Carol Iannone is editor-at-large of Academic Questions, 8 West 38th Street, Suite 503, New York, NY 10018-6229; .

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in “Comtháng Readings, Uncommon Conversations,” a special section in the Summer năm ngoái Academic Questions (volume 28, number 2). 

Judging from the Conservative sầu Political kích hoạt Conference held in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, the Common Chip Core State Standards (CCSS), pro and con, will be an issue in the 2015–năm nhâm thìn presidential chiến dịch or, at the very least, in the Republican primaries. Most of the contenders for the Republican nomination who were questioned on the subject at the conference vehemently oppose the standards, including Ted Cruz, Marteo Rubio, Riông xã Perry, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Ben Carson. But Jeb Bush, who put the standards into effect during his tenure as governor of Floridomain authority, stands staunchly in tư vấn of them và he has the backing of some prominent conservatives, including former Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, William Bennett.

So much has been said and written about the standards, usually in fairly general terms, but how vì chưng they translate inlớn actual textbooks that actual teachers must use? The Pearson Education Group together with Prentice Hall has produced CCSS-based K–12 literature readers, aý muốn many other CCSS-based textbooks. This article takes a look at the teacher’s edition of the eleventh-grade reader in that series, published in 2012, which has been adopted in at least one state, và which has some good features & many deficits, most though not all of which are related khổng lồ the CCSS.

Instruction for Instructors

It has to be said, the first impression you get from perusing the two volumes of the teacher’s version of The American Experience, Comtháng bộ vi xử lý Core Edition—after overcoming your astonishment at their combined ten pounds-plus weight—is what a confusion their pages present.<1> First of all, it is a book within a book. The student reader is incorporated into the teacher’s edition, centered top on the 9 x 11-inch pages, và then, surrounding the student reader, itself fairly busy, is a blizzard of sidebars & underbars and inserts và various sets of instructions và proposed questions (with proposed answers) & assessment measures and writing assignments và preparation exercises và background information & thought experiments & group discussion ideas and further task suggestions, & more—all in different shapes and sizes và fonts & colors và groupings.

Each of the five hundred or so readings, plus the pages of student exercises, is accompanied by copious instructions lớn the teacher on how to teach it. If a selection is spread out over a number of pages, và many are, each page will have a different assortment of the various categories of instruction, many but not all of which are tied to lớn the standards, more than could be explored in fifty years of teaching.<2>

In addition, the first volume begins with about 130 pages of frontal material, some for the students và some for the teacher only, & between the student sections in both volumes are swaths of pages with additional pedagogical instruction for the teacher. The student edition, too, has pages of fairly extensive background information. For the teacher, charts key the seventy or so CCSS to the readings, practically page by page, & each reading khổng lồ the CCSS page by page, to differentiated levels of student ability page by page, & to the skills each reading will develop, and some of these charts are keyed khổng lồ yet other books and rubrics.<3> The student readers are about seven hundred pages each và with the extra allotment of instructor pages, each volume is a thousvà pages or more, this for one year of work in one subject.

Frankly, you wonder at first if these tomes have sầu been compiled by people who hate books & want you lớn hate them, too. It’s difficult even khổng lồ work physically with such burdensome compilations; you almost forget that we read from left to right. Plus, the whole process of reading seems reversed: instead of letting a piece of writing come alive, the textbook loads it down in advance, making what should be the relatively pleasant task of reading & teaching literature into an overwhelmingly bureaucratized chore.

The opening pages feature photographs of the sixteen text editors, or “authors,” as they are called, those who “guided the direction & philosophy of Pearson Prentice Hall Literature” along with the Pearson Prentice Hall “development team.”<4> Some of the authors highlight aspects of the CCSS approach khổng lồ teaching reading and writing. These aspects include the unobjectionable—the value of rereading, rewriting, reading aloud, for example—and the questionable—bởi vì teachers really need khổng lồ “validate” the cultures of their “English Language Learners” (ELL)? Wouldn’t it be better just to lớn make sure they learn English, as so many children learned in the past, even when the United States was at war with their countries of origin? 

Another key feature of the CCSS is the new accent on “information.” Instruction in English via CCSS now consists of half literature và half what are called “informational texts,” which can include but go beyond traditional literary nonfiction, the essays of Emerson, for example, to such items as government reports và social science studies. The reading standards are equally divided, ten và ten, inlớn those for literature and those for informational texts, and in many ways the two sets are quite similar.<5> For CCSS proponents, we are told, the “prevailing literary curriculum needs lớn shift from a focus on developing reading skills và building fluency with simple narratives, toward reading và writing khổng lồ gain knowledge and express new understandings with informational text.”<6> One could puzzle over that statement for some time, wondering if it really sounds like progress, as with English class now being about “Locating, evaluating, integrating, và communicating information.”<7> Is this what the study of literature và language is for?

This is one of education expert Sandra Stotsky’s chief complaints about CCSS. Author of the highly praised và effective Massachusetts K–12 standards, which are far more detailed with regard to lớn literature, Stotsky was on the Comtháng Chip Core Validation Committee but refused khổng lồ sign onkhổng lồ the final sản phẩm. She insists that no research supports CCSS claims for the value of teaching informational texts. In fact, Stotsky maintains, imaginative sầu literature, fiction, drama, poetry, impart greater critical and discerning skills, and its decline in the curriculum over recent decades has contributed lớn student deficiencies on standardized tests such as the SAT.  

Furthermore, the CCSS claim to produce college & career readiness, while opponents maintain that those goals actually contradict each other. Aside from at times being rather poorly written, some of the standards vày seem fairly minimal. For example, the Grade 11 Reading Standards for Literature, RL.1, và Reading Standards for Informational Texts, RI.1, happen to lớn be the same (as is the case with one other pair, not a good sign from the literary point of view) & seem to state the fairly obvious, while also being a syntactical fright: “Cite svào và thorough textual evidence khổng lồ tư vấn analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.”<8>  

Still, given all that has contributed to lớn the deterioration of lower education in the twentieth century & into the twenty-first, from the advancement of dubious radical pedagogies to lớn the degeneration of schools of education inkhổng lồ useless if not pernicious theorizing, and so on, one can underst& why some conservatives & traditionalists are impressed with the standards’ explicitness about basic skills. For example, the writing standards call for command of Standard English và correct spelling, something that might simply have sầu been assumed requirement years ago, but in an age that has given rise to apologiae for “Ebonics” và composition theories such as Students’ Right lớn Their Own Language và translingualism, they vì need to be emphasized again. Likewise, mandating the citation of textual evidence is useful, given that many college students in recent years have come up thinking that impressions và simple responses lớn a reading (“what I got out of it”) are sufficient.

But in these và other points, we are talking about only a basic cấp độ of reading và writing proficiency, not exactly college preparation, at least as traditionally understood. For that, the standards phối much store on getting students khổng lồ read (and write about) increasingly difficult texts. The RL.10 of the literature standards và RI.10 of the informational text standards both insist that students be able to lớn read & comprehkết thúc “literature” và “literary nonfiction,” respectively, “in the grades 11-CCR <Common Core Reader> text complexity b& proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.” (Truly “informational texts” can be used lớn address other standards.)

The text complexity b& evaluates each reading according khổng lồ a formula, the “Text Complexity Multi-Index,” in which “four comprehensive measures & considerations are taken into account lớn determine a text’s appropriateness for a student or group of students.”<9> The four parts of the model

exp& upon the Comtháng bộ vi xử lý Core State Standards’ three-part Mã Sản Phẩm for measuring text complexity. A critical component of both models is that qualitative measures and reader-task considerations are balanced with quantitative measures to achieve an overall text complexity recommendation. By measuring text complexity, both quantitative sầu và qualitative, teachers can challenge students to read more complex texts as they move toward college & career readiness.<10>  

At any rate, here is where the standards grow almost unbearably onerous, in how the teacher must apply them, coordinating the different charts, the different levels of instruction for different levels of readers, the different text complexities, the different required skills, the different support tasks, & testing & evaluating the students at different levels, while providing the “scaffolding,” the additional help where needed and as proffered in the many boxes, charts, & pages of instruction. The Guide lớn Selected Level Resources charts in the teacher edition are mainly concerned with Tier 1 (students performing on level, although in other places Tier 1 includes advanced) and Tier 2 (students requiring intervention). Tier 3, special needs, including dyslexia and special education, “may require consultation” with those students’ specialists.  But on the selection pages, aside from additional instruction for those levels, there is also instruction for ELL, advanced, và, here và there, gifted và talented,. The Guide to Selected Level Resources charts also use a symbol system to indicate what tasks are khổng lồ involve one-on-one teaching, group work, whole class instruction, independent work, và assessment.

For example, in the charts that schematize the readings according khổng lồ their fulfillment of the standards, the Mark Twain section, which includes “The Boy’s Ambition,” an excerpt from Life on the Mississippi, and the short story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” will satisfy/address:

in the Reading Standards for Literature:

RL.6: Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement); and

RL.9: Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, & early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics. 

And in the Reading Standards for Informational Texts:

RI.4 : Determine the meaning of words và phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative sầu, và technical meanings; analyze how an author uses và refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text.


Vocabulary : L.4, L.4b, L.4.c, L.5, L.5.b

Grammar/Writing: W.2 W.2.a W.2.b W.2.f, L.1

And then, on the pages of the readings, each reading is assessed on three measures for the cấp độ of text complexity it presents on a qualitative scale of 1 khổng lồ 5. So for “Life,” “context/knowledge demands” are a 3, “structure/language, conventionality & clarity” 4, và “levels of meaning/purpose/concept level” 3. The reading is also quantitatively assessed for “lexile” (word & syntactical difficulty) và number of words, và then is judged “more complex” or “more accessible,” the latter being the case with “Life.” For “Frog,” judged “more complex,” the breakdown of the three categories is 4, 4, và 3.

The teacher must find a way lớn pitch each reading differently for each cấp độ, and provide the “scaffolding” where needed. For below-level readers, the task may be to lớn “challenge students as they read for content”; for on-cấp độ readers, to lớn “allow students lớn focus on reading for nội dung, và challenge them to lớn interpret multiple perspectives”; và for advanced readers, to “allow students to focus on interpreting multiple perspectives.”<11> The leveled tasks & suggestions for how lớn vị this will change from reading to lớn reading. The student pages following each reading include questions keyed to the standards, according to lớn, mainly, Key Ideas & Details, Craft & Structure, and Integration of Knowledge & Ideas.

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In addition to all this, most of the readings are accompanied by detailed lesson plans, called “Lesson Pacing Guides” (which come under the rubric Common Chip Core Time & Resources Manager). Here is a synopsis of the guide for the excerpt from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, one of the “more complex” texts, rating 3, 4, & 5 on the three qualitative sầu measures. Most of the directives are linked khổng lồ the CCSS by being prefaced with the Common Chip Core hình ảnh sản phẩm (CC in a circle), but some directives are evidently not Common Vi xử lý Core, at least not for this reading.

On day 1, the teacher will “preteach” by handing out Reading and Vocabulary Warm-ups from one of the supplemental texts (Unit 2 Resources), discussing the relevant Literary Analysis concepts, as well as the Reading Strategy, the author and Background information, và the Essential Questions. (There are three Essential Questions on the nature of American literature that run throughout the textbooks.)

On day 2–3, the teacher will “preteach/teach/assess” by handing out graphic organizers for Literary Analysis & Reading Strategy from another of the supplemental books (Graphic Organizer Transparencies), using  the Activating Prior Knowledge activities, having students read & checking their comprehension with Reading Chechồng, using the Literary Analysis & Reading Strategy prompts, going over Vocabulary notes, getting students to lớn answer Critical Reading, Literary Analysis, và Reading Strategy questions, having students bởi the Vocabulary Lesson.

On day 4, the teacher will Extend/Assess by having students vì chưng the Convention and Style Lesson and the Writing lesson, perhaps assigning a character study as homework, & administering one of two tests from Unit 2 Resources.<12>

The teacher needs also to keep in mind the particular standards that are being exemplified in each section, for Moby Dick:  R.L.1 và 2, governing textual tư vấn and central idea (although, puzzlingly, only RL.2 is listed in the Skills Navigator chart at the front of the book in the teacher material); and W.1: “Write arguments lớn tư vấn claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning và relevant và sufficient evidence”; and W.1.a: “Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternative or opposing claims, và create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, và evidence.”<13> In addition, the textbook notes that additional standards practice can be found in the student workbook, Common Core Companion, và gives the relevant pages.  

And since, in the case of Moby Dick, only two Reading Literature Standards & two Writing standards are addressed, the teacher will have lớn be sure khổng lồ choose other readings that activate the other standards, of which there are, as stated above sầu, over seventy, covering/addressing Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, & Language. (Admittedly, many govern smaller matters of grammar & punctuation, but those things have to be taught và checked, too.)

What about the work as literature? While it can’t be said that the textbook neglects the aesthetic, moral, and even spiritual dimensions of literature entirely, it flattens and schematizes them as well, và, given all the tasks teachers must fulfill and the needs they must address, one wonders how they can be adequately discussed in the time available.

Questions that run alongside the text in the student edition with suggested answers in the teacher’s edition are categorized as Critical Reading, Reading Strategy, và Literary Analysis. While critical reading & reading strategy are more about discerning what is happening in a text, that can’t be entirely separated from a literary analysis, of course. But the Literary Analysis questions are meant khổng lồ be more in the nature of literary criticism.

For the eighteen or so pages of the Moby Dick selection, there are perhaps a couple of dozen questions. Here are some examples:

Reading Strategy question (Identifying Details khổng lồ Determine Essential Message) : What important details in his environment does Ahab fail lớn notice? Answer : Ahab fails to notice Starbuck’s foreboding tone, a laugh, & the winds.<14>

Literary Analysis (Symbol) question : What does the wind symbolize lớn Ahab? Answer: The wind symbolizes the maddening, sometimes ineffable, noble, và glorious power of nature. He absolves it of malice, however, unlike Moby Dick. <15>

Critical Reading questions actually turn into Critical Viewing (of the illustrations) và Critical Thinking questions in this section. A Critical Thinking (Speculate) question in this section suggests reading a passage aloud & asking students what they think will happen next. 

The students are also asked further questions in their exercise pages in the reader.

Many of the questions are good, some less so, but, again, it is the sense of the instructor being drilled down và controlled practically lớn the jot và tittle that is dismaying. The textbook clearly does not trust that the teacher might lead a class discussion in which such insights could naturally emerge.   

The Essential Questions are three questions that are reprised for most readings: What makes American literature American? What is the relationship between literature and place? How does literature shape or reflect society?

In the Moby Dick excerpt, regarding the first question, What makes American literature American? the textbook asks, “What particularly American elements to lớn you see in Melville’s trương mục of the quest for the White whale?”<16>

And gives this Possible Response: “Students may note that the cultural diversity of the crew seems American, as does Ahab’s driving ambition and the crew’s responsiveness to offers of financial reward.”<17> 

Why does this seem inadequate?

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

After the confusing presentation và the extraordinarily jargon-laden schematization of teacher and student tasks, the next thing you may notice about these tomes is the sudden breaks in subject matter. For example, the section on the Puritans in the New World is followed by excerpts from a blog on the exploration of Mars. An excerpt from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography leads inkhổng lồ that of a contemporary memoirist, Sandra Cisneros. The Civil War section is rounded off with an extended excerpt from the screenplay of the recent film Cold Mountain, about two women helping each other survive sầu during that conflict. The Fireside Poets, with their tripartite nomenclature—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—prompts a comparison to Hispanic surnames. The section on Native American myths is followed by Susan Power’s modern essay “Museum Indians.” You’re in the eighteenth century but suddenly learning about the League of Women Voters & how to lớn watch a political debate. Not only are we not allowed khổng lồ let the work speak to us, due khổng lồ the enormous amount of supplemental material và the constant need khổng lồ align to the standards & the many measures and categories, we are also not allowed to lớn dwell in the past but are constantly being jerked into the present and present-day concerns.  

Some of this is not a bad idea—a chart in the Edgar Allen Poe section updating the Gothic to current practitioners such as Stephen King, for example—but most of it is simply lớn meet the demands of multiculturalism and diversity in the readings and lớn satisfy contemporary interests & preoccupations. Excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden spill into lớn environmentalism, for example, complete with a drawing of a water treatment plant, an EPA publication on where drinking water comes from, và a 2007 South Floridomain authority Environmental Report on the Kissimmee River Restoration và Upper Basin Initiatives. Some readings will break into boxed inserts on economics or anthropology.  The second volume ends with a U.S. Census Bureau publication, “Demographic Aspects of Surnames from Census 2000.” There are sections on cartoons, media, entertainment, popular culture, công nghệ, legal reasoning, & various academic vocabularies, for example, in mathematics and social studies.

By the by you wonder if this is English class, or civics, or history, or science, or social science. Prefaces in the student reader give selective sầu background on American history with a liberal/multicultural slant, & modern-day authors are inserted khổng lồ phản hồi on some of the writers và periods. Even aside from the huge girth of the volumes, there is a mind-boggling sense of simply trying lớn do much too much.

No, it isn’t all bad. As can be discerned from the discussion above sầu, there are many selections from classic American literature that those over fifty will recognize from their own grammar và high school studies, although there is an enormous reliance on excerpts. Many short stories are featured in their entirety, however. The frontal materials include useful sections on vocabulary, roots, prefixes, suffixes, etymology, argumentation, logical fallacies, rhetorical strategies, and more. No doubt conservatives are impressed in the Informational Standards by RI.8, calling for knowledge of “seminal U.S. texts.” The examples given are “U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions và dissents” (a little ambitious for eleventh grade, one might think), The Federalist, & presidential addresses. And by RI.9, which calls for knowledge of “seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to lớn the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address).” Amazingly, even with its hundreds of pages, our reader does not contain all of these.

Moreover, the student pages are generally more appealing than in the teacher edition, with sections on vocabulary, language, literary history, literary terms, & also maps, timelines, illustrations, reproductions of paintings related khổng lồ the readings, insertions on music, museums, and other topics. The exercise pages are ugly, however—chilly, clinical, tedious, và confusing. But part of what a reader is supposed to lớn vì chưng is select, and while the CCSS reader has selected, it has selected too much, leaving a teacher to puzzle about what to lớn teach. As critics protested at the first demands for multicultural representation in the curriculum, there are only so many hours in the day, the week, the semester, the school year, & by including hundreds of readings that cover the gamut of diversity concerns—over & above the important literature itself—the authors have sầu created a whole overcome by the sum of the parts.

Furthermore, the insistence on giving equal, proportional representation to lớn diversity means losing emphasis, despite the running attention to the three Essential Questions. Or perhaps that is the emphasis—American literature as the launching pad for inclusiveness, diversity, multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism, và so on. That is perhaps the “American experience,” according lớn these authors.

And one can’t help challenging what selections have been made. Remove some of the contemporary insertions và assign instead a complete Hawthorne novel. Why an excerpt from Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” & not from John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity,” with its luminous “city on a hill” reference, khổng lồ which two twentieth- century presidents made significant allusion?<18> Patrick Henry and Tom Paine argue for independence but Washington’s Farewell Address makes clear how independence và self-government are sustained. Since the textbook lays such emphasis on how Native Americans aided the colonists, why no Fenimore Cooper? And one of the truly egregious crimes of the textbook is confining the extraordinary Willa Cather to the short, atypical story “A Wagner Matinee,” about the same importance given lớn mediocre Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” both fitting the feminist theme running through the textbook about the limitations on women’s lives.

For all the background và tư vấn material The American Experience provides, you never get a straightforward explication of the American Founding, & what made it exceptional, although there is plenty about slavery and Native sầu Americans. America seems lớn be a đô thị without foundations. The textbook also seems khổng lồ suggest that reason eclipsed faith in the course of American history, but that is exactly what Melville, & Hawthorne, too, were challenging.

For literary content, the standards dem& only some knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, & early twentieth-century “foundational” works, which does mean classic texts for the most part, if not necessarily very much of them; plus Shakespeare (evidently the teacher will have to find a way lớn fit that into lớn the American experience, perhaps to lớn contrast with seventeenth-century American poetry; the frontal material does include a Shakespeare sonnet); and a play by an American author. This is satisfied by the longest entry by far in both volumes, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller (called a “legend” in the textbook), & the only full-length work the students will read.

The Crucible is about the actual outbreak of accusations of witchcraft against many individuals in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, and is directly meant by Miller khổng lồ characterize và parallel efforts by the United States Congress in the late 1940s and 1950s to expose Communists & Communist sympathizers in American life và institutions, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and the Senate hearings headed by Joseph McCarthy. The section on the play plus background plus supplemental material on the latter-day “witch-hunts” of the 1940s and 1950s runs over 150 pages, including teacher inserts—each act is given a Lesson Pacing Guide—& an excerpt from the screenplay of the 2005 George Clooney film Good Night and Good Luck, based on the career of Edward R. Murrow, the journadanh sách who challenged McCarthy on live sầu television.

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But you never get to understvà World War II and the Cold War và what Communism really meant in the lives of those forced lớn live sầu under it, và how the Soviet Union conducted its own far worse witch-hunts & maintained a vast and punitive sầu gulag for political dissenters. Even more of an outrage, you never learn about the existence of the extensive sầu network of Communist spies, domestic and foreign, in America, during the Cold War years, including at high levels of government, as recently revealed in official documents released after the fall of the Berlin Wall. (As blaông xã power activist turned conservative Eldridge Cleaver eventually admitted, “There were Communists under the bed.”) No, the worst thing about the Cold War was anticommunism & McCarthyism, & the “information” that the student will derive from the reader’s only full-length work is basically left-wing propagandomain authority.

Chuyên mục: literature