Reaching Students with Literature, Laughter & Life Lessons
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 10:00 AM
Steve Gamble knows that reading isn't a favorite of some young people. But, he hopes his students might retain some memories from his classes - even if they're life lessons rather than the reading materials themselves.
Steve Gamble laughs during a recent discussion of the classic “A Christmas Carol.” As the discussion evolved, the students began to give more and more constructive input about the story they were discussing. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
"I try to use humor a lot, and I'm very animated...that keeps them connected." - Steve Gamble
Gamble has taught language arts classes to hundreds of Trimble County Middle School students during his 12-years at the school. While he understands that not all students like to read or write, he hopes to show each student that literature can relate to their lives in a variety of ways.
"I'm always looking for things to help them learn - and live life," Gamble says. "I want to teach them what is good and right."
Gamble - a Madison resident originally from Mishawaka - began teaching at the middle school after earning his master's degree in teaching. He chose to teach language arts-related courses because it mirrored his background in communications. He worked in radio prior to the switch in careers.
He can't really pinpoint why he made the switch, but a few friends and acquaintances told Gamble he'd make a good teacher.
"There was a need for teachers," he says, so he went back to school for his master's degree and found the job in Trimble County.
Students quickly learn that his language arts and reading classes are not like other English classes. Gamble doesn't just teach the material, he connects the reading to real life. He also encourages students to make connections from the readings to their lives as well.
And that's something that does interest students. Several students continue to talk about Gamble's class and his antics years after they've moved on from the reading class and the middle school.
Sometimes Gamble will use stories from his own family to get students thinking about a reading.
"I try to use humor a lot, and I'm very animated," he says. "That's something that keeps them connected."
Instead of looking at the class coursework as a book to finish and take a test on, Gamble asks students to dig deeper to the thoughts and feelings of the characters or author.
He also keeps students connected in his class by looking to new teen literature to give a variety of new best-selling authors and older writers' works. While he doesn't conform to all of the shifts in literature, he does use some newer books along with the classics.
"You always have to change (the course materials)," he says. "Every couple of years you get new themes."
Gamble recently used a book from "The Hunger Games" series as class coursework. Students were excited to read the book because of the recent release of the second movie.
Yet, Gamble didn't chose the book because of it's popularity.
"That's actually something I began reading before they became popular," he says.
Gamble liked the book because it combined several concepts for students and kept most students' interest. Boys enjoyed the science-fiction aspect of the books, while girls enjoyed reading about the female main character of the series.
Students recently read Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." The book was the basis for more movies and plays than any other piece of literature, Gamble said, yet most people who have heard of "A Christmas Carol" have never read the book. They just know of a director's rendition of the classic.
Gamble began to use the book in the last few years to highlight the changes in the English language since the 1800s - and for the book's text-to-text connections. The book provides several examples of biblical passages in literary works, or one text connecting to another text.
Just as course curriculum changes once in a while, classrooms have also gone through several changes over the years. School districts use technology to prepare students for the future, but the new advances also have downfalls, Gamble says.
He's noticed a decline over the years in students' grammar and spelling skills from texting and chatting.
"Kids will write in text form," he said. While technology provides a great resource, students are beginning to rely on technology too much.
"You've still got to write sometimes," he says.
With changes in education, people have asked Gamble why he doesn't teach at the higher grade level or switch to a career in school administration.
"My wife says I teach middle school because I'm a middle schooler."
But it's more than that. He can just relate to the students, Gamble says.
"I'm there because I have the personal connections (with students)," he says.
Above all else, Gamble hopes his connections with students might provide a lesson or two about the right way to live life years from now - even if they don't remember the literature from his class.