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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

01.29.15Embedding Non-Fiction in A Single Shard

Colleen, Erica, and I have been toiling away at our forthcoming book on literacy, Reading Reconsidered.  One of the topics we discuss is non-fiction–the importance of reading more of it; the challenges of reading more of it; the importance of knowledge as both a cause and and effect of successful reading.  One of the key ideas we discuss is embedding non-fiction: choosing four or five (or more!) fascinating pieces of non-fiction to pair with each novel you read. Your articles illuminate the book and bring some aspect of it to life; the book creates a reason for reading the nonfiction and “reading to learn”–it’s a powerful synergy.

At our workshop today, we asked participants to brainstorm ideas for non-fiction articles to embed in various novels.  The results were pretty incredible.  I was especially struck by the ideas teachers came up with for articles to embed in one of my favorite novels, A Single Shard.  The story of an orphaned, homeless boy in 13th century Korea, Tree-Ear, who yearns to be an apprentice to a master potter, Min.

Here are five great ideas:

1) “Tree-ear is really focused on rice.  It’s not just what he eats, it’s also a currency. Having it is a psychological factor,” Rachel D’Addabo from Jubilee Public Schools in Memphis pointed out.  She suggested reading an article on the economics of rice and its importance in Korean culture to understand why it was so fundamental to the narrative.


2) Lindsay Allan from Coney Island Prep suggested reading an article on the Tree-ear mushroom–The mushroom, she noted, “survives because it’s rootless–a perfect analogy for the wandering homeless narrator.  Reading about it would help them to understand the connection and the symbolism.”



3) Amanda Henry from De La Salle Middle School in St. Louis observed that Min battles with what appears to be depression throughout the book.  She proposed reading an article on depression (its causes and manifestations) both to better understand him as a character and to cause them to recognize cause and effect–the mood Min’s  may suffered from after losing his son.



4) Amanda Phelan from Charlotte Mecklenberg School District in North Carolina suggested reading an article on Homelessness–Tree-ear lives under a bridge throughout much of the novel. It would be fascinating to compare the causes and psychological effect of homelessness today with Tree-ear’s story.



5) Our own suggestion: Orphans in literature.  Youth fiction is full of orphans. Why? An article such as this one brings a fascinating meta-perspective…and can be applied to future texts with orphans as well.



The benefits to students: Deeper understanding of A Single Shard–its symbolism, its characters, their motivations.  Experience reading lots of non-fiction and knowing why; experience “reading to learn.”

As Erica pointed out, there are benefits to teachers as well. They make reading more fascinating and intellectually engaging for teachers as well!

Thanks to everyone at our workshop for such a great conversation about reading….all day long.

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