Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fairy Tales and the Common Core

From my ComicLife Rapunzel - after Molly Bang
[This is an update and extension of a post I made in 2009, The Uses of Fairy Tales. I am not repeating - I tried the ideas, they all worked.  This is more.]

Students should read Grimm's fairy tales because:

  1. by doing so they practice literary analysis and address the learning goals of the Common Core in both reading and writing.
  2. there is a wealth of textual and media resources to support the study, at the elementary, MS and HS levels, much of it free and all of it pushing the reading level of students in HS and MS
  3. it can be, if desired, a global study - every culture has "fairy tales" in some form
  4. for western literature especially, these are urtext stories in the sense that they contain story patterns, character types, motifs, settings and visual symbols that are found throughout our prose, media, poetry, art and other narratives

In my opinion, there is no unit of ELA study that will not benefit from the inclusion of fairy tales. This can be as simple as using picture books to introduce compare/contrast or basic thematic analysis terms (plot line, setting, character, conflict, mood) and it can be or as complex as formal readings of critical texts (see some ideas below).

Some Key Themes in the Tales:

  • intergenerational rivalry
  • hunger and depravity
  • family conflict
  • the transformative power of innocence
  • loss of innocence
  • fear of death
  • persistence
  • loyalty
  • isolation
  • relocation
  • vengeance
  • the power of illusion
  • resistance to powerful other
  • longing 
...   and the list goes on

Some Key Themes in contemporary adaptations/mashups of the tales

  • guilt
  • choices and their consequences
  • freedom
  • false perceptions
  • the limits of childhood/innocence
Some of my favorite contemporary adaptations/mashups
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm (series - Gidwitz)
  • Stardust (Gaiman)
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Valente)
  • The Real Boy (Ursu)
  • Breadcrumbs (Ursu)

Summary of important positive teaching points:
  • iconic characters
  • iconic journeys
  • difficulty of prose (complexity, vocabulary) - this is true of the original texts (in translation), which is why they are a reading challenge at the MS and even the HS level
  • key themes (see below) are found in both classic and contemporary literature, both fiction and nonfiction - themes relate to student lives
  • visual depth found in the text
  • concise plotting
  • cultural variation of texts - cultural universality - support for global study
  • historical study of "remixes" - contemporary culture and events appears in the way tales are retold 
Most Important Resource: SurLaLune website has grown from a work of passion to a vast resource.  Find here not only Grimm texts but those of other classical and original authors.  Find here not only stories, but also bibliographic lists of poetry and contemporary interpreted tales (for children, YA and adults), illustrations (not all - limited to public domain images), and even a bookshelf for  Unfortunately, it doesn't have a site search.

Texts (what I would use - there are many others, including annotated stories at SurLaLune)
Guess which tale frames the text?
Extensions and Companions (remember that SurLaLune is a vast resource of these - below are some not on that site)
  • Anne Sexton's Transformations - poetry, not for MS
  • Google search: "poetry fairy tales" yields some good results - review them for appropriate material
  • A Wolf at the Door and other Retold Fairy Tales
  • Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang - uses Red Riding Hood to frame her discussion of graphic design - great for use in the classroom
  • Media

    • NPR interview with Maria Tatar author of the new Annotated Brother's Grimm - at the bottom of the post, find links to the audio used in the piece, great breadcrumbs to simulate searches for more media resources
    • YouTube video - search on individual stories or just "fairy tales" - look for Disney older classics, shadow puppet versions, etc. - but preview before you use in a class!  - download using KeepVid.
    • TV - flipping students home to watch episodes of Grimm or Once Upon a Time is a no-brainer - or use school resources to show them in the class
    • Search "movies & TV" for "fairy tales" and be rewarded with lots of productions - many poor but some very good - I personally think students should see and compare the bad and the good and the great (Common Core again, gosh).
    • And then there is Netflix.
Learning Activities/Products/Outcomes: I have included something for each learning level.  They seem so obvious to me that I am sure you can come up with your own.  Because you are dealing with "children's literature" (even though it was originally NOT that at all), be sure to make your activities challenging enough to engage the students you teach.  I have not included CCSS alignment because I do not think that is very difficult.  Please contact me if you want some input into lesson or unit planning. 
  • elementary and MS - identify how specific plot patterns, motifs, characterizations appear in specific stories - write, speak, blog, present
  • all - Compare and contrast the boy/girl characters (or the evil characters) in two stories, using specific examples from the stores - record this (fun to do this at home with a parent filming), use an iPad to capture images and ShowMe to present, talk to a partner, blog this, wiki this ...
  • all - Compare and contrast two picture/children's book tellings of the same story, using specific details from the text - record this, use an iPad to capture images and ShowMe (etc.) to present, talk to a partner in class, blog this, wiki this ...
  • all - act out fairy tales as read, and again in a "new way" - video is great - or you can use a tableau approach, which makes it easy to create a really cool slide show showing the differences between the tellings
  • all - write music to accompany or illustrate the tale
  • all - it is goofy, but kids love shadow puppets, puppet theater, and posters - putting character and setting pictures on a plot line is a hit (go figure)
  • elementary - MS - plot lines are cool - label with settings, characters, conflicts, etc.
  • all - obviously, write one OR illustrate one.  My use of 1:1 laptops with ComicLife (and Molly Bang's book) was a success - videos and live performance take less time - MS and HS tend to prefer remixing the stories
  • MS, HS - identify cultural/historical (contemporary to production) elements in the tale's retelling (media and text work here)
  • HS - Compare and contrast Tatar's  The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, analysis by a contemporary folklorist, to Bettelheim's now classic psychoanalysis The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  Focus on a specific tale.
Hope I have sold you on the idea.  

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