05 May 2012

Literary vs. Informational Text: it's not either/or

An eruption of face to face and online conversations over the past year have centered on the demand for more informational texts to be taught in classrooms across the United States as part of the Common Core State Standards initiative.   As I’ve blogged about previously, I don’t believe this directive requires us to stop teaching literature.  A carefully balanced approach to instruction provides students with opportunities to read a variety of complex and appropriately challenging texts.  We do not have an either (literature) /or (non-fiction) scenario. 
Yesterday I was with educators from elementary backgrounds who claimed English teachers need to learn from them because they have been “pairing texts forever since that’s the way basal readers are designed.” (Pretty sure the Dick and Jane series wasn’t designed like this, but surely these educators are referencing the more contemporary design of American textbooks today) No doubt, we all have something to learn from one another, regardless of our teaching level. Nevertheless, creating text parings is not a novel idea; it is something teachers at any grade level have been doing or can start doing with ease.  Text pairings have been part of my teaching approach since I entered the teaching profession in 1998; it just makes sense to design lessons drawing on multiple perspectives, genres, or disciplines. 

Following my day with the educators referenced above, I returned home to find my husband, unexpectedly, cleaning out our garage (where my 8 tubs of teaching materials are stored), so I decided to peruse a few of those tubs and to ponder (again) text pairings I used in my classroom. 

Unifying focus:  Freedom from convention
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Greyed Rainbow by Jackson Pollock
Scholastic Art borrowed class set from art teacher to for class to read article about Pollock.
Colors by Ken Nordine

Unifying focus:  Complexity in life and nature
Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night by Anne Sexton
Starry Night by Tupac Shakur
Van Gogh in Auvers from Smithsonian magazine January 2008

Unifying focus:  Identity
The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Mommaday
Identity card by Mahmoud Darwish
Poems written by students
Various non-fiction writings by students

The skill of pairing texts rests in selecting texts to meet the needs of learners in an individual classroom, so let the text pairings referenced here serve as inspiration for selecting texts that will suit the needs of your students’ demographics and learning needs. 

As you look for more inspiration, consider following the work of Sarah Brown Wessling.  Last spring I participated in NCTE’s virtual conference Supporting Teachers in a Time of Core Standards.  It was here where I met (virtually) 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, who talks about fulcrum texts, context, texts, and texture texts.  What an inspiring way to think about text selection!