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Voices from the Middle--Moving from Print to Practice, September 2013 (21.1) - Previous Revision

This Issue’s Focus: Pathways to the Canon

The editors ask us to consider the following questions in this issue: Should the canon be expanded? Have the rationales for canon inclusions changed? If so, why? What type of instruction connects students with the literary canon? As we extend this issue, we can also consider the needs of young adolescents in relationship to the canon. How do we balance the cultural literacy perspectives that often influence the composition of the canon and its inclusion in middle grades classrooms with the need of young adolescents to see themselves and their world reflected in what they read?

Consider how middle grades are defined in your state licensure structure or in your school district’s building configuration. When we think about works that are included in the traditional canon, we often name works that are better suited—based on reading level and topic—for a high school audience. What does the canon in middle grades mean to you? Many authors in this issue suggest using contemporary young adult literature as steps toward or companion texts to complement the traditional canon.

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“Critiquing and Constructing Canons in Middle Grade English Language Arts Classrooms” by Amanda Haertling Thein and Richard Beach

General Discussion Topic

This article discusses the many “canonizing” forces that middle grade teachers face. High school curriculum is often guided by the College Board and the Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition exam, where titles included as preparation for the AP exam often filter down into middle grades. The authors cite other forces, such as the Newbery Medal and Printz Award, as canonizing forces for middle grade reading lists. Many educators are concerned that the text exemplars in the Common Core State Standards will represent a coming canon of required reading at all grade levels. How can teachers work as advocates for young adolescents against some of these canonizing forces to ensure that students have access to a wide range of reading materials that meet their developmental, emotional, social, and academic needs?

Key Points
•    Middle grade teachers can expect to encounter an array of “canonizing” forces as they navigate their instructional choices.
•    Student voices are typically not loud enough in teachers’ consideration of texts.
•    As students develop skills in critiquing the construction of the young adult literary canon, teachers might challenge them to consider both classic and contemporary canons.
•    Reading counter-canonical narratives can lead students to write their own stories for inclusion in the classroom canon—stories that challenge and complicate the underlying value assumptions constituting prototypical character traits and actions.
Common Core Connections
Text Exemplars are included in the Common Core State Standards within grade-level bands. (See Appendix B of the Standards for all text exemplars.)
Grades 6–8 Stories:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
Dragonwings by Laurence Yep
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
“The People Could Fly” by Virginia Hamilton
The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson
“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
Black Ships before Troy: The Story of the Iliad by Rosemary Sutcliff
(Check out the free Common Core app from for all text exemplars.)
Using This Article with Your Team
Examine the list of text exemplars in informational texts. Canonizing forces can work in all content areas, not just language arts. How can you help your colleagues to incorporate more informational texts into their classrooms, but not use these lists as required readings? Can you lead all of your colleagues to advocate for a wide variety of reading and not be limited to the lists in the Common Core? How does this list of exemplars align with your state standards in math, science, and social studies?

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