Enter a New World with Deep Reading

By Brittany Allcorn

When I was younger all of the children from my neighborhood would normally gather together to play outside, but on one particular day my friends were too busy (having more fun than me!) to come outside. As I was sitting outside on the sidewalk, playing with a twig, or some other earthly thing I had made into a “toy,” a woman came up to me and asked me if I liked to read. At that time, I really hadn’t thought about whether or not I liked to read, but I hesitantly said yes anyway. This kind woman, someone who I had never met before, asked me if I would like to borrow a book. Of course I said yes. I was so bored that I would accept anything to get me away from the boredom of the sweltering, friendless day. The book she leant me was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

It was fantastic! After immersing myself in the world of the endearing characters of the novel, I could answer the question “Do you like to read” with an affirmative yes. Through this book I learned that I don’t have to be sitting on the sidewalk on a sweltering day playing with a stick, I could be sitting in a horse drawn carriage on a bone chilling day with the White Witch. I learned that I could experience whole other worlds and whole other lives. I could be anyone and anywhere I wanted to be. Not only did reading offer me new experiences, but it also offered me new friends. For me, characters aren’t just words on a page. They are real people with desires and emotions. They are people with whom I can sympathize with and develop a connection to.

Having taken a course on literacy in the classroom with Maureen Hall, I have learned that the experiences I felt from reading are greatly embedded in the deep reading process. Deep reading involves readers making a connection to the text in both an imaginative and emotional way. Readers who go beyond the literal meaning of literature and “map” their experiences on to the text are experiencing deep reading.

Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall in their book, Transforming Literacy: Changing Lives through Reading and Writing, explain that, “literature, filled with ambiguity, always opens itself to the reader, calls to the reader, encouraging and demanding that the reader participate in the making of its ongoing meaning.” Narratives have a literal meaning that all readers can understand, but they can also be manipulated by individual readers who develop their own meaning and interpretation of a text based on their own experiences. The meaning readers develop from a text is important because it leads to a better understanding of the self.

I also learned several great ways teachers can incorporate the deep reading process in their classrooms. My personal favorite technique is provoking discussions through questions. These questions should be open-ended, with no right or wrong answers, because these are the types of questions that really get students thinking. Questioning not only guides readers to meaning making, but it can also allow students to make more connections between the characters and their own lives. Questioning is a great practice because it can be done at any stage of the reading process and can lead to better understanding, development, and epiphany of the self.

As Waxler and Hall explain, questioning, or the act of conversation, can spark the desire for, “students [to] wrestle with the story… [and] struggle to make meaning out of their personal and collective experience.” Discussing the text develops a community of learners who are able to learn and grow with one another by sharing their ideas. Understanding the self leads to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness humans share and the vulnerability every individual has. This recognition allows for deeper discussions and thus a deeper understanding of a text and of the self.

Another important way for a teacher to accurately implement the deep reading process in his or her classroom is by experiencing deep reading firsthand. In order to better understand the experiences of deep reading, teachers should also have this experience. If a teacher has never experienced the process of deep reading he or she will not understand what his or her students are going through and will not know how to encourage students to participate in the process of meaning making that develops from deep reading. When appropriate, teachers can share some of their experiences with their students in order to make a stronger community of learners who feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas and feelings about the text with not only their peers, but also with the teacher.

Through gaining knowledge of the deep reading process I have learned that my experience as a child reading T. S. Eliot’s work really had an impact on me and that I can share this experience with my own future students. By taking the journey along with the characters in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and by participating in the experience of deep reading as a child, I learned that I disagreed with the White Witch’s methods of power and with Edmund’s original alliance with the witch and betrayal of his brothers and sisters, but more importantly I learned about the power of family and the strength of love and kindness. I was able to make connections between the events in the book and my own life. Without the experience of deep reading I wouldn’t have been able to make these connections and learn from the story. Deep reading has a powerful impact on the individual reading. It can start at any age and can blossom into a better understanding of not only the self, but also of all humanity.

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4 thoughts on “Enter a New World with Deep Reading

  1. I agree, Brittany. Deeply reading literature arouses human desire and leads us through the curve of the language to, what I would call, personal knowledge.

  2. Connections between a book or a line of poetry can change one’s life, as you note, Brittany. The last line of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” is “You must change your life,” and the reader is compelled to. Deep reading will change lives.

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