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14 March 2013 @ 07:19 pm
Over and over and over again...  
I came across an interesting post a few weeks ago that talks about the fine art of syllabusing (real word). You can read the post here: http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/david_foster_wallaces_1994_syllabus.html. Entitled How to Teach Literature with Lightweight Books, it makes the case that deep reading (close reading, if you will) can be accomplished in a wide variety of texts and not just those deemed literary (complex, perhaps?). How I would have loved to have taken this course which used bestsellers from Jackie Collins and Mary Higgins Clark as well as Stephen King and C.S. Lewis. While I would not equate those two pairs of authors not categorize some of them as lightweight, I see the point being made. Here is the salient quote for my money:

"In less narcotizing words, English 102 aims to show you some ways to read fiction more deeply, to come up with more interesting insights on how pieces of fiction work, to have informed intelligent reasons for liking or disliking a piece of fiction, and to write—clearly, persuasively, and above all interestingly—about stuff you’ve read."

This, in a nutshell, is part of the UNprogram, taking texts kids will enjoy, books written for them (and not for some literati elite) and using these books to achieve the goals or objectives or even standards we have set for them in terms of nurturing them as lifelong readers. Team this with a slide from a presentation I viewed online that presented the results of a 1992 NAEP correlation of practices with student achievement. Literature based reading, trade books, writing about reading, and the reading-writing relationship were all noted as having high correlations with student achievement. No, I know correlation is not causation (though I wonder if some of the CCSS folks understand the difference). However, there is something here. If you look back at BECOMING A NATION OF READERS, elements of the UNprogram are recommended. That was years before the NAEP correlations. And research since then has borne out the importance of books and reading and authentic literature and writing for a real audience. Yet, somehow, it is dismissed when someone comes along with a manufactured crisis about education.

Earlier today I was catching up with my DVRd DAILY SHOW episodes. On one Jon Stewart about the Republican (and Fox News) dismissive attitude toward universal preschool. It was spot on (and no surprise since Stewart's mother is an educator) about how easily our kids are being used as political tools or, worse, their well-being dismissed (I think of how we are still talking about gun control months after Sandy Hook or how "entitlements" are being cut that increase the number of kids living in poverty).

Back to the syllabus for a moment. While it is not data driven (and we all know that data is king), I do think it is common sense. We can achieve our goals using an array of materials. Many critics, the ones who manufactured the last crisis in education, bemoaned how low the reading levels were in the books being studied in schools (NIGHT is only written at the 5th grade level was one of the examples used). These folks mistake reading levels with DEPTH (okay, complexity works, too). They failed to see (perhaps because they did not READ the books mentioned?) that syllables are not correlated at all to the level of ideas, concepts, etc. of the book. To narrow the curriculum to pieces that meet certain number requirements (ATOS, Lexiles, etc.) is unnecessary. Rather, we need to keep broadening what we hand kids: new forms and formats and styles and genres (the distinction between and among genres is blurring constantly). I called for a flood of books in a recent post. Other metaphors would work, too. No matter the metaphor, we need to surround kids with books and with the opportunities to read them.
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Kristin McIlhaggakmcilhagga on March 15th, 2013 02:03 am (UTC)
thank you
Teri -
Your insight and thoughts are always so igniting for me. They help me to remember why I chose to come back to school to work with preservice teachers and why I will finish this dissertation. I'm going to reread this a few more times and also visit the original post that you cite here.
I think what is most insightful for me is your observation about how Nation of Readers includes elements of an unprogram, but the manufactured crisis is outshouting what so many of us know.
Thank you - keep sharing.