Saturday, February 6, 2010

Literature in the common core (Yay!)

Kentucky has had a long, wobbly relationship with literature. The 1994 Content Guidelines did not specify any novels, plays, or poems students should know. The first Core Content included authors students should know, but later revisions dropped the authors while keeping impressive lists of composers, painters, sculptors, and other artists. I've cheered each inclusive round and objected to each round of deletions.

Reading through the new draft standards for English/language arts, I'm delighted.

The level-by-level "illustrative texts for narrative, drama, and poetry" caught my eye first. Eastman's Are You My Mother leads the kindergarten list, and Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death" finishes the list for grade 11 and career and college readiness.

Further down, a longer "exemplar" section includes poetry from "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Captain, O My Captain," to "I, Too" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." In the short, sweet election of other poems, I especially enjoyed spotting "The Jumblies," a truly great tale of adventure and whimsy.

The drama includes Midsummer Night's Dream and Master Harold and the Boys, and the narratives include Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Their Eyes were Watching God. For younger readers, there's a range from Little Bear to Little Women.

These lists do not, at least officially, mean students have to read those works in the years where they're listed. The draft says:
The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with while additionally suggesting the breadth of text types that students should encounter. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and breadth for their own classrooms.
And yet, those guideposts are going to be hard to bypass. There's flexibility there to prefer a different Austen novel or a different Seuss book, and the lists are short enough to leave room for quite a few additional works, but there's nothing to match the depth Shakespeare or the cultural resonance of Frost and Hughes. Most of all, the central expectation that students will have a fluent sense of how and why to engage great literature is going to matter as these standards move into classroom use.

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