Literature and Storytelling Are Alive and Well in Schools, Even as They Implement Higher Standards

The greater emphasis on informational text as schools implement higher standards “use less of the brain” than storytelling, argue Carol Barash, CEO of Story2 and David Kirkland, an assistant professor at New York University, Education Dive reports.

“Storytelling is a much more complicated process” than using informational text, Barash alleges. “There’s this very complex mental process that goes on… that critical and analytical writing isn’t doing.”

Kirkland echoes that position: “The thing that we miss out on [with informational text] is that within communities, African-American communities or Latino communities, storytelling is the achieved way of getting communication.”

However, literature and storytelling have not been pushed out of classrooms; both are still primary components of English language instruction. As states have implemented higher standards, most have begun to require 70 percent of upper-level instruction be informational texts. But those requirements are spread across all subjects, not just ELA.

PolitiFact previously gave a “False” rating to the idea that literature has been squeezed out of classrooms. “Depending on how a school is organized, it would be possible for an English teacher to never touch an information text,” says Timothy Shanahan, a retired professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli says such claims are “total baloney,” especially in early grades. “The ‘plain language’ of [states’] standards says that the early grades should focus primarily on literary texts. Some critiques of the standards, then, I find to be more fact-based than others.”

In testimony before the Ohio House Education Committee, Petrilli added the emphasis on non-fiction reading asks “schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music and literature… They ensure students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.”

Importantly, state and district educators determine what to teach in their classrooms and how to teach it. That has always been the case, but the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law last December and permanently replaced No Child Left Behind, further ensures that state authorities have control over those decisions.

That has created flexibility in schools and allows teachers to use creative instruction to help students build reading and writing skills. In Ohio’s Lakewood High School, for example, educators partnered with a local theater group to have students reenact scenes from literature – a program aligned with the state’s education standards.

“This program not only assists students in understanding and enjoying [Shakespeare], but it will also ensure increased student engagement, foster critical thinking skills, and enhance close reading skills,” explains Domenic Farinelli, a Lakewood teacher. “The residency program reaches students in a fun, hands-on way that allows them to learn while enjoying themselves.”

Such innovative approaches to English instruction are not unique to Lakewood. Last year, more than 20 State Teachers of the Year wrote that high, consistent education standards do not “force teachers into a rigid model for classroom instruction… In fact, under the Common Core, teachers have greater flexibility to design their classroom lessons – and can, for the first time, take advantage of the best practices from great teachers in other states.”

States’ commitment to high, comparable education standards is meant to ensure all students graduate high school prepared for college and careers. The increased focus on informational texts helps students build the critical thinking and analytical skills they need to do so. However, literature is a vital part of a well-rounded education, and it is still alive and well in schools.