Archives for category: English literature

The unit on Scottish ballads, which students must read aloud, legitimizes so-called ‘misspellings,’ as in the opening to “Sir Patrick Spens”:

The king sits in Dumferling tone,
Drinking the blude-reid wine,
“O what call I get guid sailor,
To sail this scrip of mine?”

Students enjoy pronouncing the Scottish “r” and the now-silent “k” and guttural “gh” in “knight.” More important, since words need to be looked at very closely in the pronunciation of such sounds and often analogized to make their meaning clear, reading ballads aloud forces students to pay close attention to each word and phrase, such attention being precisely the skill they will need when they begin to look at more sophisticated literary texts.

The ballads themselves are highly dramatic—full of murder and betrayal—and highly elliptical, with plot elements that must be inferred. Such reading material turns students into little Inspector Clouseaus, training them to read between the lines, to make inferences from the evidence before them—what was the “counsel” given Edward by his “mither”?–who murdered the “new-slain knight”?—and to find corroborative evidence within the rest of the ballad for whatever conclusions they reach. Comparing two versions of the same ballad provides additional experience in close reading.

Students then read a somewhat abridged version of the King James Book of Genesis, taught as a narrative rather than a religious text.

The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum by Sandra Stotsky

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)

Launching the Reading Workshop Highlights and a Few Freebies

At Tuesday night’s board meeting, the subject of the middle school’s Lucy Calkins-style reading workshop came up, sparking an interesting exchange between board members and the curriculum director.

Board members raised the possibility that having students choose their own books, effectively designing their own curriculum, might be related to the middle school’s poor ELA scores. (See here, here, here and here.)

The discussion that followed went something like this:

Curriculum director: Students don’t choose their own books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books.

Curriculum director: No they don’t choose their own books, they’re guided to choose certain books.

Board members: Yes they do choose their own books….

And so it went until the curriculum director prevailed, and no discussion took place of the merits of having 7th grade students read only two whole-class books in an entire year of school, or of the fact that close reading requires whole-class instruction (and quite a lot of whole-class instruction at that).

Mini-lessons and 20 kids reading 20 books in the same class are incompatible with the Common Core’s emphasis on close reading. Thus middle school students will be tested on their ability to do close readings of challenging texts, but they will receive very little in the way of explicit instruction and practice in how to do close readings of challenging texts.

Books 7th grade students chose for themselves (or were guided to choose for themselves) in school year 2011-2012:

(Click on screen shot to enlarge)

The other issue that did not come up is the question of community values.

What is the community’s goal for English class?

(Or, if different segments of the community have different goals, what are those goals?)

My own goal, which I shared and share with many parents, was that my child should not only read well but become well read, a concept that disappeared from public schools approximately 20 years ago, according to Sandra Stotsky’s The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum.

Being “well read” means having read (closely!), understood and, if possible, appreciated or actively enjoyed a comprehensive selection of canonical texts drawn from the standard literary time periods, preferably in coherent, sequential survey classes.

Irvington schools do not provide this option. Very few public schools do.

This situation needs to change because the idea that students should be well read is a value, and the community, not administrators, determines the values their schools should serve, or should.

Boards set the vision; administrators execute the vision.

College Preparatory Reading List: What College Chairpersons Wish Incoming Freshmen Had Read (1986)

1. The Bible 11. Gulliver’s Travels
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 11. Hamlet
3. The Scarlet Letter 11. Moby Dick
4. The Odyssey 11. Paradise Lost
5. William Shakespeare 11. Pride and Prejudice
5. Robert Frost & other 20th century poets 11. Ernest Hemingway
8. The Iliad 21. William Faulkner
8. Charles Dickens 21. David Copperfield
8. Macbeth 21. House of the Seven Gables
8. Prologue to the Canterbury Tales 21. Return of the Native
11. The Aeneid 27. Romeo and Juliet
11. T.S. Eliot 27. Emily Dickinson
11. Walt Whitman 27. William Wordsworth
11. The Great Gatsby 27. Red Badge of Courage

Should Students Be Well Read or Should They Read Well? by Anne
..McCreary Juhasz & Leslie R. Wilson NASSP Bulletin March 1986

Common Core | Raisin in the Sun
Common Core “Illustrative Texts”
New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

Compare to this partial list of books Irvington 7th graders read during Fall 2011:

IUFSD gr7 LucyCalkins books
What do home buyers want?

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky on ELA Standards and College Readiness

Core Knowledge Sequence Content & Skill Guidelines for Grades K–8

An English Language Arts Curriculum Framework for American Public Schools: A Model For use by any state or school district without charge | Chief author: Sandra Stotsky Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas | February 2013

Irvington Parents Forum at Yahoo

Until I attended the Common Core event at Hunter College last week, I knew very little about Common Core’s ELA standards. Now that I know more about Common Core’s requirement that students spend the majority of their time reading “informational text” in English class, I am opposed — although I do strongly support Common Core’s effort to replace personal narratives with textual analysis.

If seniors must spend up to 80% of their time reading reading, studying, and writing about informational text, that does not leave time for reading, studying, and writing about Great Expectations, say. And in fact, Common Core neglects British literature.

Below is a slide from a Common Core presentation in Orange, NJ. title: The Common Core State Standards: What You Need to Know.

Click image to enlarge
Common Core Informational Texts
How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk
Truth in American Education (TAE)