Common Core and Literature

With the emphasis on informational text, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) opponents claim that the appreciation of literature is lost.  Aside from the fact that CCSS explicitly requires teaching of literature, I believe the standards foster a deeper understanding of literature–this skill in turn promotes literary appreciation.  According to David Coleman, co-author of CCSS, teaching close reading through using short text passages helps mentor analytical skills for comprehension.  I used this strategy to meet the requirements of the literature reading standards.

Two years ago, our American school in Hong Kong became an early adopter to CCSS, and I began incorporating explicit close reading lessons into my Grade 3 class. The depth of understanding gained by my eight year old students greatly outweighed the superficial skimming children when assigned independent reading  or me  doing a read-aloud. I share with you  insights that I have gained during one lesson.

This lesson was aligned to Common Core ELA Reading Literature Standard 3.3.

Reading Literature 3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g. their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.

The Lesson
During a guided reading session I chose to “close read” Chapter 4 from the novel we had been studying–Because of Winn Dixie. In this section, a father tells his daughter all about the mother whom had left them . The chapter outlined ten things that described the mother. Their task was to read through the text and determine a few adjectives to describe the mother. They needed to support their adjectives with details from the text.

After I explained the task,  the students read silently while using Post-It notes to jot their ideas.  I had the students share their answers and scaffold further questions to help them monitor their reasoning.  Then we concluded by making a group graphic organizer to make a judgment on whether she was a good mom or a bad mom.

The following were quotes from the books followed by my insight on what my students observed.

1. The mother was funny
This quote was easy and straight forward.   Many students understood the literal meaning from the text and I did not dwell on the author’s meaning.

2. She had red hair and freckles
Physical description are always good. No doubt, I was able to emphasize the importance of using physical description in their writing.
3. “Three. She liked to plant things. She had a talent for it. She could stick a tire in the ground and grow a car.”
Okay, this quote was definitely starting to get tricky.   Instead of describing the mother as a gardener or farmer, one student chose––cars salesperson.  That child focused on the “tire” and the “car” in this passage. I redirected the child to reread but focused on the first sentence.  Then we discussed that this was a realistic fiction and reasoned out why the author chose this metaphor.

4. “Number eight,” said the preacher, with his eyes closed, “was that she hated being a preacher’s wife. She said she just couldn’t stand having the ladies at church judge what she was wearing and what she was cooking and how she was singing. She said it made her feel like a bug under a microscope.”

This was perhaps the most difficult adjective we could come up with because my students needed background context such as church etiquette and leadership. We came up with angry, scared (bugs under a microscope), embarrassed, …etc. Each time I tried to reconnect to information we have read and reasoned with background information. We got into deep discussions on being constantly watched. Because the mother left this family, we were able to understand better why she took off–though many still thought she was a bad mother for doing so.  The use of this complex text passage has greatly helped my students think more deeply about what they were reading.

Some people say the Common Core robs the enjoyment out of literature . I would say that the depth used to analyze characters has made my third grade students appreciate literature even more.

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