9. So true here about characters becoming our friends!

    A few years ago, I read John Irving’s “Cider House Rules.” As i neared the end of the novel, I sensed I did not want it to end. A lifelong reader, this somewhat surprised me. Usually, I look forward to completing a book or story, feel a sense of accomplishment, and enjoy thinking about the book’s ideas or characters after I close the book. But something was different with “Cider…” When I finished the novel, I had a real sense of loss. After mulling it over, it occurred to me that upon completing the novel I had an overwhelming dread I was about to lose some dear friends, even if I could revisit them in my memory. More than most books (but like others, too) this novel so insinuated itself into my imagination, I literally bonded with the characters. A little eerie, perhaps, but this illustrates I think the real power of stories and their ability to work themselves into the crevices of our brains and become “real” to us in the manner any other “reality” manifests itself in our lives.

  10. I agree that reading can change lives, in both big and small ways. Specifically with this program, as repeat criminal offenders are rehabilitated through literature. This may seem to be impossible, but can make a difference in people’s lives. This is not to say that serial killer will change his ways after reading literature, but it is possible for those with lesser crimes, drug possession, DUIs, gang related activities, and larceny, to connect to a story and allow it help them grow. As people read and connect with a story, they allow it to become a part of their lives. As Waxler stated, readers can empathize with the characters and the story can become self-reflective. Characters can become close friends that inspire us. Take for instance a woman who has an abusive husband. Especially she comes from an abuse father, she does not know of any other life. Through literature, she can discover a whole new life and way to live. She may be inspired to change her own life simply from seeing the alternatives. If she reads a story about a woman who was abused, but overcame it, she might see that it is possible to change your circumstances get support from characters in the story.

    Reading also allows for the breakdown of stereotypes. People who are cast roles in life, as judge, lawyer, criminal, can become equals through literature. There is no longer a person who has higher standing, everyone is equal as a reader and has an opinion and insights to add. It allows people to connect to each other, when they normally would not. People who feel themselves inferior, may develop confidence in themselves and raise their own expectation for themselves. People can also see that born into a given “station” in life does not mean that is the only option for you. Reading about others who have overcome can give someone the little boost they needed to fight their own fight and overcome their own demons. Reading can change lives in so many ways, not just in big measurable ways, but millions of tiny ways that affect our futures for the better.

  11. I teach a high school creative writing class. We start by reading good writing. By becoming creative readers, we hope to write stories, as Bob Waxler notes, with characters we befriend. In the world of our stories, we work to reveal our characters’ flaws and inspire change. Creative moments extend from stories we read that move us to read and write more.

  12. I agree that even though everyone may be reading the same story, each person reads it in a different way. I also think the impact may vary within the individual depending on what point he/she is at in life. For instance, a woman who has been in an abusive relationship may gain another level of empowerment from, The Woman of Brewster Place. It may lend her the strength she needs to lean on other women for help.
    “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a story that tends to greatly impact adolescent girls. They always have advice for Connie and often have stories to share regarding poor decisions and scary situations that could have turned out much worse.
    Reading and discussing quality literature with others is the most beneficial tool for rehabilitation. It costs little to nothing and provides the greatest riches. Riches that can never be lost and are forever tucked safely inside us.

  13. The first two topics discussed, putting yourself in the story and building a relationship with the characters, are very important. A book that has recently come back into the public eye proves this point. Although it is a short book, maybe 50 words or so, Where the Wild Things Are is a book that changed many lives. Maurice Sendak wrote this book from a child’s perspective and many children were able to see life through the eyes of Max, the boy who journeyed to Where the Wild Things Are. I believe that this book made many children feel more comfortable with themselves and learn a great deal about what it means to be a child. Amazingly, such a short book, actually HELPED so many children.

    As one grows up, so do the characters. For example, many teenagers I knew were able to relate to Holden Caulfield, the characters in The Outsiders, or even some of the boys in Lord of the Flies. Seeing the young men in these novels suffer through adolescence helped a great many people. In addition, the readers I knew all had a different take on their favorite characters, which led them to put themselves into the story and be able to relate in a way that helped them through their teenage years.

    As we become adults, the novels change, the characters change and the messages change. However, one of the greatest parts of reading fiction never changes, and that is becoming friends with the characters. Just as with friends off the pages, the friends we find in the characters of a novel, are able to teach and comfort us. This is one reason why reading is great.

    As for breaking down stereotypes, literature does help us do this. This is why I disagree with Mr. Cole. He speaks of writing about characters with good moral character and ones that do not promote bad behavior. Well, I disagree Mr. Cole. I think it is up to the reader to decide for themselves who they should befriend and learn from that character. Literature should be about breaking down stereotypes, not promoting them.

    In conclusion, great interview with Dr. Waxler. Reading has gotten me through a lot of tough times in my life and has given me a perspective on the world which I would not have had without it. If I had only been reading about the “good things” and “good people” of this world I would never have gotten anything out of it. Just as in real life, characters in novels have their flaws, addictions, issues, etc. If they were all perfect, literature would be useless and I would not ever want to be friends with any of the characters.

  14. I found this article quite informative. Anything that can help us empathize with other people is a great thing. Trying to understand someone else’s thought process is a great first step in breaking down stereotypes. Today we live in a politically divided nation, and it is quite common to vilify the democrats or republicans without attempting to understand their thought process. Likewise, when we look at other people, the homeless for example, we have a tendency to see only their condition and not the person. Good literature allows us all to experience things that we would not otherwise get the chance too. This helps us to broaden our mind, and to look at any situation, political, criminal or social, in shades of grey, instead of black and white. I also like the idea of lawyers, defendants, and judges discussing literature together. It seems like that could be a powerful way to break down preconceived notions about people. Once we take away our profession, (lawyer, teacher, judge, criminal, etc) we are left with the fact that we are simply human beings trying to make our way in the world.

  15. Listen to any group of teenagers long enough and you will hear them connect with stories. No, not stories from books necessarily, but they are constantly talking about their favorite TV shows whether it’s “Gossip Girl”, “One Tree Hill”, or the new “Twilight” movie. Why? I believe that it is because they can connect with the characters, just like the participants in CLTL can connect with the literature.
    I was struck by Dr. Waxler’s comment, “stories evoke stories, and through that process stories can help build a democratic community.” The idea that stories can help build community is a fascinating one. As an undergraduate, I have researched Restorative Practices in education and the need to create a community of responsibility within a school. If literature can help serve as a way to facilitate the building of community, it would be to my advantage as an English teacher to use it within my classroom.
    Also, Dr. Waxler’s description of changing perspectives with CLTL has importance in education how
    …Customarily the criminal offenders at first see the judges, in this context, as the officials in the dark robes who employed the harsh language of judgment to rule over them, and the judges often see the criminal offenders through the other side of that lens, as marginal characters in need of discipline—if not punishment, at least rehabilitation. The offenders agree, recognizing themselves defined in the narrow prison of such perception.

    This can be directly applied to the classroom where students often see themselves in the limited roles that others stereotype them as being. If given a chance to connect with literature and communicate with others about it, students can surprise us. By forming a connection through literature, a student, who has a bad reputation with teachers and seems to be not thriving in a school, might break away from the role that he or she has chosen to play for so long, if only for a class. Literature gives students options and the flexibility to explore multiple possibilities. The ability to see all sides of an issue is one that educators should help instill in all students.

  16. The interview of Robert Waxler by Brooke Joseph was an interesting piece that has clearly opened the eyes of many to the benefits of the “Changing Lives Through Literature” (CLTL) program. The CLTL program itself as a tool has the potential to reach an extremely large target audience with results that could perhaps be difficult to measure.

    With 20 + years experience working within correctional facilities (military and state/county) I can attest to the need for greater literature based programs. CTCL approaches the common issues though from a different angle. Some people have a desire to better themselves while others are not ready for this change yet. Rather than mandating participation in a reading program, the CTCL program offers so much more. CTCL appears to be the type of program that as word spreads among a population a desire to get involved will develop.

    As stated in the interview, these works of literature have the ability to open the eyes of so many people to a world that they have never experienced. The interview highlights this when it discusses the many benefits of relating to “Santigo”. We can all relate to a piece of literature that we have enjoyed and can recall the pleasant thoughts we shared, while thinking of the character. If this one character saved the young man from returning to a drug culture than it has more than likely saved many others. People of all walks of life can relate to the struggles that he has endured.

    With programs such as CTCL, the literary knowledge of those involved will only improve. The benefit of this is that as the individual betters themselves in one aspect, they better themselves as a whole. Therefore as more people better themselves as wholes then so does society become a better place.

  17. Carl, I loved your comment about not wanting certain books to end. I notice this same conflicted feeling, and it has almost become a category in itself for me. I start to try to read more slowly, not wanting to reach the last page. “Kafka on the Shore” was like that for me (a recent example). It can even happen with some short stories. Like you said, you get the feeling that you’re going to miss these people you’ve gotten to know. I also feel like I am leaving a place I’ve spent a lot of time in.

    This is a great discussion. We’ll have another excellent post this Wednesday, and would love to have your responses 🙂

  18. I agree with you too Carl about not wanting a book to end. There are several series that I read and I can’t wait for next one to come out. Unfortunately, I am usually so eager to find out what happens in the new book that I end up reading it in one day. I feel that the characters are close friends and as each book comes out we get to catch up. Especially with the series, I feel that I’ve been through so much with the characters and have been a part of their lives for as long as the series lasts. Some of my friends also read them and it is wonderful to discuss these books and characters with each other as if they are real people we both know.

  19. I agree with Professor Waxler. When i find myself ready a great piece of literature I find myself playing one of the characters role in my head. Not only does it make me want to keep readiong but it helps me understand the story better and its easy for me to relate to and understand what the narrator and or author wants me to see. I think if more readers stay tuned to this site and read these discussions and comments of others they will more than likely see things that thy do other people do as well and also learn new ways to read and lastly interract with others about how reading can impact ones life by putting theirself in the characters place and discussing what they got out of the reading and how they perceive whats going on in the piece of literature.– Brandon S. (ENG 218)

  20. I totally agree, by putting yourself in the story you create vision and emphasize on the story to better understand what is going on. I remember when I was in high school I missed out on the beauty of certain literature because I was stressing over the quiz or test. I tried to remember meaingingless facts instead of placing myself in the story but I learned that by placing oneself in the story you are providing meaning to it and thus you are learning something that could never be taught. After we place ourselves in the story we are able to relate to the characters and reflect upon the literature and thus appreciate it even more. I’ve always believed that literature allows us to escape from the drudgery and problems of everyday life and it helps inspire us. We can read a novel when we’re 15, 25, or 35 but what is interesting is that our interpretation of the message change because we changed. Once we place ourself in the story it has a greater impact and meaning to us. Being an engaging teacher is what every kid needs so keep up the good work Brook!!

  21. I agree with the part about characters inspiring one. Recently, my car broke down and I totally regress into a helpless child. I went back to bed and let someone else deal with it. But after sleeping a while, I picked up “Fight Club” and found the strength to get up and get on with life. Most characters in stories are likable, especially in the first person: one can identify more with that.

  22. This has to be the longest discussion string a post on this blog has ever generated. Nice to hear from you all!

    I want you all to consider that great writing affects readers on a much deeper level than just simply characterization–that is, the process of experiencing characters. It is even at the level of literary style that readers become engaged with a work.

    In a 2008 experiment in Toronto, researchers brought 166 undergraduates into a laboratory and provided them with a battery of personality tests—one similar to the above study. Next, two groups of participants were given two different versions of Chekhov’s famous short story, “The Lady with a Toy Dog” (1899): the original and a re-written, expository version. The expository version was identical to Chekhov’s story, it contained the same characters and events, but the story was re-written as if it were courtroom proceedings.

    After reading one of the two versions, participants were given another battery of personality tests. Results showed that reading Chekhov’s original made participants report themselves as changed when compared to the group who read the expository version. The researchers concluded that “readers experienced a unique fluctuation in their entire personality profile. Reading Chekhov induced changes in their sense of self—perhaps temporarily—such that they experienced themselves not as different in some way prescribed by the story, but as different in a direction toward discovering their own selves. Whether this effect can also be realized with other sorts of fiction has yet to be investigated.”

    So beyond the plot, event-structure, characters, setting, imagery, and themes, literary language has the ability to affect self-change. I think this is beautiful and important.

    Djikic, Maja, Oatley, and Zoeterman. “On ‘Being Moved’ by Art: How Reading Fiction Transforms the Self.” Creativity Research Journal 20 (2008): 21-29.

  23. I really enjoyed the article. I do believe that we learn about ourselves from reading books. It is a way for us to open up and make better decisions based on various examples that we read about in different books. Hopefully, it opens a new perspective on life, and maybe even save someone from making a mistake that they or his/her family may regret. It is also a way to escape the everyday stressful life; to use our imagination and put ourselves in the story.

  24. Allan- fascinating, thank you!
    I tend to favor my love of language over plot structure, etc a lot… and a lot of people have taken issue with that and insisted that I am wrong. I know it is the whole package that makes a story “moving,” but the idea of language itself moving people to this kind of self-reflection and change…. is absolutely amazing.

  25. Beth, there is a wealth of research on this topic variously called Cognitive Poetics, Empirical Studies of Literature, or the Psychology of Reading. In each case, researchers in this field take issue with Reader-Response Critics’ arguments that reading is totally idiosyncratic and, thus, impossible to assess as a tool for something like CLTL. The facts are that there are demonstrable patterns of the impact of reading across populations that, in my opinion, serve to bolster the tenants of CLTL. By the way, I wrote my MA thesis on just this subject, and I am looking for suggested academic publication venues–any suggestions?

  26. The three themes that Brooke Joseph has taken from this interview are very key for every book that is to be read by anybody. It helps form our own character, helps us realize a more in depth look at how to analyze others character traits, and it makes us stop and really think about our own relationships and struggles in this world.

    By putting yourself in the story, much as the young individual did with Santiago from Old Man and the Sea, you can think of other ways to handle situations. It may open the eyes of some to new paths they may have never thought. Literature can show us desirable character traits that we admire in a protagonist, likewise, it may show us who we don’t want to become, for example Santiago teaches us patience and endurance, while Ahab from Moby Dick teaches us unhealthy obsession and life threatening reckless abandonment.

    Becoming friends with the characters of a book is much like our own every day lives. When we read, we decide whether we like a character or not. It shows us what kind of traits we are attracted to, what kind of personalities we desire to associate with. It can help us make better decisions about people we meet and choose to hang out with. One example I can think of is Amory Blaine from This Side of Paradise, I could see him being someone I would know, but not someone I would really want to be around: He’s self-centered, egotistical, and doesn’t seem like he’d ever try to help anyone unless it benefited him. So, I know from reading to try and avoid these kind of character traits in my friends.

    And as the oldest cliche goes, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, reading can help break down stereotypes that may ruin what could be a beautiful friendship or encounter. Reading can always help us realize that the other side isn’t always what we perceive. It may make people stop and say: well how did this make them feel? What struggle did they have to go through to achieve? Is this a struggle I have ever faced? How would I react in the same situation? And the most important, How can I learn from this or help?

  27. I always find it fascinating that when I start a good book, before I know it, I’m three-quarters of the way through it! It’s so true how we do put ourselves into the stories and lives of the characters we read about. I can think back to the good books I’ve read over time, and I feel that I will always have a special conncetion to those characters and situations. I do find myself, when I go someplace new, or travel, sometimes remember a certain scene from a book that reminds me of the new experience.

    I also find it interesting how we do empathize with the characters we read about and get to know. I think we’ve all read a book and been completely sad or mad, or even happy when a particular character dies or gets defeated! It feels that you really know that person and it really affects you.

  28. The main theme here of stories impacting lives is very encouraging. Changing Lives Through Literature is new to me, but I think it is an incredible idea. If ONE story can impact ONE person, more importantly, rehabilitate them, then literature as a whole, is not only enjoyable, but successful.
    I have often found myself feeling like the character in whatever book I am engaged in; able to understand them and how they perceive the world. It also gives me a sense of how someone else overcame issues, which can often be a lesson learned.

  29. I like the idea of the CLTL program very much and think that it has the potential to benefit many young people. It is so true how stories force us to ask questions and better yet seek answers, they really do. Sometimes through a characters experience we can gain just the advice we need to deal with something in our own lives. It really adds to the story if you can put yourself into it and relate. Stories help us to better understand ourselves and others by seeing the world from someone’s else’s perspective. The discussion of stories is then therefor equally as important because everyone interprets characters and events differently. Listening to one another is a key concept one should have a good grasp on, and a really easy way to do this is through the discussion of literature. Imagination is so important and reading is such a fine way to keep that imagination running in good condition.

  30. I found this very informative. I had not heard of CLTL until recently, I also agree with all that readinbg can change lives if you put yourself to work and get through it. When I read I always imagine the characters to my images,and they usually reflects people in my life. Through my whole life I have always escaped reality through reading and still do its the only thing that keeps me sane… ha ha. There are also certain books that i never want to end but alas they do and that stinks.

  31. CLTL made me think of how instantly I relate automatically to a character in a book, show, or movie. For me, I think that at times it is difficult to relate to others in real life rather than in a show or a book. There is that constant feeling of “well my situation is different” with an actual person. I agree that a book leaves room for that “sense of enchantment” like Brooke stated in her interview with Dr. Waxler.

    While reading the interview, I also agree that we have the ability to personally escape life for a while and relate to what is right in front of us. We have that opportunity to sit and reflect upon ourselves and our own lives. We allow the characters to influence us and possibly alter our thoughts and feelings but from within our own minds. Minus that potential feeling of judgement from others on the outside.

    Lastly, CLTL for criminal offenders, for example, may allow those individuals to take time reading about someone else and their situation quite like their own, while still having the option to self reflect on a more personal level. It seems as if these offenders could read what their life could potentially be like and the outcome as well. Having the ability to see the ending of their book of life, whether it be a positive or negative one, could at least leave the possibility for some positive influence!

  32. I couldn’t agree more with Professor Robert W. Waxler’s ideas on how CLTL changes lives. Having students put themselves in the story is so evidently beneficial for readers of all levels. From personal experience, going through school I had very little confidence in my reading ability, but I always knew that I could read stories like the “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (because of the designated roles the story provided), and have confidence to speak to the teacher and the class about the story and how it made me feel. I was able to establish this confidence because these types of stories made it easier for you to “role play” as one of the characters. I find that teaching children to put themselves in the story makes History that much more valuable. My favorite stories when I was in school were the “role playing” stories. The confidence built by these “role playing” stories was so invaluable in my life to come. When you were given a particular part to read, you really felt involved in the story, and my ability to retain the information increased greatly. Teaching reading through the medium of History allows my students to put themselves in a story from a variety of angles. Students could read Thucydides’ story of the Peloponnesian War and imagine themselves as the Spartans or even as Pericles himself. It really helps students get an understanding of concepts that could have happened thousands of years ago. Without a personal experience to what we are reading students easily get board, making my job of engaging the students much more difficult. This blog really helped me put into perspective the importance of putting the readers in the story themselves, and even have them speak about it as if they were the persons in the story.

  33. I completely agree that relating to the characters in a story is an important way to try and understand where the author is coming from. Not only is it important to relate to the characters you like, but to also relate to the characters that you do not like.
    Almost all of us can think of a favorite book whether it is from childhood or adulthood and in one way or another we were able to connect with the character and see them come to life as we turn the page.
    I also agree with looking past stereotypes in novels and in life. If we can push past stereotypes in books, we are one step closer to looking past stereotypes in life. It is important to have a diverse group of people be able to come together and discuss novels that help bring on new identities.

  34. CLTL seems to be a great program. Anything that lowers the recidivism rate while promoting good positive change in an inmate’s life is to be applauded.
    As I read this article and the comments posted about it, I am reminded of the pens ability to change individuals, for the better (or worse). Some the individuals who wrote comment echoed this idea. Both Alisa and Dannis in their comments discussed how moral lessons learned from characters in literature have inspired others to make better decisions with their life’s decisions.
    When I was younger I read books that were products of a much earlier time. I read the Happy Hollisters, The Hardy Boys, and the Chronicles of Narnia just to name a few. These books shared values with me that were consistent with my family’s and helped develop my moral compass. I read thousands of books in my young adult life and it came as a little bit of a shock when I began to read books that I was assigned at school. I read I am the cheese, the Color purple, Of mice and men, the Giver, Native Son, Gentlehands and many more. Many of these books did not have clear heroes or heroines. The lines between right and wrong became a little more confused. The more books I began to read for high school continued with this trend. Whether it is in book or film I have continued to look for the heroes of my childhood that seem all but lost in this current age. The current heroes are often bad guys, just less bad than the antagonist. Gone is the Leave it to Beaver innocence that children once had for role models. In Beavers place are characters that are conflicted and live in the “real” world.
    My thoughts for a decade or more have drifted to this shift in literature that I have experienced. Wexler stated that, “reading the right stories helps us to pursue our identity as if we are on a journey through life.” I wondered if there was a connection between the types of books we read and the type of people we become. I began to think that all the negativity that I was reading did little to inspire my classmates. I felt that there could be a correlation between the lack of heroes and the pervasiveness of extremely negative scenes in the books and movies we were experiencing to how we perceived our possible futures. I am not arguing that we should read only happy books or that I am a pillar of light for reading the books I did. I am not saying that we should ignore or not write about the real bad things that happen in real life. I am not saying we cannot grow or learn from certain literature. I am saying that there seems to be of dearth of literature promoted in schools that help students learn in a positive way to become heroes in their own lives. Literature really does change lives.

  35. CLTL is an outstanding program. Throughout history we have seen class struggle (haves and have nots). This program creates a forum where for the most part these two sides meet and have a common agenda, thus creating a new perspective of the other side. Also, there is nothing like reading a good book. Sittting alone or in a crowded place and losing yourself in someone elses trials. This creates a learning environment. This allows for individuals to connect situations they are reading about and apply it to their own life. Waxler gave a great example of this, when he showed how Santiago was able to inspire and keep a reader from giving up. We all learn at our own pace, and by creating a situation in which people can continue to learn and grow, the communities in which these programs are implemented will reap the benefits.

  36. Brooke Joseph’s essay about her interview with Dr. Waxler really reasonated with me. I try to help my students understand how literature can build understanding of others and thus community, on a local as well as a global level. Perhaps we will bw better able to listen to outsise voices and views if we understand a bit about where those voices have been and their experiences.
    Breaking down stereotypes is incredibly important today. Just as the participants in CLTL have the opportunity to view their situation from the other side of the table or bench, we can teach our students to use literature for that same purpose in our classrooms.
    We can get the strength to carry on by taking the example of a character who does not give up when facing adversity. We can also understand that Muslims are not alll extremeists by reading literatre which depicts the true nature of Islam. Books like The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns and Three Cups of Tea can help students gain a better understanding of the Muslim world, see events from the other side of the table…
    CLTL and Brooke Joseph’s essay have reminded me of one of the reasons I am so passionate about literature and how powerful it can be. Literature can change lives and help build community.

  37. Congrats Brooke,

    I only recently was introduced to what CLTL was about. Literacy is the building bridge from a “character” in the story and yourself. Literature includes information that students learn when they read and analyze stories and the ideas they develope about that information as they connect them to other stories and/or to their own life experiences. Often the ideas students develope are about the theme or “message” of a story such as the importance of kindness.
    In my classroom I have learned to let the students openly relate to the character we are reading about using their own imagination.

  38. Of all of the advice given in this interview I find that the most valuable to our society is the idea of pursuing an identity. I find that people often disrespect themselves and others when they have no sense of identity. “expanding our perceptions, offering new experiences and deepening our thinking, stories move us and they make us self-reflective. They offer us questions, and then the stories give us the opportunity to pursue answers to those questions.” Perhaps those people are not given the opportunity, or have lost the understanding of what reading gives us and how it can expand our lives. Reading stories likens to playing games, it is not until you stop that you realize how they enrich our lives. They are a vacation of the mind, a quick and necessary escape from the intense pressure of deadlines and social requirements. Although some may argue that taking such is an escape is a shirk of duties, irresponsible and immature, I’d surmise they have let go of a very important part of themselves. “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

  39. Pingback: How does CLTL Change Lives? An Interview with Dr. Robert P. Waxler « Changing Lives, Changing Minds: A Changing Lives Through Literature Blog « DanniStories Stories

  40. After reading this article, I finally understand the power of the old adage of “losing oneself in a book.” Professor Waxler’s exposition of the potential impacts of CLTL is a helpful way of thinking how to use stories to effect change in students’ lives in various ways. Self-reflection is a key benefit of CLTL and one that should be employed by educators. Students not only can read to uncover how different characters fit into plot(s) as it/they develop–they can also see how they, themselves, fit into the stories’ plots. Moreover, identification with the characters in the story can open up new possibilities to students and can help them to think outside of their limited–we all have limits– parameters. The box has been opened!

    As a Freedom Writer teacher, I have witnessed the benefits of troubled students losing themselves in a character. Once they see that an adolescent character is allowed to make mistakes and can then evolve into a better person, they feel better about trying to make positive changes in their own lives.

    The character Maria in the “Freedom Writers Diaries,” and in the film, was inspired by Anne Frank. She was utterly shocked that this young Jewish girl she had connected to so deeply, was unable to survive after hiding for months in an attic during Hitler’s reign of terror. It was after she had time to reflect on the fate of the young girl that she realized Anne Frank did live on. She lived on through her words to inspire generations of adolescents that struggle against sometimes insurmountable odds.

    Anne Frank would be thrilled to know she inspired Maria, a juvenile delinquent with a prison bracelet around her ankle, to break free of a major gang in L.A. Maria also freed her father from the gang and went on to graduate from college. Anne Frank also indirectly inspires the thousands of adolescents that read the Freedom Writers Diaries.

    Dr. Wexler has tapped into the phenomenon of identification with and immersion in the lives of beloved characters. This is the greatest gift literature has to offer humanity. Works of literature, and the characters we know and love offer us hope for a better life, hope for a promising future, hope for a heart that may some day be healed. Lives are changed by literature – and Dr. Wexler’s program is reaching a population that might otherwise have remained bereft of the hope of redemption. Changing lives through the vision of Dr. Wexler is an example to educators struggling to improve literacy for often disengaged and uninspired adolescents.

  41. This thread is just wonderful. Are any of you fellow bloggers/twitterers? I’d like very much to add you to my network via RSS or on Twitter.

    Feel free to add me:

    Skype/Twitter: allanmcdougall

  42. Thank you Dr. Waxler, Dr. Hall, Beth and everyone for all of your wonderful insight and comments!


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