Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun
reviewed by Lauren Capotosto - July 18, 2016
Title: Using Informational Text to Teach A Raisin in the Sun
Author(s): Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475821549, Pages: 219, Year: 2016
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In their preface to Using Informational Text to Teach a Raisin in the Sun, Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle note that teachers have long taught Lorraine Hansberrys pioneering work as a text that speaks to the universal dreams and aspirations of every American family (p. x). Yet this drama, classified as an eleventh grade Common Core Standards exemplar text, also highlights inequities related to race, class, and gender. Fisch and Chenelle argue that without understanding the social, historical, cultural, and political contexts of the play, students will fail to deeply comprehend the complexity of these themes. In discussing the likely fate of the Youngers family during an interview with Studs Terkel in 1959, Hansberry noted the ways in which comprehension of time and place impacts interpretation: If he thinks thats a happy ending, I invite him to come live in one of the communities where the Youngers are going (Hansberry, 1984).
In this second book of their Using Informational Text to Teach Literature series, Fisch and Chenelle offer a wide range of texts that challenge students to reconsider the happy ending interpretation. These readings vary in complexity and genre and encourage students to think critically about social issues addressed in Raisin, including womens reproductive rights, current and historical housing discrimination practices, white cultural dominance, economic mobility, and racial violence. From excerpts of a Supreme Court decision to a recent United States Department of Housing and Urban Development report, the authors carefully select informational texts that deepen students understanding of both the plays larger context and its current relevance.
While some educators contend that the Common Cores shift toward more informational texts detracts from the study of literature, the readings included in the book generally enhance students understanding of the drama. Excerpts from scholarly texts on the history of illegal abortions offer students a better understanding of Ruths feelings of despair upon discovering an unplanned pregnancy. Selections from bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Andrea Benton Rushing shed light on the differing perspectives and cultural significance of Beneathas hair. The authors use Lyndon B. Johnsons commencement address at Howard University, To Fulfill These Rights, to contextualize Raisin within the Civil Rights Movement and motivate the question of how context shaped the lives of the Youngers. Fisch and Chenelles book motivates a purpose for incorporating informational texts in the ELA classroom and offers a model for integrating fiction and nonfiction in the classroom.
In addition to addressing gaps in students background knowledge, Using Informational Text to Teach a Raisin in the Sun provides teachers with a range of tools to address the Common Core Standards' instructional shifts in English language arts. Discussion questions, writing prompts, graphic organizers, and culminating class activities give students ample practice reading across multiple texts, a literacy task that is referred to 80 times in the Common Core Standards (Shanahan, 2013). Vocabulary warm-up exercises involving the use of context clues, dictionary skills, morphology practice, and student application of words through vocabulary skits promote exploration of cross-content and high-utility academic words. By building background information and vocabulary skills, the authors address the knowledge-based competencies that strongly influence reading comprehension in adolescence (Lesaux, 2012). Fisch and Chenelles focus on text-dependent argumentation is reflected in their sample evaluation rubrics and both open-ended and multiple-choice comprehension questions. Although the authors place a strong emphasis on gaining insight through informational texts, they also recommend that several relevant media links can be used to motivate student interests in the drama and informational texts.
Though the authors offer a range of teacher resources, educators will likely need to go beyond the book to accomplish all of their instructional goals when teaching Raisin and the informational texts. The authors acknowledge this point and encourage teachers to modify resources, create their own materials, and integrate the units into their curriculum as appropriate. For instance, given that several key vocabulary words are included in just one or two warm-up exercises, teachers will need to provide several more exposures for students to develop a strong understanding of the terms (Lawrence, Maher, & Snow, 2013). In addition, since guiding questions about the key ideas, authors craft, and integration of knowledge are highly contextualized within each text set, educators will want to find opportunities to explicitly teach the critical reading skills emphasized throughout the book for transfer (Fogarty, Perkins, & Barell, 1992). Furthermore, while the authors heavy emphasis on text-dependent questions and text-based answers is consistent with the Common Core Standards, incorporating other legitimate sources of information, such as prior knowledge, moral judgment, (and) social norms (Snow & OConnor, 2013, p. 3) into class discussions can further promote student engagement with texts. Teachers will need to explore the line between providing sufficient background information through informational texts and giving secondary students an opportunity to construct meaning from these texts by drawing from their own ideas and experiences.
Fisch and Chenelle provide teachers and students with opportunities to engage in discussions pertaining to inequalities and inequities, although their purpose is not to train teachers to facilitate critical conversations regarding race and socioeconomic status. Discussion prompts are useful for introducing social justice issues, but educators with less preparation and experience facilitating difficult conversations about race, class, and gender may need more guidance. Teachers who embrace a critical pedagogical approach to instruction may want to go beyond the recommended text-based activities, such as rewriting a new ending, and prompt students to take action against these injustices or delve more deeply into the issues that are covered.
Given the emphasis on increased informational reading across content areas, the authors encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. Although they focus largely on the tasks that ELA teachers might incorporate, social studies teachers could use select informational texts, such as a 1950s Chicago Commission on Human Relations report, to explicitly teach the norms for reading critically, writing persuasively, and communicating effectively in their discipline. Future books in the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature series might provide guidance for teachers outside the ELA classroom to teach texts through discipline-specific lenses (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).
In a discussion on using multiple texts in the classroom, Shanahan (2013) suggests that one of the most challenging aspects of this educational goal is selecting text sets that, taken together, provide a complex yet cohesive learning experience (p. 159). Fisch and Chenelle have performed the time-consuming legwork to identify appropriately complex and relevant informational texts to pair with Raisin. As a result, they have provided a range of resources to scaffold students thinking as they make connections across readings.
Fogarty, R., Perkins, D., & Barell, J. (1992). How to teach for transfer. Palatine, IL: Skylight Publishing.
Hansberry, L. (1984). Make new sounds: Studs Terkel interviews Lorraine Hansberry. American Theater, 6.
Lawrence, J. F., Maher, B., & Snow, C. E. (2013). Research in vocabulary: Word power for content-area learning. In J. Ippolito, J. F. Lawrence, & C. Zaller (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the era of the common core (pp. 6171). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Lesaux, N. K. (2012). Reading and reading instruction for children from low-income and non-English-speaking households. The Future of Children, 22(2), 7388.
Shanahan, C. (2013). Research in multiple texts and text support. In J. Ippolito, J. F. Lawrence, &C. Zaller (Eds.), Adolescent literacy in the era of the Common Core (pp. 143162). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Shanahan, T. & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 4059.
Snow, C. E. & OConnor, C. (2013). Close reading and far-reaching classroom discussion: Fostering a vital connection. Policy Brief from the Literacy Research Panel of the International Reading Association, 8.