by Robert Pondiscio
August 30th, 2012
When planning class read-alouds as a teacher, I was an unabashed fan of historical fiction. Christopher Paul Curtis’ Depression-era novel, Bud, Not Buddy; Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, set in Nazi-occupied Denmark; and the 19th century frontier novel Sarah, Plain and Tall were among the books that allowed me to weave history and geography—sorely needed by my inner city 5th graders– into the literacy block.
With Common Core State Standards calling for more non-fiction in literacy instruction, mixing more academic content into ELA instruction is becoming standard practice. But not everyone is eager to see fiction and literature loosen its grip on language arts. Dan Willingham’s science and education blog asks, can’t kids learn about the world through fiction?
They can and do.
“The advantage of fiction is that the narrative can engage students, transport them into the story. The fear is that readers will assume that information in fiction is true, whereas fiction may well contain inaccuracies. We don’t expect fiction to be vetted for accuracy the way a non-fiction source would be. (Certainly Hollywood movies are notorious for playing fast-and-loose with the truth.)”
Research shows inaccuracies in fiction can indeed later be remembered by students as true. Willingham describes an experiment designed to test whether exposure to accurate or inaccurate information in a fictional story influenced how students responded to a later test about that information. Exposure to correct information “makes it more likely you’ll get the answer correct on the test,” Willingham writes. “Reading the misleading information makes it less likely you’ll get it correct and more likely you’ll get it wrong.”
Sounds obvious, but there’s more. “Prior knowledge is not protective. In other words, the misleading information has an impact even for stuff that most of the students knew before the experiment started,” (emphasis added) Willingham observes. Encountering inaccuracies in fiction, in other words, can override what students knew before they read it. But all is not lost: alerting students to the specific inaccuracies or misinformation in a story, Dan notes, “is very effective in preventing subjects from absorbing the inaccuracy.”
The takeaway for teachers? Use fiction to engage and bring history, science and other subjects to life. But you’ve got know your stuff so you can flag instances of literary license to your kids.
by Robert Pondiscio
January 4th, 2010
Madonna! Leggings! Big hair! Like these ’80s icons, The Baby-Sitters Club is gearing up for comeback. The juggernaut book series for preteen girls had a run of 213 titles and 176 million books sold from 1986 to 2000. The revamped series will skew slightly younger than its original audience of 8-12 year old girls. The New York Times reports Scholastic is bringing out a new “prequel” by Ann M. Martin, the original author of the series, titled “The Summer Before.” One bookseller quoted by the Times thinks the retooled series will sell “really well to the girls who aren’t quite ready for vampires and particularly to the parents of the girls who aren’t quite ready.”
The re-released books will be getting a minor facelift to bring references to technology and fashions up to date. A“cassette player” has become “headphones” and a “perm” has become “an expensive hairstyle,” the Times notes. That’s already led to some grumbling. “If the series really is a classic then wouldn’t changing the text so Claudia can receive phantom texts rather than phantom phone calls be considered sacrilegious?” wonders Margaret Hartmann at the blog Jezebel. ”As a child I appreciated The Secret Garden without Mary taking a jet to Mr. Craven’s ’80s bachelor pad.”
If Scholastic is looking for ideas to update the series, former teacher Maureen Miller has some suggestions at her new blog, McReeney’s Thing on the Internet, rendered in pitch-perfect Baby-Sitters Club jacket copy blurbs:
#1: Kristy’s Great Idea
Kristy thinks the Baby-Sitters Club is a great idea. She and her friends Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne all love taking care of kids. A club will give them the chance to have lots of laughs–and get them into an academically competitive preparatory school of their choice. But nobody counted on alerts, questions about vaccinations, wild sexts, and parents who don’t always E-mail back. Having a baby-sitters club is hard work, but Kristy and her friends aren’t giving up until they get into Choate!
#8: Boy-Crazy Stacey
Things are great in the Jersey Shore: There’s a housing bust knocking down the rent on the beach house, erosion, plenty of mid-priced chains and lot parking… and the hottest guy Stacey has ever seen! Mary Anne knows that The Sitch is way too old for Stacey, but Stacey’s in luv. She fends off guidettes, fetches him brewskis, and spends all her time with him… instead of the kids. Suddenly, Mary Anne’s doing the work of the day and night nannies working off their undergraduate debt while they pursue master’s degrees, and she doesn’t like it one bit. But how can she tell Stacey that The Sitch isn’t interested–without breaking Stacey’s pride?