More on literature and informational texts in the CCSS

March 19th, 2013

We’ve blogged before on the controversy over the distinction that the Common Core State Standards make between literature and informational texts. Writing for EDSITEment’s blog at Thinkfinity, Eileen Murphy Buckley, author of 360 Degrees of Text: Using Poetry to Teach Close Reading and Powerful Writing, further shows how informational texts and literature are naturally paired together.

She writes:

One real-life source of text accessible to students required to master the standards is the New York Times. While looking for an informational text of sufficient complexity to be worthy of instruction for sixth graders in the Common Core era, I readily found one in the Science Times section of the newspaper, “Picasso’s Masterpieces Made with House Paints.”

Students asked to “analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated … (e.g., through examples or anecdotes),” as CCSS standards require, would quickly discover that the informational nugget of the text—about the Department of Energy’s nanoprobe x-ray machine, which measures the most infinitesimal particles on earth—is framed within a complex narrative that makes use of regular literary devices. The author makes a protagonist of the scientist who used sophisticated scientific equipment to end a debate regarding Picasso’s choice of paint. To generate suspense, he plays on the underlying tension between juxtaposed themes: the serious science requiring mega x-ray machines and the historical debate over whether or not Picasso was the first major painter to use house paint in his art. He employs three distinct narratives to do so: one about Picasso, the revolutionary artist; another concerning the art-historical debate about Picasso’s use of house paint; and the culminating one that tells the tale of the scientist at Argonne National Laboratories who had an interest in the Picasso controversy.

Of course! Reading in real life is complicated. Since Hammurabi’s Code, the Bible, and Homer’s Odyssey, evidence abounds that literary and informational texts have never easily been separated. Arguments are artfully presented throughout literature, from Renaissance sonnets to earth-shifting speeches of the 19th century: “Ain’t I a Woman;” the Gettysburg Address; or anything by Frederick Douglass. Even a cursory glance at literary traditions worldwide illustrates the ways in which cogent reasoning has been delivered in complex literary forms. Ground-breaking works classified as science such as Origin of the SpeciesThe Double Helix, and A Brief History of Time, as well as contemporary works of fiction such as The Things They Carried are riddled with blurry distinctions between information and literature.

Read the whole post here

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