ERIC Identifier: ED316853
Publication Date: 1990-04-00
Author: Johns, Jerry L. - Davis, Susan J.
Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Integrating Literature into Middle School Reading Classrooms.
With an increasing emphasis on teaching literature in reading classrooms,
more teachers are looking for supplements to basal readers. Some middle school
teachers are trying to integrate literature into their classrooms by teaching
from literature anthologies and by using commercial novel units. Although these
methods do meet the goal of using literature, there is a need for other
innovative ways to involve middle school students in good literature.
USING SPECIFIC GENRES
Restrepo (1988) developed a
literature program for seventh graders in a middle class neighborhood in Florida
where reading scores were below district and national norms. In addition to
increasing test scores, Restrepo's goals were to develop an integrated program
using a variety of books and to help the students develop an appreciation for
literature and independence in reading. Restrepo's belief was that students
should study one genre of literature at a time to widen their interests. She
noted that books should not be considered in isolation but as part of a larger
section in literature. By studying different genres, the students in her program
were able to compare books within and across genres. Four of the genres used in
this program were biography, realistic fiction, poetry, and tragedy.
Bosma (1981) developed the idea of using genre in literature by designing a
unit on folktales. She noted that folktales are a good unit of study for middle
school students because: they are predictable; they include stock characters;
and they are loaded with adventure, humor, and rich language.
To begin her unit, Bosma picked 120 folktales with an annotated bibliography
to be used in each of two sixth-grade classes. She read a folktale to the
students; then the students read one independently. She asked the students to do
a variety of activities: classify the types of folktales; recognize their theme;
and evaluate the use of language in them. By the end of ten weeks, 90% of the
students were able to classify the folktales by type: fairy tales, animal tales,
legend, and myth. In addition, she reported high levels of student interest.
Folktales clearly served to involve students in literature study.
When Anderson (1985) asked sixth-grade students of all reading levels to list
the types of books they choose for free reading, the lists were similar across
reading levels. The students chose adventure, mystery, tall tales, fantasy, and
realistic fiction. Bosma's unit plan on folktales could be extended to these
types of books.
One of the genres of literature that many
middle school teachers have not included in their programs is drama. Karabas and
Leinwein (1985) suggest that drama be integrated into middle school education.
Through drama, students can discover what is meant by being human. Drama also
spurs imagination, insight, reflection, and self-knowledge. Karabas and
Leinwein's objective in writing a unit on drama was to have students develop the
pleasure and skills in reading and interpreting drama, to acquaint students with
the dramatic tradition so they could critically evaluate current theater, and to
increase the students' insights in themselves.
The unit in the curriculum includes sample lessons for a unit on A Raisin in
the Sun. During the unit, students are asked to present a critique of the drama
and to compare their reviews with those of reviewers of other dramatic
performances. They discuss the differences between a play, a novel, and a short
story. Students are also asked to analyze the particular problems the playwright
might have encountered. Although the curriculum is based on a single play, the
lessons the authors included would be an excellent basis for a teacher
interested in preparing a unit on drama.
Middle school is a time of growth for students; they are commonly called
individuals between childhood and adulthood. Although middle school students are
usually encouraged to "grow up," Zancanella (1987) uses poetry with his seventh
graders to get them to reflect upon their childhood. Zancanella believes that
middle schoolers are as nostalgic about their younger years as adults are. He
suggests using Ann Sexton's poem, "Fury of Overshoes," to motivate his students
to read and write about their childhood as they are trying to meaningfully
connect their pasts to the present.
RESPONDING TO LITERATURE
Teachers who ask their students to
read literature independently or listen to them read may benefit from the ideas
of Halpern (1986) and the Alberta Department of Education (1987). Halpern (1986)
suggests that instead of the typical lesson where students read and teachers ask
questions, students write about the books they have read in a response journal.
She suggests that students would learn more about literature if they personally
respond to the books in writing. Some of the topics Halpern encourages students
to write about include whether the students were attracted or repelled by the
main character, an incident that made the student angry or happy, something the
student did not understand, and a prediction of what could possibly happen next.
The Alberta Department of Education (1987) recommends a similar idea for
teachers who read books to their classes. They suggest that students be directed
to write in a listening log. The teacher need only stop at a pre-arranged point
in the story and the students then write their responses to any number of
questions. Among the questions students could respond to are: what they are
thinking of, if they have had a similar experience, what they are picturing in
their heads, what feelings they have about the characters, and what questions
they have about the story.
Success in integrating literature into middle school reading classrooms has
been achieved by the systematic study of different genres of literature (e.g.,
folktales, drama, poetry). Through a variety of activities, students can be
engaged in comparisons, contrasts, and other higher-level thinking skills.
Response journals in which students react to their reading by writing, provide
another avenue to promote reflection about the literature being read. Such
journals have the potential to actively involve students in linking their ideas
to those posed by the author, teacher, or other students.
On a more general level, to develop student interest in reading literature,
teachers might try the following techniques: suggest books that match student
interest; read literature aloud to their classes; give students time to read in
class; and make a great number of books available to students.
Recently, there appears to be heightened interest in undertaking research on
reading and language arts in the middle school. For example, the May 1989 issue
of the Journal of Reading carries two articles about reading in middle schools,
while the January 1990 issue of the same journal features "Helping Middle School
Students Develop Language Facility" (Lane Roy Gauthier). The January 1990
English Journal focuses on strategies and techniques for English instruction in
middle schools and junior high schools.
Alberta Department of Education. Junior High
Language Arts Curriculum Guide. Edmonton. 1987. [ED 286 198]
Anderson, Gary, and others. "Differences in the free-reading books selected by high, average, and low achievers." Reading Teacher, 39 (3), December 1985, 326-30.
Bosma, Bette. Focus on Folktales for Critical Reading. 1981. [ED 241 901]
Halpern, Honey. "Contemporary Canadian children's literature for the intermediate grades: A whole language approach." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Transmountain Regional Conference of the International Reading Association, May 1986. [ED 281 161]
Karabas, Gertrude and Rochelle Leinwein. Teaching Literature Grade 9: Integrating the Communication Arts. Drama. Experimental. Brooklyn, NY: New York City Board of Education, Division of Curriculum and Instruction, 1985. [ED 290 154]
Restrepo, Jane Simi. Integrating Children's Literature in a Middle School Language Arts Curriculum through a Planned Cognitive and Affective Program of Instruction. Fort Lauderdale, FL: Nova University, Center for the Advancement of Education, 1988. [ED 298 499]
Zancanella, Don. "Memory, power, and poetry: Sexton's 'Fury of Overshoes,'" English Journal, 76 (7), November 1987, 84-88.