Vi Residents Delve into Literature, One Story at a Time
Cecile Kraus devoted her career to teaching others to read - first, as an elementary and reading education teacher in the East Cleveland, Ohio public schools, and then, after receiving her PhD, as a professor at Cleveland State University, helping teachers and future teachers develop the skills needed to help students improve their reading and writing. But it wasn't until she moved to Vi at The Glen with her husband that Kraus immersed herself in literature. Now, she leads the short story discussion group at the community.
Kraus is one of many volunteers that bring Vi residents together to share cultural interests. According to Andi Agazim, Lifestyle Director at Vi at The Glen, "When residents take leadership roles in our programs and activities, other residents are more responsive to attend and participate. In addition to the short stories group led by Cecile, residents lead a monthly 'talking' book club for residents with low vision, a play reading group, a poetry group, an annual six-week series of discussions about national and foreign policy issues - our Great Decisions group - and a group that meets bi-weekly to discuss articles in The New Yorker."
In fact, it was a meeting arranged by another resident that led to the short story group, and to Kraus's involvement. "They had a meeting to see if anyone was interested in joining a group to discuss short stories. I had found one page about students discussing a short story in a former textbook of mine. I also did a bit more research on the web," Kraus says. "I came to the meeting and said I wasn't interested in coming to a meeting where people would simply share miscellaneous thoughts about a story. I wanted to have a meaningful, organized discussion." She adds with a laugh, "And of course, as one might predict, they asked me if I would lead the group."
So, every other Saturday morning, Kraus gathers the notes she has prepared, and joins other residents in the Vi card room.
"I have a lesson plan for each story, a series of questions that I ask to guide the discussion. I present a brief biography of the current story's author, and then we discuss the questions. The answers I have written in my notes are not necessarily the 'right answers.' I tell everyone that we are here to analyze aspects of the story and decide together its meaning and its merits," notes Kraus.
"We determine the place and time of the setting. Then we analyze the plot, including the conflict of the main character, and the crisis. We discuss the point of view, symbolism, and themes. Is there a theme stated in the text, or do we need to figure it out ourselves? Is the theme topical or universal? Finally, I read excerpts from one or two critical reviews of the story."
"Right now the group is reading 'Two Blue Birds' by D. H. Lawrence. We read stories from a short story collection that we select each time we're ready for a new book. "We get suggestions for this book from everyone and then we choose one together. Then, one resident will volunteer to place an order for the group on Amazon. The collection we are reading now is Great Short Stories from the Masters, edited by Charles Neider. So far, the group has rejected the idea of reading stories by one author since we read the stories from one book for a year or more."