Teaching Literature in a Standards-Based World

Hi Guys,

I’m at a loss.  I came into teaching knowing that if all else fails, at least I can teach writing.  My first teaching stints all had to do with reading literature and writing.  I felt that writing helps people truly engage with the literature and higher-level thinking.  My hunches were proven correct in grad school when ta da, research proves that writing is a GREAT way to teach lit.

Then last year, I began the year teaching writing for about 15-20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.  Then after I wrote out a pacing guide 2 months into teaching, I panicked (at this rate, I’d never finish the textbook by Spring break), and writing instruction went to zero.  Then I taught writing for 4 harried days right before the writing standardized test, and got back to teaching writing after standardized tests.  Try teaching writing after tests — kids are taught the tests are gold, so.. yeah, try teaching anything after those tests.  I have no idea what I did.

Now, most of my kids are so-called “proficient.”  But, I have kids who range in all areas of spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.  I have maybe 3 kids who can write but because I don’t give them very explicit instruction, the quality of the organization of their thoughts is not that high.  

In terms of reading, some kids can zoom and then I have about 6 kids who are really behind.

I’m teaching The Good Earth right now, and I learned on Friday that I don’t have to teach the textbook while I teach the novel – I can just teach the novel straight for a few weeks.  I’m excited, but now I’m nervous.  I don’t remember having that much homework in middle school.  I remember writing lots because I wanted to.  I remember getting certain themes hammered into my head and I remember hearing lots of stories from Ms. Johnson.  I remember “nothing gold can stay” and how sad “Flowers for Algernon” was and how boring but fascinating The Martian Chronicles was.  

How do I teach literature so that my kids can LEARN?  I feel that if I could really TEACH them, then the standardized testing part (which I’ll drillgrillkill into them later on) will come naturally.  

What did your favorite teachers do?  Why?

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