Vox populi

Comments of the Week: The informational text and the poem

Several readers sought to assuage high school teacher William Johnson’s fears, shared this week in a Community post, that new standards will render his English class “deadly boring” with its emphasis on informational texts.

The Common Core standards, which the city is rolling out right now, ask students to read more non-fiction than they traditionally have in school. A nearly 50-50 balance of fiction and non-fiction in eighth grade is supposed to shift to 70 percent non-fiction in 12th grade.

Several commenters said they thought the addition of more “informational texts” need not be a bad thing, and in fact could be a boon to some students. But one commenter used a poem, by William Carlos Williams, to let Johnson know that he is not alone in his fears.

(And speaking of the new learning standards: Please join us Nov. 26 to talk about the Common Core over wine and cheese!)

A.S. Neill said he is not a fan of the Common Core – but he still thinks there is an upside to its reading requirements:

Research shows that males read less and more poorly than females but girls prefer narrative fiction, romances, poetry, plays while boys prefer science fiction, fantasy, special interest, and news. It has been suggested that the emphasis on the former while limiting the latter by teachers and librarians (confirmed by research), is part of the explanation of the gender gap in reading. … This in fact, was my personal experience in school.

That comment got Mr. Flerporillo thinking:

Interesting. I bristled at first at the Venus versus Mars angle of your post. But then I remembered the first books I loved, before I ever heard of a Canon or considered that the contents of one’s bookcases was a marker of class and taste: Orwell, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Asimov. Spot on in my case, A.S. Neill. And something to think about as the father of a son who’s less intense about reading than his sister.

Johnson clarified his concerns in response:

My concern is about the emphasis on “informational texts,” which I think is related to a reductive notion about the purpose of reading and writing. A great biography is hardly a mere source of information: it’s a deliberately constructed narrative that serves multiple functions, very few of which have to do with transmitting information. My fear is that the people behind the Common Core do not share the passion for reading and writing that is clearly evident in this comment thread, and have designed a set of standards that reflect this lack of passion, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of what literature is.

Parent Matthew Levey suggested that the issue might be the Common Core creators’ word choice, not their goal:

I think many observers are (ironically?) getting hung up on the semantics of “informational texts.” Of course I want my child to read Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t mean he should not read “Warriors Don’t Cry” or “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Taught effectively each of these texts offers rich opportunities to impart valuable lessons about literary style and technique, but also history, geography, and human emotions.

But one commenter said he shared Johnson’s concerns fully. Juggleandhope even used a poem, a communication form that some fear could be marginalized under the Common Core, to make his point:

i think William Carlos Williams correctly argues,
“My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”

not just men, of course, also women and students of all ages.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.