Writers use narrative, informative, and opinion modes of writing across genres.
Along with this slide, I said these words in the section of my key note called, “Using narrative, informative, and persuasion to tell your Story.”
One of the things unsettling to me is the segregation of the text types. Even though the text types appear to be separate, segregated into nice neat boxes, divided into narrative and informative standards, we know they aren’t separate little packages. They wrap around one another, working together with purpose and meaning. I used to think of narrative as a synonym for story. Common Core has made me reevaluate this, though. Sure narrative is a series of events told in a story-like fashion. But Story is bigger. Story, with a capital S, is much bigger.
Recently I had the privilege to hear James Kofi Annan tell his story. He is a survivor of child slavery. After he escaped, he eventually became a business man. Then he left his promising career in order to fight for freedom for Ghana’s children. He started Challenging Heights, a school, as a place to protect and educate children.
I am moved by his story. It is one made up of nightmares and eventually overcoming them. It is a story of walking away from prestige and money. James’ story faces the horrors of this world, and compels me to do everything I can, in my corner of the world, to make it right.
Story, the kind of story James Kofi Annan tells, changes the world. This rubs against the tendency to separate the text types – argument and informative and narrative. I remember James and how his story moves me. It wasn’t just a narrative, although narrative is the heart of making sense of the world. Informative reading and writing is the fodder for understanding the intricacies of the world. And opinion helps move us to action. James Kofi Annan used all three modes to tell his Story. One mode is not more important than another. The stories that inspire us eloquently combine all three.
Story is dependent on narrative, informative, and opinion. When I write fiction, my story is driven by research. The heart of my message is often found because of my opinions. It works the other way also. When I write an informative article, it is typically grounded by a narrative, and of course influenced by my opinions. These text types work together, each giving a little or a lot depending on the genre.
This weekend Sam and I had a conversation that reminded me of this. On Sunday morning he was reading A SEA FULL OF SHARKS by Betsy Maestro and illustrated by Giulio Maestro (Scholastic, 1990). In fact, he took it with him in the car because he didn’t want to leave without it. On the way home, after he finished reading the book and sharing some of his favorite facts, I asked him, “So howdo you think the author feels about sharks?”
He thought and said, “Probably that they are a good animal and interesting.”
“What makes you say that?”
A little more thinking, and then, “Well, all the pictures show cool stuff about them. And now I think they are a good animal too. Not as good as snakes, but maybe as good as dogs.”
“He’s right, Mom. They don’t look very scary in that book,” Hannah said, adding to the conversation.
We pulled in the garage and the day went on. I didn’t think much about our conversation again until it was time for books + bed at the end of the day.
Stephanie brought SHARK-A-PHOBIA by Grace Norwich (Scholastic, 2011) to the couch. “Well I bet that author thinks differently about sharks than what Sam was reading earlier,” Hannah said.
We all paused and looked at the cover. Sam retrieved the other shark book, and we looked at them side-by-side, deciding that it definitely looked like the authors were sending different messages about sharks.
This is a truth about writing. We may think we are writing an informative article or book, but in fact our opinions and stories influence the project. Just as we may be writing a narrative, but research and opinions will influence the way we tell the story.
In our world of instant information, it is crucial our students begin to consider the message authors are sending. Even if something is informative, it is still influenced by the author’s opinions. I think it would be interesting to collect several other shark books and articles (like this one from November 2011, “Shark fins off the menu at at top hotel” (CNN, online)) and give students a chance to reflect on the way the author’s message varies across the informative texts. Of course, sharks wouldn’t be the only topic I would gather in a basket. I would consider the interests of students and the availability of text and make several baskets of informative articles and books around many different topics.
This is also something I can see working at every grade level. We need to learn how to read texts and sort out the facts, as well as determine what facts are missing, and what the author’s ultimate message is. These are skills that will take years to hone.
How about you? Can you imagine this working in your neck of the woods?