Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fiction/Nonfiction Smackdown

I am honored to introduce you to another Art of Teaching guest blogger, Rachel Niemer. I met Rachel through the Historical Perspectives online class I'm teaching this summer. Even over the world wide web, her voice and personality has jumped off the screen in her reflective posts. Rachel just finished her third year of teaching World Literature to 9th graders and 10th grade English at West Carrollton High School. She is a runner, yogi, and world traveller. Last summer, she and her boyfriend went all the way to Nicaragua. When she is not travelling the globe or training for a half marathon, Rachel spends time pondering the education issues that affect us most today, like the Common Core (okay, maybe we assigned her to do this!), but her argument about the way the CCSS has pitted nonfiction against fiction is seriously impressive and enjoyable. Hope it makes you think as much as it did for me.
The more articles I read about the Common Core, the more I see this as a battle between Fiction and Nonfiction. Why is that so? Can't teachers teach the same essential concepts through both types of literature? Yes, there are unique elements of both (which is why we should maybe strive to provide a more balanced, diverse text set in our classrooms). If we only focus upon teaching one type of writing (like the Common Core's attention to nonfiction), we lose so much, and our next state-implemented standards (probably in the next 10 years) will swing our attention back to fiction. The New York Times article What Shouls Children Read? called this a, fiction/nonfiction "smackdown." Why does it have to be this way?

When professor/author Dr. Tom Romano recently presented at Miami, he mentioned his frustrations with the CCSS disregarding narrative writing. This also saddens me, as good, creative writing is what I like to read most. I'd much rather read a story that has a beautifully constructed, vividly creative way of describing the accounts of their life rather than read a stark piece of writing any day. But, I definitely see value in nonfiction, business-like writing. Most of the job world out there isn't going to want something with meaningful metaphors and strong symbolism. Rather, they are going to want a specific account of a lab procedure, meeting minutes, travel log, etc. David Coleman, one of the authors of the CCSS summed this up by saying, “It is rare in a working environment,” he argued, “that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’”

I think that both types of writing, fiction and nonfiction, need to coexist more in the classroom. When both are used, the texts we choose to read in our lives become more worthwhile to read. For example, I love reading (nonfiction) blogs. Though the stories told on these blogs are about the real lives of women, I'd be bored after one post if the blogger hadn't included beautiful imagery, creative word choice, charismatic writing voice, and cute plays-on-words (all of which we associate with "narrative/fiction/creative" writing).

Our students are going to enter a "grown up" world that will bombard them with multiple perspectives, diverse opinions, and diverse writing pieces. So, why not give them access to a mix of the two types of texts? (I think this is where the "historic fiction" pieces come into play!) In the Scholastic article Why and How I Teach with Historical Fiction, the author mentioned that historical fiction, "...introduces children to characters who have different points of view and offers examples of how people deal differently with problems. It also informs students about the interpretive nature of history, showing how authors and illustrators deal with an issue in different ways." THAT is what I want my students to learn in class!

Historical Fiction is kind of the peacemaker in this "smackdown" between fiction/nonfiction. If we use this style of fiction, it opens the doors for nonfiction to coexist (potentially in a cross-curricular fashion, if we could plan this with other departments)! Through the Common Core, there may seem to be a push to incorporate nonfiction into our curriculum. But, I think we can still find ways (like using historical fiction!) to teach our students to appreciate both types of writing!

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