With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature

By Lain, Sheryl | English Journal, July 2016 | Go to article overview

With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature


Lain, Sheryl, English Journal


With Rigor for All: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature Carol Jago. 2nd ed. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

I am alarmed about trends affecting secondary English teachers' classrooms. So I reread Carol Jago's With Rigor for All to revisit her commonsense ideas about what and how to teach English today.

With Rigor for All is an important book for secondary English teachers to read and share with colleagues. It reassures me, a veteran English teacher and teacher leader, to read Jago's vision of what and how an English teacher teaches.

In our present climate, I am distressed about the politicizing of our curriculum, the proliferation of objective tests and assessments dictated from outside the classroom, and many teachers' backgrounds that seem to lack grounding in a literary canon, even a loose one, that gives students some common knowledge as well as a much-needed historical and sociological perspective about the human journey.

Jago's book is an excellent corrective to current policy directions. It might have given one English teacher I know the support to counter her principal's request to abandon a poetry unit in favor of more nonfiction.

In her book, Jago supports an English curriculum where all students read literature including the classics and contemporary texts. Step into her room in September and students are reading The Odyssey; in the winter they are reading Julius Caesar (29). "Rich literature allows students to appreciate the universality of human experience" (67), she says, and her book is filled with ideas to help modern students keep turning the pages, engage in rich discussion, and write creatively and analytically. Jago asks students to read contemporary literature for independent reading, but she warns that this diet alone can mean that students "only consume books about teenagers caught up in the very same dilemmas they themselves face, [and] they miss the chance to experience other lives" (1).

Thus, she argues for teaching the canon using direct instruction with strong support for contemporary students who spend seven hours a day on their electronic devices instead of reading literature. I wish all secondary English teachers, whether they teach ESL, special education, AP or basic courses, had a grounding in serious literature, texts similar to those Jago mentions, including a survey of American and British Literature. I find many people who teach English classes come to their jobs with scant background in literature or with some form of alternative certification. If their own secondary courses did not inform them about the traditional content of English class, and if they did not major in English or English education, how can these teachers expose their students to the kind of rigorous literature Jago describes? …

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