whitney guenther

Lost in a sea of intricate plot lines and unrecognizable words, many high school students give up on the great literary pieces of yesteryear because they simply can’t understand them.

But two Cal Poly faculty members and one San Luis Obispo Office of Education employee look to break the trend with a book designed for English teachers that draws parallels between literary masterpieces and similar popular contemporary stories to teach students.

Anita Hernandez from Cal Poly’s College of Education, Jeannine Richison of the Liberal Arts Department and Marcia Carter, a consultant from the San Luis Obispo County’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program have joined together to produce the recently published “Theme-Sets for Secondary Students: How to Scaffold Core Literature.”

With roots in the public school system, the authors designed the book to aid English teachers in dealing with different types of students. The book is geared toward students who are learning English as a second language, students with unique needs and those reading below grade level or with little interest in traditional literature, according to a press release.

“Our goal was for the book to be more theme-based in order to spark interest in the required literature through modern novels or literature that students are interested in,” Richison said.

The book was designed to be used cohesively with the required curriculum and to also expand on topics by using themes that students from different cultural backgrounds would understand.

“Theme-sets combine a variety of books – sophisticated children’s picture books, chapter books and highly acclaimed young-adult literature, as well as selections of poetry and non-fiction – to prepare students for more difficult reading. Activities are presented that use higher-level thinking skills and many of the best classroom practices supported by decades of educational research,” Richison said in a press release.

Overcoming the cultural boundaries and deep-set traditions was an area of importance for the authors.

“Children’s literature needs to change, there is a history of stereotypical literature and we are looking to authenticate the portrayals of blacks, Asians and all the different cultures,” Hernandez said.

Expanding on the literary stereotypes, the authors included material from different cultures in order to broaden awareness.

“Right now there is a select basket of literature that is stereotypically considered good, and the only literature in the basket is the great European literature. We want to expand that,” Richison said.

The idea for the book dates back to 2001 in an article in the “English Journal,” but wasn’t put into action until 2002. Over three years in the making, the book is a first of its kind to encapsulate many different theme-based methods.

The book’s instructional methods were based on “Classrooms That Work,” a book that highlighted the top nine methods of teaching based on over 1,200 different studies, Carter said.

Passionate about literature, the three ladies see this book as an opportunity to touch many students.

“Literature is both a window and a mirror, I look into it and I can see myself, yet I can use it as a window to see into them (the students),” Richison said.

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