Promoting Literacy Using Anchor Texts

Michelle Areaux
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

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For most teachers, we spend countless hours planning and creating fun lessons for our students to enjoy. In reality, most of those lessons never see the light of day because we are forced to now design each daily lesson around a standardized test that, honestly, does not measure what our students can ACTUALLY do or their true talents.

In the district where I teach, we are now forced to follow a guided unit plan that is specifically aligned to the Common Core standards and comes prepared with pre and post assessments, unit activities with specific directions that even gives you a verbal script on how to introduce and teach the lesson and activities, videos, texts, and formative assessments. While to some this may sound like a teachers dream, for those of us that are driven by creativity and love to create our own lessons, this idea becomes a terrifying nightmare.

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What is even more frightening is the idea that each of these specific units strays away from the idea of the anchor text. For those not familiar with that terminology, an anchor text is a novel used in a given thematic unit. For example; I once taught an entire Greek Mythology unit to assess theme, conflict, figurative language, character and plot development, and symbolism. As an anchor text I used Rick Riordan's, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. With this novel, I was able to connect and compare previously read myths and locate all of our content assessed, while also reaching my struggling readers at the same time.

The beauty of including an anchor text is that it promotes a unified and thematic curriculum where students can actually see the connection between literature and the standards. Vertically aligning our content in a way that students can easily decipher what is being taught and what they are to learn, is an important and vital tool that we must not stray away from.

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While some may argue that using an anchor text simply means that you are only teaching a book; I passionately disagree with that thought process. If used correctly, an anchor text can bridge the gaps for our struggling readers and those with reading comprehension difficulties. Aligning a text to the standards means you are using that anchor text as an aid and a tool, not as a lesson in itself.

Another benefit of including a thematic unit with an anchor text is that you can really show a relationship between each literary standard in relation to a story. The idea of symbolism was taught as we discussed how the color blue was used throughout the novel to symbolize water which also symbolized Percy Jackson's father and his true self. Watching Percy Jackson's character grow from a nervous and shy boy to one who stands up for himself teaches students that a character can develop throughout a story based on his or her setting and the conflicts faced. The ability to show how a conflict or a character can contribute to a specific theme in a text is a rigorous and high level concept and one that is only taught using a guided novel and unit. The idea of a character making a choice whether to freeze, fight, or take flight when faced with danger is an important lesson for students to learn not only in literature but in real life articles as well. The connections and opportunities to compare and contrast fiction to non-fiction is an important tool and should be considered when using an anchor text in a language arts or other content area class.

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More importantly, including an anchor text that students enjoy is promoting a love for reading and that is the key reason why we teach. When we see a student become involved in a book and want to continue reading more novels in that series, we have created a life-long reader. My goal as an educator is to make students love learning. And if in doing that means I have to break a few rules and include a novel in my curriculum, then I guess you can call me a rebel.