professornana (professornana) wrote,
professornana
professornana

Commodification

I clicked on a link in my Twitter feed yesterday about selecting books for reading aloud in the Common Core Classroom. I clicked because I have seen precious little about reading aloud in the new CCSS hype. So, I naively assumed this would be a post indicating that reading aloud is still an important part of any classroom. Turns out I was WRONG. The first tip off was the statement that selecting a book for reading aloud was no longer something a teacher could do a couple of minutes before class began. Now, perhaps there is someone out there who selects read aloud choices randomly and in a rush. However, the educators I know give a great deal of consideration to what they will read aloud to their students. I know I do. I have a favorite read aloud that opens my class in children's lit and one for YA lit. I select other books to read aloud during our time in class together. it is not rushed or haphazard; it is planned and purposeful. The implication that before CCSS teachers selected materials for reading aloud without giving it careful thought was IMHO an insult.

But the piece went on to talk about the qualities that a good read aloud selection would possess in terms of CCSS. Nowhere in the deliberations was there concern about response to the read aloud. Instead it was all focused on hitting standards. There is a word for this, one I first saw used by Patrick Shannon in the early days of NCLB: commodification. Here is the definition of commodification:
Commodification is the transformation of goods, ideas, or other entities that may not normally be regarded as goods into a commodity. That is what this piece on reading aloud had done. it had taken a creative act and made it into a product, one that would fit the standards.

Now, I am not opposed to reading aloud from time to time as an introduction to a lesson (and I have written about this use of reading aloud in chapters of books edited by Kylene Beers and others). However, to turn reading aloud into a lesson instead of a chance simply to enjoy and appreciate language and word play is commodification at its worst. It calls to mind the 24 page teacher's guide I once saw for a children's picture book (the book was 32 pages in length) or the spoof-y guide to Goodnight Moon that included these essay questions:

1) Analyze the scene in which the bunny says goodnight to the lighthouse in relationship with the rest of the book. Cite textual evidence whenever possible.

2) Compare and contrast Goodnight Moon with The Sun Also Rises. Whose sentences are simpler: Brown's or Hemingway's?

3) What have you said goodnight to? Analyze what that says about you. Try not to cry.

It IS funny, right, but I worry that if we continue to commodify reading aloud, free reading, and other elements that are important to the development of lifelong reading we will destroy the first and (IMHO) primary purpose of authentic texts: pleasure.

I have more to say about commodification, but that can wait for another post. In the meantime, think about those books you will share with your kids this year. Think of the care and consideration that you gave to the FIRST book you would share. My suspicion is that you selected the book because it created a strong response in you and you knew that it would do the same for your kids. Thank you for thinking about KIDS and not STANDARDS first.
Tags: commodification, reading aloud, selecting texts
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