Thursday, August 15, 2013

Literacy vs. Literature

Diana Senechal:

Reading class emphasizes the process of reading. The Balanced Literacy versions focused on “reading strategies” and “just-right” books. A Common Core version goes something like this: During class, the students read a “complex text.” Then they answer “text-dependent questions.” Then they write an argumentative piece that uses concrete textual evidence.

In reading class, the teacher is not supposed to give presentations—or, if she does, she is to keep them brief. Instead, she assists the students as they read and write. Class time is work time.

In literature class, by contrast, students do the reading at home and come to class to discuss it. The teacher does give presentations, the length and substance of which will vary. Class discussion may focus closely on certain passages or relate different passages to each other and to the whole. Questions may move from simple to complex, and they may also take unexpected directions. For the most part, basic comprehension is assumed; the class discussion focuses on interpretation. Of course there are exceptions; certain texts present exceptional difficulties and must be read slowly in class. On the whole, though, one assumes that the reading has been done and that the class can now tackle the subtleties of the text.

There's a lot to chew on in this piece. Overall, it illustrates the underlying deep design problems in the Common Core ELA. The authors clearly wanted independent reading to be a primary focus, but even in the "official" guidance the past few years, the stereotypical "close reading" exercise is as heavily scaffolded as the one Diana describes. Arguably there is no alternative in the real world.

What do you think David Coleman or Susan Pimentel thinks or would think when they read Diana's piece? "Ah, yes, she gets it, we don't want literature classes focusing on interpretation, that's clearly the point," or "Nobody understands our beautiful minds!" I have no idea.

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