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Teaching Reading, a Writer's Perspective

Author Kevin Patrick Kenealy signing books at Chicago Ridge Library

Author Kevin Patrick Kenealy signing books at Chicago Ridge Library.

Being a teacher and a writer has given me a keen sense of the written word and an appreciation for the writing process that perhaps I wouldn't have had if I didn't write and read every day.

Things we teach in Literature revolve around the same topics: theme, tone, conflict, characterization, figurative language, and plot. The truth is, these are all important but only the means to an end. What teachers forget to teach when teaching reading is editing. We teach it when writing rather than when teaching reading.

And we never discuss the background of the authors. And we don't know their relationships with their editors. And we don't know what their original drafts looked like. And we don't stop asking our students if they liked a particular sentence and what words could be chosen to make it weaker.

What students are given before them is a finished product. When they read The Great Gatsby, they are not reading Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires or the book's first title. Gatsby rewrote the book three times to get it just right. The editor suggested the title The Great Gatsby, by the way.

An interesting exercise here would be to examine multiple drafts of texts side by side and notice the changes. From there, you can see the more robust perspectives in character or the shifts in tone. That all comes from a working relationship with an editor over multiple long nights and drafts.

High school students often turn in a paper after one copy and consider it done. If they realize how hard these writers worked to put together the short story or novel sitting in front of them, they may understand what it takes to put forth the effort in anything they need to do.

Writing isn't something that you can expect to improve upon naturally. It takes practice, just like anything else. It takes racking your brain and pushing your heart forward to limits you didn't think were there. It takes a lot of reading multiple authors to learn technique and style, another method not taught enough in schools.

Further, if you want students to respect the films they watch, have them analyze a script and an excerpt from a novel side-by-side. About a minute of a script equates to a page of writing. There is a reason that movies are often different from books, and it's because they have to be. Yet, you only get the full appreciation for films once you read a script.

Writing is more than just the elements that we find. It is the work behind the scenes that really matters. Because without that, there is no characterization. There is no theme. How does a writer write? What is that writer's experience? Edgar Allan Poe dug graves during gym class. Does that help you better understand his works? I'd like to think so.

Truth is stranger than fiction; in anything you read, there is at least some ounce of truth. So, we should teach our kids to analyze, create, evaluate, and question everything they know and think like writers as they read. To purchase Author Kevin Patrick Kenealy's books, visit Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove, Barbara's Bookstore in Orland Square Mall, The Book Dragon in Stockton-on-Tees in the United Kingdom, or visit

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