A good literature program in the middle school should expose students to a wide variety of genres, writing styles, and themes. If students are to improve their ability to make valid judgements about literature, they must experience good books, investigating and discussing what it is about books that make them memorable. Mysteries allow children to become involved in the solutions of devious crimes through vivid character descriptions and clues. Using the skills of observation, creative thinking, and imagination, students who become successful at solving these mysteries along with the clever detective, will come to enjoy this genre.
Reading is just one of the Language Arts. Writing, speaking, and listening are integral components of an effective program. Literature encourages the oral exchange of ideas and the development of the thought processes. Speaking and listening allow students to react verbally and respond to different aspects of what is read. Responding to literature in writing engages students in processing the information read and transferring the ideas in his mind to paper.
Margaret Hunsberger comments in the
Journal of Readinq
that, “If reading gives us ideas and provides food for thought, then writing facilitates the development of that thought: indeed it makes possible a kind of thinking that cannot be achieved otherwise. A closely reasoned philosophic or scientific argument must be developed through writing. m e original idea may be entirely in the mind, but its full development can evolve only as the thinking is done through writing.”
Strong evidence of the need to combine reading, thinking, and writing is also available in the results of “ m e National Assessment of Educational Progress in Reading and Literature” (1979-80). This report suggests that students be taught a “variety of problem-solving strategies. Instruction in such skills should be systematic, rather than accidental.”
The report also suggests that students be given opportunities to write extensively in response to what they read. This integrated teaching of reading comprehension and writing necessarily leads to teaching higher thought processes.
The detective, through the use of logic and reason, and his/her superior intelligence, intuition, or imagination, can and does solve a given crime before the police, or indeed the reader himself can solve it. When the student can be directed to relate his/her feelings and experiences to those of the victim, do a character analysis of the suspects, list and classify the physical evidence, note irregular details in the setting, anticipate the strategies of the detective, and express these findings both orally and in writing, comprehension is achieved and the critical thinking skills are fully engaged.
We are reminded so often that good science education fosters, within the student, an attitude of curiosity and a desire for understanding. E is is evident in a teacher’s interactions with students in tackling scientific issues. Likewise, the detective story satisfies our natural curiosities by helping to solve a mystery.
I have discovered many remarkable analogies between the detective and the scientist. Scientific thinking involves the skills a person uses to approach problems. Scientists depend on several variables that may either be explicit or somewhat hidden. This manner of thinking moves forward gradually, beginning with the skill of observation followed by the other skills used in modeling the scientific method. m e detective also uses these skills and methods in his work. Scientific thinking is akin to puzzle solving; those who are the most successful at it show an independence of thought, a concentrated effort, attention to detail, and a willingness to take risks. The detective, they will find, takes a similar approach in solving a case. Hence, a merging of the scientific method and detective science seem desirable.
Science begins when you ask a question. Applied science is used to solve everyday problems. Students need to feel free to ask questions about their universe, their world and their own lives, and grope for answers. We must teach students how to use the scientific method and apply these science skills to answer the questions about life and the global community.
In 1843 Sir James Graham, the British Home Secretary, added a new word to the English language. He selected several of his best police officers and made a special unit of them which he called “The Detective Police,”
thus giving for the first time the title “detective” to the man whose job was to deduce the criminal from the clues left behind. In taking this step, Graham seemed to recognize a special skill that had been hitherto ignored. The skills used by these individuals are the same skills used by the scientist.
Both the scientist and the detective use reasoning skills—both inductive and deductive. In that reasoning means solving a problem by thinking about it, the student is directed to investigate science problems by first putting together ideas and facts that have been learned in the past. In education theory, prior knowledge is considered key to not only generating interest but making the most of the information and experiences that surround the students. The scientific method links prior knowledge to new information to help students build an increasing sense of how it relates to their experiences. The detective, when embarking upon a case, looks at the initial evidence and analyzes it based upon what he already knows about human behavior and physical evidence. Students will study the behavior of the detective and relate it to that of the scientist—becoming “Science Detectives.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the leading general scientific society in the world
. “Project 206129 is a long-term initiative of the AAAS to reform K-12 education in natural and social science, mathematics, and technology. m e Project promotes literacy in these areas in order to help people live interesting, responsible, and productive lives. “Science literacy requires understandings and habits of mind that enable citizens to grasp what those enterprises are up to, to make some sense of how . . . the world works, to think critically and independently, to recognize and weigh alternative explanations of events and design trade-offs, and to deal sensibly with problems that involve evidence, numbers, patterns, logical arguments, and uncertainties.”
Among the specific recommendations of this group is that all students leave high school with an awareness of what the scientific endeavor is and how it relates to their culture and their lives. Other AAAS guidelines for learning state that students should know that:
-scientific knowledge is subject to modification as new information challenges prevailing theories and as a new theory leads to looking at old observations in a new way.
-scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant evidence, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected evidence.
-new ideas in science sometimes spring from unexpected findings and usually lead to new investigations.
The detective novel can be a unique tool to use to parallel the scientific method. As the detective investigates the case, new clues lead to different avenues of investigation. Using the methods of observing, classifying, organizing, inferring, predicting, using variables, hypothesizing, analyzing, interpreting data, and drawing conclusions, the detective thinks like a scientist.
The basic steps in solving word problems are: (1) Understand the situation; (2) Analyze the data; (3) Plan the solution; (4) Estimate the answer; (5) Solve the problem; and (6) Examine the answer. The methods used by the detective to solve a crime can readily be compared to these steps. The solution of problems that are real requires systematic organized thinking.
According to Richard Copeland, “Teachers of 11-12 year-olds need to be conscious of the fact that it is propositional-type thinking that they should foster as the child moves to the stage of abstraction involved in forkful logic. Just telling a child to think does not give him the tools of conjunction, disjunction, negation, or implication that will help to process his thoughts. There is a structure to the logic process.’’
Once a student has learned same basic principles, he can use them for many purposes in dealing with and controlling his environment. He should now, also, be able to do something else—think. Basically this means he should be able to combine the principles he has already learned into the higher-order principles, such as used by the detective. He may do this by the stimulation he receives from learning new things and by relating this to various forms of stimulation he may now “keys into from his environment. By means of the process of combining old principles into new ones, he solves problems that are new to him, and acquires still a greater store of new capabilities.
Copeland further confirms my analysis when he states, “Fundamentally important is that much of our knowledge comes not from without but from within by the forces of our own logic. Knowledge is not a copy of reality but a reconstruction of it. It is reason or logic that allows the child to overcome sensory impressions. Since much of our knowledge does come from within, this means it does not come directly from the teacher. One basic responsibility of a teacher is to provide physical experiences and ask questions that may provoke the process of equilibration or logical operations within the mind of the child as a way of learning. In so doing it is hoped that there will be little telling or explaining.’’
It is my hope that a medium such as the detective novel will be a catalyst for the attainment of such higher-order thinking skills.
Problem solving, by which is meant thinking out a new principle that combines previously learned principles, is a process that is very much familiar to productive adults. This, again, is a goal which we are responsible for leading our students toward achieving. Having children see that there is nothing very unusual about such events, since they are likely to occur frequently in the life of the adults around him, should lessen the anxiety associated with math problems. When a driver maps out her route through traffic she is solving a problem. When an executive replans her luncheon schedule as a result of a new appointment she is solving a problem. When a shopper decides to make purchases selectively in order to get the best buy, he is solving a problem. These everyday examples bear a close resemblance to the problems that are solved by students in writing reports, debating an issue, performing a science experiment, or solving a mystery.
As a child grows older, various outside influences begin to act an higher, shaping his/her picture of the future. Television and other media sources as well as the individuals who make up one’s family and extended community serve as powerful influences an the developing student. Juvenile literature should be given greater priority as a vehicle for the presentation of societal values to the young mind. Just as the well-informed parent tries to monitor the types of programs a child watches and questions the associations one has with the peers and adults around him, we must direct our children toward good literature that will guide and shape these values.
Children must be taught to critically evaluate what they view and read for obsolete information about society. Literature plays a strong role in helping us understand and value our cultural heritage. Developing positive attitudes toward our own culture and the cultures of others is necessary for both social and personal development. Children should read books set in many locations and times because if children read books that reflect their own views only, they miss the interesting diversity of the world. Social development includes becoming aware of and understanding issues of moral responsibility as well as the different social roles people play. One of the greatest contributions made by literature is the realization that both boys and girls of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can succeed in a wide range of roles. Books that emphasize nonstereotyped roles and achievement are excellent models that can stimulate discussion. Detective fiction can address these social and environmental issues.