Teachers for Teachers | It’s Monday! We Are Slicing about What We Are Reading #SOL17
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It’s Monday! We Are Slicing about What We Are Reading #SOL17

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Hey, let’s listen to my book club’s choice on our trip.  I am only a few chapters into it and I am having trouble following it.  Maybe if we listen to it together that will help me.

What is it?

The Sympathizer.

What is it about?

The Vietnam War. 

I restart the book from the beginning and stop it at the end of the first chapter.

Are you following what is happening?  I can’t figure out who is who.

 My son looks at me.

I am following it.  What is confusing you? 

I launch into a barrage of questions.  He listens until I am done.

How much do you know about the Vietnam War?

 I realize I don’t know as much about the Vietnam War as I do other wars.  It is a time in history I have not read as much about or learned about in my education.

Not that much.

How can that be?  It is a major event in our history.

Well, it was not a part of history for me.  I was born in 1970 so I never really learned about it in school they way you have.  It was also a topic people just didn’t talk much about.  I know people in my life who were in Vietnam, but it is just never really discussed.

Well, that’s why you are finding it confusing.  It is assuming you know a lot about it.  Do you know what a sympathizer is? 

I realized in that moment I did not even stop to think about the title of the book.  I just got my assignment, downloaded it and began to listen.

I think I do, but I did not think much about it.

Let me give you some background about the war.  I think that will help.

My son talked to me about the history of the war for the next hour.  We then continued to listen together.  We paused the story intermittently and my son added background knowledge and details to explain what was happening.  Our dialogue made the book come to life for me.  It is far longer in duration than our trip, so I have continued to listen on my own.  The background knowledge he provided is giving me the support I need to access the text on my own.

This experience is reminding me of the importance of background knowledge in comprehension.  It is critical to slow down when you realize that you do not have information about the topic, setting or genre of a text.  I was able to follow the basic plot, but I knew I was missing something.  I could not visualize what was happening or where the characters were in each scene.  I could retell what happened but I did not know why the characters were doing these things.  I was missing character motivation and point of view.  If I continued on without building my schema, I would have most likely abandoned the book or finished a surface read.  Either way I would have missed an incredible story and the opportunity to learn about a time in history.

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If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!

Clare

11 Comments
  • Avatar
    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 09:48h, 13 March Reply

    I haven’t read The Sympathizer, but amazingly the front page of the New York Times Book Review section yesterday contained a stunning book review of Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” (about the dread experience of becoming a refugee)written by Viet Thanh Nguyen. After reading that book review I put both books on my To Read list.
    I continue to be amazed at the connections I make with you and other slicers based on thes posts!
    As for the importance of background knowledge, I couldn’t agree more.

  • Avatar
    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 12:05h, 13 March Reply

    Amazing! The Sympathizer is my next read after I finish Tom Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late. I am interested in the Viet Nam War – I was in high school and college during that war, and quite a few of my friends were drafted and served in the war. Background knowledge is an important key to deep understanding of text. And you are right – you sometimes have to really slow it down and at times, go to another source for clarification before continuing on. When I read it, I will have to send you a text or direct tweet so we can talk about this story. I gave it to my goddaughter (an incredible reader) in hard copy at Christmas – I will have to check in with her, too!

  • Avatar
    Lisa C
    Posted at 14:00h, 13 March Reply

    I’d be like you…lost in many of the details. I am really looking forward to the day when I can have book discussions like this with my children though!

  • Avatar
    Linda Baie
    Posted at 14:45h, 13 March Reply

    It’s a wise post. It’s not easy to read a book with historical meaning without knowing some background. The book is on my growing adult book list, but I have others that will be first. This is the time of my early adulthood. My husband was drafted but rejected because of knee injuries. We lost friends during this war, and I think I’ve avoided the book because of painful memories. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Avatar
    Carrie Gelson
    Posted at 16:49h, 13 March Reply

    I so agree re background knowledge. This is often why I am lost with a book – not understanding the content. It’s never the writing that confuses me as much.Love that your son talked you through this.

  • Avatar
    Jane @ Raincity Librarian
    Posted at 17:31h, 13 March Reply

    I felt this way recently about a book I was reading – it was a historical novel based on true events, and names were thrown around with abandon. I did not grow up in the country in which the book was set, and I have a feeling that the people in the story would have likely been discussed in classrooms across the country. Thanks to Wikipedia I was able to get a better handle on the story, and understand what the heck was going on! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Tara
    Posted at 00:56h, 14 March Reply

    I have to get this book, the Vietnam War is just such an under written part of our history in YA. But, this is the beauty of historical fiction…it awakens our interest, our curiosity.

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 01:19h, 14 March Reply

    I think there are so many times we think students have more information about a topic than they actually do. It’s great you put yourself in the position where you didn’t have the background information. When we experience what they experience it’s powerful. You;ll be surprised to hear that my post for tomorrow is about a similar issue. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Catherine
    Posted at 02:44h, 14 March Reply

    Right now I’m listening to Dispatches, which is based on the experiences of a war correspondent in Vietnam. This war was background noise during my childhood; it did really have any impact on my life. And it was too new and raw to be taught when I was in high school and college. So, like you I don’t have enough background knowledge to always make sense of what’s happening. My husband is a huge war documentary fan, and he’s filled in a lot for me. This book sounds like it would be a great companion read.

  • Avatar
    Katie Logonauts
    Posted at 15:21h, 14 March Reply

    Great anecdote and really shows the importance of how even adults can get confused in books. Great “what to do” mentor example.

    As for your request on my blog, I’d love it if you’d share my idea of a teacher/admin book club. I actually just sent the email yesterday and have already received several positive responses! Look for a future post about how it turns out.

  • Avatar
    Myra from GatheringBooks
    Posted at 11:10h, 23 March Reply

    I had my own issues about this novel which was our book club read. I simply couldn’t sympathize with The Sympathizer. I agree though that it’s cleverly written, I just couldn’t get myself to emotionally engage with it.

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