New Genre, New Learning

I have a student who is a reluctant conferrer. You’ve probably got one, too.

This student is a reader. A big reader. Like the kind of reader who reads 50+ books in a semester.

But up until this week, this student has been reluctant to talk about them, at least to me.

I think it’s my fault.

I’ve been expecting my student to meet me where I am.

One of the ways I thought I was a 21st century teacher was that I ask my students to respond to literature on Blogger instead of in a notebook. But how can responding on Blogger be a better learning experience than in Google Docs or in regular reader’s notebooks? (I’ll think on that and try to up my game… more later. There must be an answer.) There’s more to being a 21st century teacher than using technology.

Let me get back to those 50+ books. I’ve never seen this student with an actual paper bound book in hand; it’s always the Kindle.

As a new-to-workshop teacher, I didn’t realize that the Kindle was one obstacle between me and a successful conference with a student. I guess it’s because it’s not intuitive to me — it’s easy to flip through pages in a book, but it feels intrusive to start swiping through someone’s device.

I’ll try to push through that now that I’m more aware of it. It might bring me closer to being a 21st century teacher.

Last week, I sat down next to this reluctant interactor and started asking some questions. Again.

This time, my student shared a little more than normal.

This student talked about litRPG.

What is that? I asked.

This was a new term, a genre totally unknown to me.

My student explained. With details. My student was able to fluently describe this genre — I’m not sure some of my other students who read more mainstream literature would be able to explain their current genre as fluently as this student. (And I’ve supposedly taught them about those genres!)

Clearly this student is passionate about his reading life.

Basically, it’s science-fiction drama set in the world of massively multiplayer online games (MMO). The characters or narrators are part of the video-game world and have their own journeys. It’s not the video game itself; it’s a book that takes place in video game worlds. I think.

As a teacher, I was super-excited to be talking in an authentic way about something my student finally wanted to share.

As an educator, I was fascinated by this new type of literature that I hadn’t heard of before.

I think there are many of us bookworms and English teachers who haven’t heard of it before.

To be fair, it’s new enough that it doesn’t even seem to have a wikipedia page yet. It does have a subreddit and a Facebook page, and according to Amazon.com it’s a genre that was only recently created in 2013, but most importantly, some of our students are reading it.

My new learning happened to coincide with a recent blog post by Three Teachers Talk about appreciating the literary merit of comic books, and also appreciating that some of our students are devouring them.

I am going to heed and expand on the advice given in that blog post and try to avoid the “temptation to privilege” other genres over this emerging genre called litRPG.

It really got me thinking about the way I interact with my students.

Do I either subtly or overtly value paper books over electronic books? Free online books over books that someone purchased at a bookstore IRL?

If I truly value the concept of student choice, then my interactions with students need to reflect that.

Whether a book has literary merit should not automatically be a decision the teacher makes.

It should be something the students are able to articulate and defend.

It should be an opportunity for students to show the evidence of their thinking.

And if I praise the students who are reading what I consider to be the classics, or worthy YA lit, or whatever category I deem to be deserving of my approval, then I have to ask: what message am I sending to the students who are reading books that are more on the fringe? Titles I don’t know about? Or cutting edge genres?

Yes, I would like my litRPG reader to expand his comfort zone to include books bound with paper. I’d also like to push my YA romance readers to expand their reading comfort zones. I’d like my non-fiction-only readers to try a compelling novel for a change. They all need to expand their horizons while becoming experts on something.

I’m not done trying to convince this student to read Ready Player One, but I also have to meet him where he is, and to value the reading and thinking he is already doing.

I think that’s what it means to be a 21st century teacher.

If you’d like to try some litRPG, you can try AlterNet for free on your Kindle.