Literacy and ELA standards often call to mind skills like fluency, phonemic awareness, or vocabulary knowledge — but literature has the potential to be so much more than a vehicle for practical instruction.
While the research around empathy and the social emotional consequences of reading fiction is mixed, the work of Ph.D. student and researcher MG Prezioso points toward the feelings of excitement and curiosity that are often sparked when children connect emotionally with a story.
“There’s an element of enchantment or absorption that happens because you’re so immersed and invested in a story and so there’s a gateway that’s opened to deeper content and concepts,” she says. These concepts include questions of justice and morality presented in ethical dilemmas faced by characters or the potential to develop an understanding of abstract ideas like love, friendship, or jealousy. “I’m invested in having kids read fiction because it points us towards and enables this nuanced, textured understanding of the world we live in.”
Move Beyond the Text
But, Prezioso notes, when she looks at standards for English Language Arts curriculum, many of them ask students to engage in “fact-finding,” or tracking down a particular moment in the text.
While not necessarily bad teaching, questions that only require students to refer back to the text miss out on a valuable opportunity for students to map the abstract and ethical dilemmas embedded in the text onto their lived experience. What’s more, students need to be asked questions that encourage interpretation and deeper understanding by asking them to combine elements of a story — character, language, drama — to inform their understanding.