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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 21, No. 1, September 2013

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Table of Contents

Issue Theme: Expanding the Canon: Virtue or Vice?

  • Call for Manuscripts [FREE ACCESS]

  • Editors' Message: Pathways to the Canon [FREE ACCESS]

    Diane Lapp, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey

  • Critiquing and Constructing Canons in Middle Grade English Language Arts Classrooms

    Amanda Haertling Thein and Richard Beach

    Abstract: Middle grade language arts teachers can expect to encounter an array of “canonizing” forces as they navigate their instructional choices, including awards programs, tests and textbooks, and— most recently—the Common Core State Standards. This article outlines some of those forces, illustrating how they serve to construct and perpetuate canons. It also offers an alternative framework for selecting texts—one that challenges teachers to work with their students to critique the narratives in the most common canons and to construct their own classroom canons that encourage students’ particular interests and identity needs. The authors conclude that such critique and construction has the potential to empower rather than limit students as they select, engage with, and construct literary texts.

  • 21st-Century Students Demand a Balanced, More Inclusive Canon [FREE ACCESS]

    Tonya B. Perry and B. Joyce Stallworth

    Abstract: Historically, the canon has been chosen by a “closed group” to determine the types of quality literature for our society. This limited list still exists in schools today, but an expansion of this prescribed inventory is essential for the 21st-century student who demands an understanding of a global society and current issues that require a deep analysis and evaluation of multiple types of texts.

  • Graphic Narratives and the Evolution of the Canon: Adapting Literature for a New Generation

    William J. Fassbender, Margaret Dulaney, and Carol A. Pope

    Abstract: Graphic narratives have been slowly trickling into English language arts classes throughout the United States, but few educators regard them as academic works with much value in the middle school classroom. This article explores the questions I had as a teacher when implementing graphic narratives for the first time in my classroom, such as: What is the best method to teach graphic narratives? What are the benefits/pitfalls of teaching outside of the traditional canon? What will middle level students think about reading a differentiated text? Do graphic narratives have a place within the traditional canon? With the guidance of Dr. Meg Dulaney, we studied the effects of graphic narratives with 25 eighth-grade honors language arts students.

  • The Image Becomes the Weapon: New Literacies and Canonical Legacies [FREE ACCESS]

    David E. Low and Gerald Campano

    Abstract: This article explores how texts not traditionally considered academic (such as comics) and texts often read in schools (such as canonical novels) have porous boundaries and are often informed by the same literary legacies. Drawing on a qualitative practitioner research study, we illustrate how African American naturalism, á la Richard Wright, finds its way into contemporary graphic novels as well as into the multimodal works produced by youth. Through the work of a fifth-grade student in a comics club, we highlight how graphic narratives may be seen as extensions of preexisting literary traditions, which students both inherit and invent.

  • The Power of Song: Exploring Cultural Relevance in the Eighth-Grade Classroom

    Emily Grater and Danielle Johnson

    Abstract: Engaging struggling learners in the language arts classroom can be an uphill battle. For these students, the traditional school canon of literature may lack meaning and relevance. This article details research on culturally relevant practices in the eighth-grade language arts classroom. These practices include the selection and utilization of culturally relevant texts, scaffolding with popular culture, the incorporation of new literacies, and instructional focus on students making personal connections with classroom content. The paper focuses on the use of songs and music videos in the secondary classroom and the impact of these practices on student engagement and achievement.

  • Teaching the (Uni)Verse: An Essay for Teachers of Languages, Texts, and Cultures

    David E. Kirkland

    Abstract: This article explores the "expanding universe of texts," arguing for new conceptions of literacies emblematic of new media, new cultures, new languages, and the absolution of new selves. The author maintains that teaching English language arts in the 21st century is tantamount to exploring a new frontier, an organic space that opposes the restrictions placed upon it by most standards documents. The author concludes that while new literacies are emerging, old literacies are being justified in ways that threaten the progressive course of civilization and that reflect prior systems of wrongs.

    Keywords: New Literacies Pedagogy, Common Core Standards, Digital Media, New English Education

  • Young Adult Literature: The Common Core Text Exemplars—A Worthy New Canon or Not? [FREE ACCESS]

    Barbara Moss

    Abstract: This column evaluates the text exemplars found in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards in terms of what role they will assume in classrooms, how the books were selected, and the inclusion and exclusion of particular works. Criticisms of the text exemplars related to five areas are addressed: 1) the over-inclusion of classics; 2) the lack of contemporary fiction and informational titles; 3) limited representation of multicultural titles; and 4) the lack of match between titles recommended for particular grade levels and existing grade-level curricula. The integration of text exemplars into the Common Core Curriculum Maps is cited as a means of identifying effective classroom uses for these titles.

  • Teaching the Common Core: Essential Understandings as We Implement the Standards

    Maureen McLaughlin

    Abstract: As we continue to implement the Common Core State Standards, we need to ponder several vital issues. These include how the Standards relate to school curricula, what text complexity is and how we can integrate it into our teaching, what the nature of close reading is and how we can use it to engage students in deep comprehension, and what constitutes rich instructional tasks and how we can create them. As our students strive to meet the expectations of the Common Core, we need to thoughtfully examine the Standards, carefully integrate them into our teaching, and work together to help our students succeed.

  • CODA: The Power of Pleasure: What about Helping Students Forge Their Own Reading Lives?

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm

    Abstract: In this thought-provoking column, Wilhelm asks us to consider this premise: We are focusing too much on the what and not enough on the why and the how of reading. In pondering this idea, Wilhelm notes convincing research that challenges assumptions that quality is exclusive to canonical literature and that students don’t engage the “big” questions when reading non-canonical literature. If literature is a “transaction” and if the meaning of reading occurs in the transaction of reader and text, then we should focus on the meaning readers get from their textual experiences, as well as the power and nature of the various pleasures of these experiences. The commentary concludes by arguing that good readers are good because they read a lot, and that students will only read a lot if they find their reading meaningful and pleasurable.

  • News and Notes: The Canon and the Conundrum

    Shelbie Witte

    Abstract: Witte, a Middle Level Section Steering Committee member, knows that teachers are experts when it comes to curriculum and the needs of their particular students in any given year. But she also knows that knowledge and experience can be shared to make every teacher stronger, more confident, and more knowledgeable in complicated times. She encourages readers to take every opportunity to interact with colleagues and share success stories. It’s the best way—perhaps the only way—to move the canon conundrum forward and serve our widely varied students.

* Journal articles are provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

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