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Canon of texts?!

Discussion in 'English' started by woopsy, Aug 5, 2011.

  1. I was on a Ruth Miskin course a few weeks ago to look at her intervention programmes (anyone used 'fresh start' as an extra thought? I'm not convinced at the mo) but one of the things she mentioned that I have been mulling over is the 'canon of texts.' I know this could be a bit Gove-ish so I don't want to start a political debate, I would just be interested if anyone already has core texts that are repeated over the course of the year or some core texts that are read in each year? Moving into Year 6 for the first time, I have just been looking at some of the books I want us to enjoy as classreaders during the year but there are some members of staff that either read one book over and over each year or dont read to there class often enough, if at all (I know!)
    As English coordinator, one thing I was thinking of doing was giving each year group (we are a junior school) a list of books I would like them to read over the course of the year, making sure they are exposed to a range of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books etc. Has anyone done anything like this at their own school?
    So far, Year 6 was thinking Holes/Boy in the Girls Bathroom, 5 children and it, the listeners, kensukes kingdom/private peaceful, old possums book of practical cats perhaps?, the red tree?
    I'd appreciate any advice on texts to use or if you have apporached something similar in your school, how you went about it. Thanks!
     
  2. I was on a Ruth Miskin course a few weeks ago to look at her intervention programmes (anyone used 'fresh start' as an extra thought? I'm not convinced at the mo) but one of the things she mentioned that I have been mulling over is the 'canon of texts.' I know this could be a bit Gove-ish so I don't want to start a political debate, I would just be interested if anyone already has core texts that are repeated over the course of the year or some core texts that are read in each year? Moving into Year 6 for the first time, I have just been looking at some of the books I want us to enjoy as classreaders during the year but there are some members of staff that either read one book over and over each year or dont read to there class often enough, if at all (I know!)
    As English coordinator, one thing I was thinking of doing was giving each year group (we are a junior school) a list of books I would like them to read over the course of the year, making sure they are exposed to a range of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, picture books etc. Has anyone done anything like this at their own school?
    So far, Year 6 was thinking Holes/Boy in the Girls Bathroom, 5 children and it, the listeners, kensukes kingdom/private peaceful, old possums book of practical cats perhaps?, the red tree?
    I'd appreciate any advice on texts to use or if you have apporached something similar in your school, how you went about it. Thanks!
     
  3. GloriaSunshine

    GloriaSunshine New commenter

    Is this a reference to Harold Bloom rather than Gove? Or did she mean that teachers or schools should draw up their own? I have been in schools (Secondary) where reading lists for each year group have been drawn up in response to requests from parents but they have been just that. Personally, I'm happy when kids read anything and try to guide them to reading something that I think they'll like but, in Secondary, more than that is difficult. In primary it would be easier because you see the pupils more. But I think you have to be clear about your objectives because the likelihood is that keen readers may read something that they wouldn't have considered but others will take home a wider range of texts that they don't read.
     
  4. The term "canon" was adopted from theology. In the Early Christian period, there were many texts of a religious nature in circulation, some Jewish and some Christian. the question facing the Church was, "which of these texts are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and which are merely of human authorship?". Criteria of discrimination were drawn up and a list was compiled of the inspired works. This list was called the "canon".
    English literature has a similar problem. Millions of works in English have been published, only a small fraction of which deserve and sort of serious critical study. So which works are worthy of attention and which are not? Unlike in theology there's no formal list of "inspired" versus "uninspired" work, and the existence of marginal texts, unlike in theology, doesn't present any sort of theoretical problem. But there's de facto a list.
    When we come to children's literature we have additional issues. There are some children's books, like Alice in Wonderland, which are clearly also canonical in the literary sense. But there aren't really enough of them to base a school curriuclum around. And many children are poor readers. So there a need for a reading list which includes works which, we know, are either ephemeral or of no real interest to adults. But we don't want to simply accept any literature which some publisher sees fit to publish into the schoolroom.
    Finally, you've got the reading list. The reading list is usually taken from the canon, but it doesn't include all the works in the canon, and it might include some additional material which is acknowledged to be not particualarly valuable in itself, but might provide background or context for canonical works.


     
  5. jarndyce

    jarndyce Occasional commenter

    It's interesting to note that Holes and Private Peaceful are texts commonly studied at KS3 - in fact I think Holes is specifically cited in an example Year 8 scheme of work in a NLS site! I'm not particularly bothered, and indeed these texts are certainly accessible to the average Year 6.



    It was a little frustrating last year when my Year 7s who came from the same feeder school proudly remarked "ooh we did Goodnight Mr Tom last year!" (though it was interesting to see that even 'second time round' half of them needed help in understanding it!). My favourite example of "I done this in Year 6", however, was a Year 9 boy who reckoned he'd "done" Macbeth... ;)



    I've not encountered any problems with a class who have already read through a particular text one or more years back. My only niggling doubt, however, is whether texts such as Holes and Private Peaceful are intrinsically worth studying more than once. They are both great books and I think all kids should have the chance to read them (and, in their own time, why not re-read!?!) - but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that very few texts really deserve to be formally taught at part of English more than once in a child's KS2/KS3 career.



    Anyway - that's not on topic or, probably, very helpful: just that the mention of a few KS3 texts got my attention. Does your school mainly feed into a single secondary? If so, emailing their head of English to avoid any overlap might be a good thing.


    More to the point: I think there's absolutely no harm in giving a reading list. I print out a 'reading list' for Year 7 and one for Years 8 and 9, and give it to all my students. This is mostly picked out from various other school websites which publish theirs. I particularly like ones that are organised by topic (eg School, Animals, Historical), and one thing I'm trying to do is "If you like this, you'll like..." with suggestions for further reading on a similar writer or topic, if they particularly enjoy a text.
     
  6. That's a very understandable mistake.

     
  7. sunflower48

    sunflower48 New commenter

    I agree about the KS3 texts. If you look on the standards site they have a list of recommended KS3 texts. Although I agree that these could be read in Year 6, in KS3 we actually study them over a term, completing various tasks as we read thorough the text. It is very frustrating when we get students who do say oh we read this in Year 6 and know the ending and then spoil this for the others. I particularly think of Private Peaceful here, this is studied in November, to link in with Remembrance Day. I would ask that you avoid KS3 texts, it's not that I think KS2 can't cope with them, it is more that I only have class sets of these books - Private Peaceful, Holes, etc - and with the budgets as they are will not be allowed to purchase others!!!
    I do agree with you that it is good that children do just listen to a range of texts for the sheer pleasure of it, Morpurgo does some fantastic books for reading aloud. But then again there are many wonderful poetry, plays etc to share as well.
    Good luck I think your idea is good, now all you need is for everyone in your school to get on board with your idea.
     

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