Note: I can write a book, but I can't figure out why the print size has changed periodically throughout this post. Sorry for the visual disruption!
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Whether it’s for early elementary or high school, concerning Literature, Informational Text, History/Social Studies, or Science and Technical Studies, Common Core Standard Six basically assesses how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
I thought it might be interesting for some educators to hear about how an author (me) dealt with this issue (or standard) for two of my books.
Unless a nonfiction book is memoir, it is typically written in third person. Unseen Rainbows, Silent Songs was my first book and I wrote it in second person. Many reviews mentioned that this was an interesting, effective, and unusual choice. I didn’t do it to be unusual; I didn’t know any better.
Or, let’s say I did it because it seemed like the best approach to the material. When you think about it, the point of view an author chooses is usually so she can accomplish the purpose she has set out for the book. As mentioned in last month’s blog, I wrote Unseen Rainbows because I wanted kids to understand that our world was just part of a whole world of colors and smells and sounds dancing beyond the threshold of our senses. I did so by creating vignettes of animals’ lives in this other world--from the rattlesnake who hunts with heat vision to the battles between bats and prey that are as loud as jackhammers but at a frequency too high for us to hear.
I worked hard to create a picture of this strange, exciting world. But it also seemed essential to anchor what happened outside our “world” by comparing it to our own. Even though the book begins with a picture of a little boy relaxing in the country night without a clue of the mysteries surrounding him, he was just my stand-in, my symbolic human presence. My text was addressed to the reader. And I wrote about your senses, not human senses, to bring you, my audience, into the story beside the rest of these creatures.
If a teacher wanted to use Unseen Rainbows, Silent Songs to concentrate on Standard Six in both Informational Text and Science, here are some ideas:
1. Read aloud the text on page 12, written primarily in second person. Then ask your students: What words would you use to describe this passage? How did it made you feel? What did it make you think about?
2. Read the section again,but now change the second person to third person singular or plural. If you want to use this as a writing exercise, ask your students to transpose the text from second to third. Then ask them: How do the passages feel different? Which do you like better? Why?
3. Point out that the text about the animals is in third person, but the primary narrative is in second person. Ask the kids for theories about why the author chose this voice and what effect she hoped to achieve. (See the answer above.)
4. For further enrichment, read aloud the section about the rattlesnake on page 20. Then reread this section, transposing it into past tense. Or, have your students do this as a written exercise (CCSS ELA Writing #1) Then ask them: Which version do you prefer? Why? How does the change in tense make you feel? Why do they think the author decided to write in present tense (making the story feel more immediate and dramatic, strengthening the connection between readers and the material, which increases the change they will remember and learn).
Fast forward many years and I wrote It’s a Dog’s Life. In many ways, my interests and goals for this book were the same. I wanted kids to marvel at the realization that the beloved pooch sharing their couch was living in a very different world than they were. This time, I wrote the book in first person and Joe, my mutt narrator, directly addresses the audience. It’s a variation on the theme, making the text even more immediate (and adding a few wrinkles I’ll address in a moment).
If you want to use It’s a Dog’s Life to work on Standard Six in both Informational Text and Science:
1. Pick some straightforward informational text about dogs to read aloud. A short example could be the introductory paragraph about dogs on http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/domestic-dog/#close-modal. Then read aloud the first two spreads of It’s a Dog’s Life. (A longer option is to first read the paragraphs on dogs’ senses of smell, sight, and hearing at http://www.petplace.com/dogs/just-for-kids-your-dog-s-senses/page1.aspx then the spreads in It’s a Dog’s Life that cover the same information).
2. While making a list of chart of your students' comments to refer back to, ask the kids: Which version do you like better? Why? How did the style of your preferred text contribute to your liking it better? Did you feel that this point of view helped you understand the information better? Feel more interested? Were there other advantages of one approach more than the other?
3. Finally ask your students: Why do you think each author chose their point of view? What effect did he or she hope it would create? Did it work?
5. For a little enrichment, point out that the Library of Congress classified It's a Dog's Life as nonfiction (SF426.5), which is what the author intended, but some people might not agree. Create a chart and have your students suggest points to support the statement that it is nonfiction (including the LOC classification, the author’s note in the bibliography, the cover’s statement, “Just the facts, none of the fleas, etc., every fact was researched and doublechecked (I swear!), etc.;” and arguments that it is fiction (dogs can’t speak English, Joe is a made-up character, etc.). Ask if there could be a third possibility: Can both be true at the same time?
6. Your students could turn this exploration into an essay supported with quotations and by citing specific examples (CCSS ELA Writing #1, 2, 4); a class debate (CCSS ELA Speaking 4, 5); or a podcast in which students record their points-of view (CCSS ELA Writing #1, 2, 4, 6).