Just in time for Halloween!
For those of you who don’t know, I’m referring to a document that should have been distributed to each teacher in TVDSB last year. It outlines the specific direction schools are supposed to take in order to improve literacy and numeracy.
There’s a little phrase in this document sent down shivers down the spines of secondary English teachers across the board, and the phrase is this:
“It is expected that all teachers should eliminate novel studies which focus on the use of one class novel irrespective of students’ reading levels. Students should read text at their independent level during novel studies.”
What does this mean exactly?
I know a lot of teachers were looking for clarification on this, myself included.
What do they mean by novel study?
Does this mean I can’t teach No Great Mischief to my 4Us?
And then the questions got really complicated:
One class novel? So what? I have to teach seven different ones now? At the same time?
Independent reading level? So I can have one kid do a novel study on The Outsiders and another do a novel study on Ulysses and they can both get level 4s?
If a kid can’t read at a grade 12 level, what is she doing in a 4U class?
Deep breath here, folks.
I have problems with the language in this document too, but I don’t have a problem with what I see as being the spirit behind the language. And I think the general idea is this: we don’t want to see a grade nine applied student become disengaged, or fail a course entirely, because a huge chunk of his mark was based on some reading comprehension questions written in 1973 and published in the back of Of Mice and Men. That being said, I think that such a situation is rare. I heard many offended teachers remark that they felt like the board was assuming that the term “novel study” meant that teachers were simply assigning reading and assigning comprehension questions.
The whole “independent reading level” issue was very contentious as well, and frankly, I don’t even know what to say about it right now.
I think there are a couple of core issues at the heart of this though, that we really need to think about:
1) Do we teach novels? Or are novels the tools that use to teach the curriculum expectations?
- This is really hard for English teachers, because although I think many of them would agree with the second question, we have very strong ideas about “The Classics”.
- It’s also an issue of time and practicality. No one wants to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch, and moving away from the “novel study” as I grew up with it, has huge ramifications for classroom management and assessment. We need support for this (I think that’s my job. Gulp!)
2) Do we use novel studies to assess reading ability?
- If so, then having leveled texts and assigning the same mark is not fair.
- If not, then can we use leveled texts to achieve the same goals?
- Are novel studies the best vehicles for improving our students abilities to think critically?
- Aren’t we really just concerned about this in terms of our senior academic classes?
3) Finally, do we really want clearer wording from the board on this?
- The word used here is “should.” All teachers “should” do this. But I can see situations where depending on a hierarchy of needs in the classroom, this may not be top priority.
- If there isn’t clearer wording, then I think teachers, department heads, and principals get to use their professional judgement in deciding what a “novel study” is, and how they will address statement in their own classes, departments, and schools. And I think they’re really in the best positions to do this.
They’re just words, my friends. Words, words words. We English teachers are awfully good with making meaning from words. Let’s do that the best way we know how, while keeping in mind the goal: Helping our students achieve success in whatever ways we can.