Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rewriting Currciulum--Opportunity and Responsibility

Rewriting curriculum presents opportunity wrapped in responsibility.  The opportunity presented to our group carries the added uncertainty of writing for the Common Core.

The Common Core places a premium on nonfiction.

That statement looms over me, but I found a way to (temporarily) resolve my apprehension in Carol Jago's With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature.  In it she posits some great direction and assumptions for the Common Core moving forward and provides suggested core texts to build into your curriculum either as core texts or reading circles.

Now, I'm reading a list of these books along with suggestions from our new textbook series to determine what will work best for us--opportunity wrapped in responsibility.  I'd feel like I cheated myself and my future students if I did not do my homework--reading (rereading) the texts under consideration along with reading the current research or guidance out there on the Common Core (of which little exists so we take what we can get).

Jago promotes the teaching of challenging texts (as core texts) and buttressing those with high-interest books that students can read alone for reading circles.  The responsibility on teachers is to ensure that we are not writing in core texts that are too easy to digest on their own--something that she feels has happened a little over recent years.  Teachers have fallen prey to the cranky faces student and parent that something is too difficult to read.  So, I find myself walking the line--we have the opportunity to rewrite and insert new texts, but they have to be the right choices.

Using Jago's suggestions I like the idea of our keeping Tom Sawyer in as a core text, and adding Little Women as a core text.  I started to dig for a science fiction/fantasy core text and a nonfiction to core text.  Having just finished The Golden Compass for this purpose, I like what it can do for my 8th grade students, but I go back to Jago's caveat that the book should not be something that all students can rip through easily on their own.  I think TGC falls into the category of something students can work through independently, so the TGC series may become a summer reading suggestion and/or a reading circle--though I'm not sure...several pieces of it appeal to me as a classroom text in an 8th grade creative writing classroom.  I took an informal pole of my current students and l0% had read TGC...and many were excited at the prospect of being asked to read it.  They knew it, some just hadn't picked it up yet.

In TGC, I admire the fact that friendship, loyalty, and human qualities leads to the overcoming of obstacles much in the same way as they do in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Problems are not solved with the waving of a wand--characters struggle and they make decisions not based on magic, but on human morality--what is right, and what is wrong.  This is the component that makes me still believe that TGC can be a challenging core text when presented in this light--additionally, since it is being presented as an honors course, perhaps taking the trilogy of TGC as a whole would be something to consider...

This weekend and through the upcoming week I am reading Black Boy by Richard Wright, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  My gut feeling is that Black Boy could become the core text for nonfiction; recently, our 11th grade students could read it for summer reading, but after a brief exchange with the teacher of that course he agreed this could be a great choice for 8th graders.  I confirmed this with Jago via Twitter and she thought "Black Boy would be a rich, challenging text for 8th graders.  I taught it at Grade 10 but think younger students would like it."  Solid affirmation from the former head of the NCTE.

Additionally, I'm proposing building a series of books written in verse, with Crossing Stones by Helen Frost as the core text.  All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg, and Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai as two of the three possibilities for reading circles.

If I'm suggesting it for review, then I've read it and stand behind it.  All have either won awards, received recognition, or appear have been suggestions from leaders in education.

In the end, I decided to embrace the opportunity of rewriting the curriculum and in the time between meetings I read as much as I can--opportunity and responsibility.  Plus, I get to read some pretty great stories along the way.

art by Natalie Nourigat

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