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Classics in the classroom

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By Gill TavnerReal Reads author and ex-English secondary teacher and Head of English

Broaden children’s experience of ‘great literature’ with child-friendly classics

Two school boys reading

The Real Reads series allows Key Stage 2 children to experience some of the great classics of literature

In 2007, William Rees-Mogg wrote in The Times: ‘Children should… have early exposure to great literature, to interesting stories… written by masters.’ This was not a new idea. In 1921, the authors of the Newbolt Report expressed concern that a lack of exposure to art and literature meant that most people were ‘living starved existences,’ meaning that ‘one of the richest fields of our spiritual being is left uncultivated.’

In recent years, teachers have had to focus on the transactional and functional use of language rather than upon ‘great literature’. As Dr Nick McGuinn of The University of York suggests in The International Journal of the Book (2007), today’s children often experience only sections of classic novels – short excerpts for tests or skill-based activities. This dry experience deprives them of the opportunity to enjoy the rewards of a complete novel. So, are children ‘living starved existences’?

Not entirely. In spite of the pressures upon teachers over the past decade, they are still experts in encouraging children to read, successfully guiding them towards a wealth of excellent contemporary and classic children’s literature. However, should they also introduce those more daunting texts, to which Rees Mogg refers as ‘great literature’?

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