Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Fantasy reading makes TV disappear

Bridgetown: Legends of Literature

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dressed in a Hogwarts costume to introduce Harry Potter, Kevin Ridder set the tone for his new literature class on the first day at Oak Hills High School.

Oak Hills High School teacher Kevin Ridder arrives on horseback as Gandalf the Grey from The Lord of the Rings during an elaborate interpretation of the birthday party for Bilbo Baggins as part of Ridder's Legends of Literature class.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Ridder used a sorting hat to separate the students into houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.

Each student received a personalized Harry Potter magical identification card with his or her name inscribed.

"I told them, 'Even though you're seniors, and I'm a young adult, it's OK to come in here and use your imagination,"' the 27-year-old teacher said. "I hope they never lose their imagination."

The costumes. The gimmicks. The hands-on activities.

All are part of Ridder's plot to bring literature to life through his Legends of Literature class. Ridder immerses students in the setting of each book they read and engages them in learning. With help from students - and some parents - he has:

• Organized a quidditch game a la the Harry Potter stories.

• Recreated the birthday party for Bilbo Baggins from the Lord of the Rings series and then rode onto the football practice field on a horse.

• Let students try their hand at archery to coincide with reading The Outlaws of Sherwood.

"A student who is able to participate in something like this addresses various learning abilities," the third-year teacher, dressed like Robin Hood, said as he watched a student draw back a bow. "They probably take more away from this than if I simply demonstrated it or talked about in the classroom."

About 115 students, mostly seniors, are taking the semester-long elective course, but the class is not for slackers.

"What's unique about this is it incorporates some very difficult books to tackle," Ridder said. "Six months from now, they'll leave here and pick these books up again." This is the first year the class has been offered. Assistant Principal Patty Blake, who oversees the English department, a year ago proposed a class featuring books from the fantasy genre. That was fine with Ridder, who always had an interest in that type of literature.

Ridder chose a mix of books that are classic legends or by contemporary authors. For each novel, he began to think of ways to capture the attention of students.

In September, he organized a game of quidditch, the most popular wizarding sport in the Potter books. (Quidditch is a cross between soccer, basketball and lacrosse.)

He refereed the game, and when someone scored, he'd give an impromptu minireview session.

The students were hooked, so they had T-shirts made and continued to play after school. One student made a golden snitch. Another student and his dad made metal poles.

Dress-up party

Ridder's creativity has inspired his students to think creatively as well.

Jen Granger, 17, came to school one day dressed in a robe as another Granger - Hermione Granger from the Potter books.

"What we do outside of class helps you understand if you're not one of those people who can just read a book and understand it," Granger said. "(Ridder) makes everybody get into it and not just a few kids.''

Knowing that the Lord of the Rings series would need a unique approach because of its complex themes, Ridder threw a birthday party for Bilbo Baggins.

Some 250 students helped with party plans. Parents helped make props. The result?

• Three tents to host the party in the high school practice field, as in the shire.

• A Bilbo Baggins house similar to the one in the most recent movie.

• A medieval-style menu featuring roasted chicken, corn on the cob and smoked potatoes.

Ridder stole the show when, dressed as Gandalf the Gray, he rode in on a horse.

Students met and interviewed characters from the novels, heard monologues from the characters and participated in drama, song and dance.

The party was Christine Cain's favorite part of the class.

"That literally took the book and made it a reality," the 18-year-old said. The class has fueled her already existing passion for fantasy literature.

"I plan on continuing reading fantasy literature because this has opened up a lot of new doors. ... My book list has grown from like 20 to 50.''

Teacher's a multi-tasker

Ridder, a Northern Kentucky University graduate, manages to engage his high school students while working toward his master's of education in multicultural literature at Xavier University.

In addition to reading books for Legends of Literature, he had to read 14 juvenile books in one semester for his own classes. He welcomed his second child in November and is youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Dent."I never really could get into reading," said Brian Lang, 17. "I just wanted to see if this class would help me be able to understand some of the concepts in reading. I'm able to get inside the book, sort of be a character and understand what's happening."

For 17-year-old Jessica Gin, this class crystallizes her career plans.

"I've learned more from Mr. Ridder and how reading is so important," she said. "He makes you get off your butt and read."

Reading list

Here's the reading list for Kevin Ridder's Legends of Literature class:

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1) by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis.

The Once and Future King (The Chronicles of Narnia) by T.H. White.

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley.

About the class

Teacher: Kevin Ridder.

Subjects taught: Legends of Literature (seniors) and Global Studies (sophomores)

Why the class works: "The most rewarding aspect ... was comments like, 'I would have never even considered reading a 500-page novel until this class.' That was humbling. Seeing kids excited about literature and reading is wonderful." - Kevin Ridder.

Student quote: "I wasn't expecting such an enthusiastic way of approaching literature. ... I love to read, but sometimes, you just don't have time. It got me to sort of think differently about fantasy literature." - Ashley Moore, 17, senior.

Years taught by this teacher: First year for this course.

---E-mail ckranz@enquirer.com


This series spotlights a local classroom in which teachers are challenging students in bold, innovative ways. To nominate a class, e-mail bcieslewicz@enquirer.com, fax (513) 768-8340 or write Bill Cieslewicz, Education Editor, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Please include your name, daytime phone, e-mail and school.

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