You’re on summer break, a time for dreaming and believing. Dreaming of the ideal classroom and believing that anything is possible. While some believe that dreaming is futile, I think it is the place where real ideas are born. Stop shushing your inner monologue and start to listen to it. What does your dream classroom look like? What texts are in your kids hands? Just like yesterday, we recognize that there are a lot of constraints teachers can’t get around. There are a lot of novels you are required to teach. There are a lot of pieces in a textbook you are told you must teach. However, you still have quite a bit of freedom. It is a matter of thinking about what you value the most as a teacher of reading.
I think we are all in agreement that students need to be challenged more by reading more complex pieces. However, a lot of teachers just don’t know where to place it. If your curriculum requires longer works, consider supplementing the pieces with shorter, challenging pieces. This will give students the opportunity to be exposed to difficult texts but without the grade penalty often associated with novels, which typically have high-stakes assessments.
Another reason why many teachers shy away from using shorter texts more frequently isn’t because they don’t believe in them but that they don’t know where to find them. Like yesterday, we can’t tell you which pieces are best because each person has a different curriculum. However, we have generated a list of writers that we think have pieces that could work with a variety of classes, grade levels and abilities.
Your job this summer is to read a variety of pieces from these writers thinking about the themes you already discuss through your assigned curriculum. Doing a quick skim will let you see to what degree the piece supports the themes your course addresses. Then, narrow down the text. The key is to give students more challenging texts more frequently. As a result, don’t feel as though you have to teach Joan Didion’s entire memoir. Instead, choose sections or portions that can be understood in isolation or excerpted form and can supplement the themes.
Writers to Deepen Thinking About a Topic: These are writers that really stump students. Their prose is dense, their content is meaty, their structure is unique. Let’s be honest. They stump us too. William Hazlitt, H.L. Mencken, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, John Locke, Niccolo Machiavelli
Non-Fiction Writers to Pair With Novels: many Nobel prize acceptance speeches or political speeches fall nicely into this category. Also consider the below writers who write in an accessible manner about inaccessible topics. Susan Sontag, Adrienne Rich, Joan Didion, Paul Theroux, Wendell Berry, Eudora Welty
Journalists to Pair With Novels: While many journalists work, these are the journalists that we feel have arguments and writing styles that are complex enough to really engage the students. Merely giving kids an article from the Daily Herald won’t cut it. Complex arguments are usually a product of complex writing. Give them something to really think about by assigning pieces from the below journalists. George Will, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Charles Krauthammer
Poets Who Pair Nicely With Longer Works (both fiction and non-fiction): Sometimes students need a break from fiction. Poetry is an easy place to start. Because of its tight phrasing and restrictive form, many students see poetry as a very complex text. Read a variety of poems from the below poets to find companion poems to the pieces you already teach. W.H. Auden, John Donne, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore
This fall we will be profiling ways to teach complex texts, but consider reading pieces from these writers during your summer break when you have more free time. Also, keep dreaming about your perfect classroom. It can become a reality if you find ways to “bend” the curriculum to your needs.