Less is More: Teaching Literature with Shorter Texts
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2007
Cindi Rigsbee, an NBCT in North Carolina, finds a wealth of practical resources in Kimberly Hill Campbell’s book about using short stories and other brief texts to engage students and teach literary concepts effectively.
Citation: Campbell, K.H. (2007). Less is more: Teaching literature with shorter texts. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Kimberly Hill Campbell
2007 (232 pp./paperback)
Reviewed by Cindi Rigsbee, NBCT
Gravelly Hill Middle School
Orange County, NC
I was very excited to review Less is More: Teaching Literature with Short Texts.
However, before I could dive into reading enticing chapters like
“Structures and Strategies That Support the Teaching of Short Texts,” I
was even more delighted to see that the foreword was written by Leila
Christenbury, professor of English Education at Virginia Commonwealth
University. I had the pleasure of spending two days last summer with
Dr. Christenbury at her “Writing on Demand” workshop. I found her to be
engaging and inspirational, and she changed the way I teach writing.
She says in the foreword: “Kimberly Campbell…shows how short texts can
transform the indifferent into engaged readers and writers” (p. vi.)
This one statement made me barely able to contain my anticipation.
Haven’t we all tried to teach the “indifferent?”
Since I was familiar with the author of the foreword, I decided to do a
little research on the author of the book. I found that we have some
history in common. Both of us began our teaching careers in 1979. Both
of us were statistics – new teachers who left the profession. We both
returned to teaching in 1987. Campbell, who had practiced law in the
interim, used the art of action research to redefine herself as a
teacher, and consequently an administrator. Currently, she is an
assistant professor at Lewis and Clark College, working in the MAT
program. But although Campbell is a former attorney turned college
professor, as I read I felt I was chatting with a teacher down the
hall. Campbell writes in a comfortable 1st person style, even sharing
that she writes while doing laundry (the sorting process helps her
think). This style adds a down-to-earth feel and enhances the
readability of the book.
Less is More offers an innovative change for those teachers who still vehemently believe
that real literature can only be taught through the study of novels.
After two introductory chapters on the art of teaching with short
texts, Campbell divides the remaining chapters by literary genre –
short stories, essays, memoir, poetry, children’s literature and
picture books, and graphic novels – and offers varied instructional
strategies that correlate with each genre.
The strength of the book lies in the fact that it is a tremendous resource.
Campbell shares many teaching strategies related to each of the genres,
and at the end of each chapter, she includes a “Recommended Resources”
list that is both practical and convenient for teachers. In addition,
as she describes teaching approaches her references to works of
literature are detailed and relate nicely to the activities. (Her
description of The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin made me want to put down Campbell’s book and run to the library!)
I believe this book would be an excellent resource, especially for those
who are not accustomed to teaching the elements of literature in short
texts. As a remedial reading teacher in a middle school, I only
teach with these types of texts; therefore, I was familiar with many of
the methods and references. There was still more to learn, though. I’m
ready to try “chanting words” and “onomatopoeia through concept
attainment” when I teach poetry. And those who do teach English? They
will surely find Campbell’s ideas like a breath of fresh air after
trudging for weeks at a time through a novel.
Teachers of disciplines other than English and teachers of lower grade levels
may feel out of place while reading through Campbell’s references to
Whitman, Emerson, Dickinson, and Thoreau; these writers are customarily
taught in high school. And a couple of her lessons may be somewhat
advanced for middle school – I can’t imagine teaching my students
parody and parallelism. But overall I think Campbell herself said it
best: “Short texts allowed all of my students to come to the literature
table – where we dined not on fast food, but on a delicious buffet that
represented the smorgasbord of literature genres available to us as
Less is More is a buffet itself. Readers need not go in a straight line; instead, we
can choose the chapter, the genre, the strategy needed at the moment –
from a smorgasbord of ideas that Kimberly Hill Campbell has included in
her practical guide to teaching literature with short texts. Sit down
and partake, and you, too, can “transform the indifferent.”