Killing Them With Comprehension

Question Everything - Duncan Hull

Copyright Duncan Hull – Creative Commons License

Mr. Radley picked up students that irked him, transported them across the room dangling over his shoulder and dumped them in the trash. He plastered his bulletin boards with MTV posters, reeked like cigarettes AND somewhere between September and June he taught me to love literature.

Mr. Radley read books that had me hanging on every word uttered from under his handlebar moustache: My Bother Sam is Dead and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH figure heavily in my memory.

Interestingly, he didn’t ask a single comprehension question… ever. It was like going to the theater: soak in the performance, reflect if you want to… or don’t. This was my entry point to valuing literature.

Sure, I knew how to read. But I didn’t love it; and I don’t know that I would have learned it from Mr. Radley if he had concluded every chapter with an interrogation that progressed though the gamut of Bloom’s Taxonomy while addressing the Common Core Standards.

Maybe he slept through his undergrad literacy classes and didn’t know better. But I suspect that he consciously skipped compression questions to impart something about literacy that is all to often lost in reading instruction: pleasure.

This is the doorway to literacy for many children. Of late it has been buried under a mountain of curricular objectives and the crushing pressures of high stakes assessment. But the best teachers I know resist the political tides to open their students’ minds to the love of literature: just like Mr. Radley did.

So maybe, from time to time, teachers should transport comprehension questions dangling across the room and dump them in the trash in the name of literacy.