Using Authentic Literature to Develop Challenging and Integrated Curriculum

By Ciecierski, Lisa M.; Bintz, William P. | Middle School Journal, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Using Authentic Literature to Develop Challenging and Integrated Curriculum


Ciecierski, Lisa M., Bintz, William P., Middle School Journal


Dr. William Alexander, a noted curriculum authority and a central founder of the middle school movement, shared in a presentation in 1963 that teachers must have a goal of stimulating a "love for learning, an attitude of inquiry, a passion for truth and beauty, a questioning of mind" (National Middle School Association, 2010, pp. 3-4). He asserted, "Learning the right answers is not enough. . . beyond answers alone, we must help children ask the right questions, and discover their answers through creative thinking, reasoning, judging, and understanding." (NMSA, 2010, pp. 3-4). Although Alexander was quoting a belief statement from Winnetka Public Schools in Illinois where he was a superintendent, his words remain inspirational today to middle grades teachers across the country-including those of us who read the pages of thisjournal-and Alexander's ideals have been influential in the development of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) position paper, This We Believe.

We know that developing challenging and integrated curriculum so foundational to successful middle school is not easy; it is messy and in and of itself, challenging. What makes it even more challenging is that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) emphasize that students must be given opportunities to grapple with "works of exceptional craft and thought" (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010, p. 35). The range of these works must not only extend across genres but also across culture and across time. Both challenges must be accepted.

This article responds to This We Believe by describing one attempt to develop challenging and integrated curriculum. It also responds to CCSS by describing how authentic literature can be used with instructional strategies to support learning across the curriculum.

This article shares a brief review of related literature. Next, instructional strategies to use with authentic literature are shared. The article concludes with final thoughts about using authentic literature to develop challenging and integrated curriculum.

Authentic literature's scholarly context

While no single, simple definition for authentic literature exists in the Literacy Dictionary (Harris 8c Hodges, 1995), we know that authentic texts are published for a wide audience beyond schools (i.e., the general public) and includes varied forms such as picture books, novels, and informational text. Much professional literature indicates that when teachers use authentic literature in the classroom, good things happen. For example, when teachers use authentic literature, student motivation, enthusiasm, and interest increases (Billman, 2002; Broemmel 8c Rearden, 2006; Chick, 2006; Lindquist, 2002; Soalt, 2005; Zambo, 2005). Students are highly engaged and often extend learning opportunities on their own. Students' vocabulary increases significantly when teachers use authentic literature (Fang 8c Wei, 2010; Gareis, Allard, 8c Saindon, 2009). This is due to the fact that authentic literature includes rich language, both figurative and informational. Teachers can use this rich language to help students analyze, among other things, word families, study prefixes, suffixes, and roots; learn synonyms, antonyms, and paraphrases; and explore idioms, collocations, and registers (Gareis, et al., 2009). In short, the language of authentic literature has keen relevance to the everyday language used by young adolescents in the communities where they reside.

In addition, when teachers use authentic literature, students learn content area material more efficiently and effectively. George 8c Stix (2000) refer to this as helping content area material come alive. Moreover, authentic literature engages students' in higher order thinking skills (George 8c Stix, 2000; Villano, 2005) and maximizes students' understanding of the specific content being studied (Atkinson, Matusevich, 8c Huber, 2009; Shelley, 2007; Taliaferro, 2009; Villano, 2005). …

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