For several years the City of New Haven has been using the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills as a criteria for evaluating its students. Each year on the Reading Section of the test, students show a deficiency in the areas of generalizations and inference.
This deficiency shows an inability on the part of students to comprehend the “whole” of what they are reading. Their understanding is limited to the literal and the simple recollection of factual details.
One way to improve students’ ability in the areas of forming generalizations and inferences is by exposing students to the elements of the short story.
This unit is designed to be used by English and Reading teachers in the seventh and eighth grades.
We have selected classic short stories which are available at a lower reading level as well as their original form. Each story can be used with high achieving students in its original form and is available in a form with a readability level of third, fourth or fifth grade for use with lower achieving students.
All stories mentioned in this unit are available in books which are currently being used in the New Haven School System.
By providing classic stories available on varying reading levels, we can give all students equal exposure to works of merit and hopefully bridge the gap which exists between high and low achievers. Too often our low achieving students are provided with reading material which was written for an eight year old. This material is not of interest to a seventh or eighth grader even though his ability to read may well be that of an eight year old.
We intend to expose students to the elements of the short story. For each element we will provide both reading and writing activities which revolve around that element. These activities can be used as a means of evaluating the students’ understanding of that element.
As previously mentioned the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills has been a major focus of the New Haven School System as one means of measuring students’ levels of competency particularly in the areas of math, reading, vocabulary, language arts and visual materials. The school system has also implemented a city-wide base three and base six test in the last two years to assess students’ level of competency in the areas of math, reading and language arts. The sixth grade proficiency test also includes a sample of writing from each student that is holistically scored as does the state-wide proficiency test for ninth grade. The latter is soon to be administered to eighth grade students instead. It is imperative that students read and write more effectively. We believe our unit will afford teachers and students another means of combining both goals effectively and using one to complement the other.
The reading and writing of the short story is similar to the development of a fine athlete. The reading of the short story is knowing the rules of the sport and the writing allows the student to actively participate in the game. The refinement of students’ skills like that of an athlete will improve with consistent, meaningful practice. We believe as teachers we must provide the
(selective short stories), make clear the
(understanding the elements of the short story), and allow for consistent
(student writing that focuses on character development—setting—plot—theme and point of view). The students will then be better prepared to win the game. If the
is well maintained, the
clearly understood, and the
meaningful with feedback, everyone wins in this game especially the
We believe students should write for themselves and others. It is critical that students at the middle and high school level, specifically grades seven through twelve, edit their papers and those of other students. We are opposed to students focusing on the teacher as the sole audience. The teacher is only one source of feedback for students. We need to encourage students to use others as viable and valuable resources and audiences.
The New Haven Board of Education has clearly focused on the importance of writing as an integral part of the educational curriculum and specifically addresses this issue by establishing a policy on student writing. Following are excerpts from the final policy on writing as adopted by the New Haven Board of Education:
ln grades 7-12 the goal shall be to develop in all students functional writing skills in accordance with their ability.
At the intermediate level, the skills taught in the primary grades shall be maintained and expanded. Emphasis should be placed on paragraph structure and the effective organization of written materials. It is expected, at this level, that children will be able to write at least a one-page story or composition, each week using the skills developed in the writing program.
At the middle and high school levels, students shall make written records of what is read, discussed, and observed. Students with sufficient mastery of writing skills will work on essays, source of themes and reports. All students will be involved in creative writing.
The culminating activity of this unit is the students’ original short story. This story will be read by another student who will fill out an activity sheet to determine whether or not the story contains all of the elements.