Linking The Prince of Denial to the Common Core: a new teachers’ workshop
by Marianne Doe
Middlebury Union High School
When my colleague Alison Dayton and I received advance copies of Doug Wilhelm’s novel The Prince of Denial to see “what we thought,” we had just finished teaching a graduate course on the Common Core. The week-long course had been composed of 15 sessions dedicated to close reading and constructing “complex and nuanced writing.” Along with producing a host of activities to use with their students, the 13 K-12 teachers had engaged in conversations about approaches to literature, what constitutes informational text, and ways to prompt and enrich narrative writing. After such an intense week, we were overjoyed at the thought of indulging ourselves in reading a new young adult novel.
However, just enjoying a “good read” was not what happened. Neither of us could stop imagining ways to link Doug’s novel with the Common Core.
This is exactly what the Common Core invites. It encourages comparing and contrasting, tracing themes and arguments, and integrating art, music, and film, while also encouraging research, analysis, and narrative writing. Before we had finished Part I of the novel, we had a list of poems, plays, novels, and films that would intensify and/or enrich the reading of this novel for any middle school student. This list includes “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, “Fifteen” by Michael Stafford, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel, Monkeys by Susan Minot, scenes from The Great Santini, Smoke Signals, and perhaps The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio, and the memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
These pieces press on readers to question the point of view of Casey, Doug’s young protagonist, and to explore the novel’s development of character and ideas. They add a mother-daughter and father-daughter relationship to the discussion of intervention, safety, and power, helping readers to better understand his friends Oscar and Tara’s worlds. And in a world that often seems too overbearing, they reinforce the themes of self-reliance and self-worth.
As we finished Parts II and III of The Prince of Denial, we had been pulled in by the metaphors that could be used to explore the novel: holes, hiding places, childhood, constellations, geography. We had a list of words with multiple meanings that connect to the characters’ struggle to communicate. And we had revisited the most dynamic discussions of the week: how to pair and integrate the reading of informational text with literature to ensure that we are not avoiding the ethical, moral, and emotional dilemmas that a story like this presents, and to blend informational text with literature in ways that reinforce how they depend on each other to build meaning.
Soon, we realized we had constructed a wonderful day-long workshop focused on a timely novel, the Common Core, differentiated instruction, narrative and explanatory writing, and close reading.
I received an added bonus: an exciting way to begin my freshman English course — reading and studying a new novel that would include a class visit with the author and an aggressive start to integrating the Common Core into my teaching that was dynamic and followed our mantra, “the Common Core is common sense.”
Marianne Doe is an English teacher at Middlebury Union High School. With longtime colleague Alison Dayton, she offers professional-development workshops for K-12 teachers on implementing the Common Core.
To learn more, visit http://www.commoncorevt.org/ and select In-Service Workshops.