Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Intertextual reading uses a wide range of corollary materials to help students build a deeper understanding of a particular text. These materials can include primary historical documents such as newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and diaries; or they may include novels, poems, films, plays, or other works of art that relate thematically, culturally, or historically to the primary text. By tracking the common words, images, characters, and ideas across these different works, students begin to experience the primary text in a deeper cultural context.
When choosing a primary text to study, teachers should look at the time and place in which it was written, and determine what other sources may correspond in some way to those settings. They should select a source and a primary text that will "resonate" with one another; that is, the source material will increase the students' understanding of the primary text, and study of the primary text will in turn influence how students view the source.
Intertextual reading is used in both classrooms featured in Workshop Session 5. Teacher Betty Tillman Samb uses Zora Neale Hurston's "High John de Conquer," an adaptation of a traditional African American folktale, to introduce the primary text, Ishmael Reed's poem "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man." Both texts reference the folkloric trickster figure. She also offers additional source texts to each literature circle in her class. Similarly, teacher Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens uses Subcomandante Marcos' bilingual picture book The Story of Colors (La Historia de los Colores), based on an indigenous Mexican folktale, to introduce Graciela Limón's novel Erased Faces; both works deal with the Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico.
To get the most out of intertextual reading, students should watch for repetitions and similarities in the texts. With "High John de Conquer" and "Railroad Bill, A Conjure Man," for example, students look for all references -- obvious or subtle -- to the trickster figure. Students should also examine the actions and speech of characters: If a certain word or phrase occurs again and again in the texts, students can observe how its meaning changes -- or remains the same -- each time it is used. In this way, they begin to see how cultural ideas are formed, preserved, altered, and passed down through time. Students should discuss what they have found in small groups or with the whole class, sharing their ideas and interpretations and listening to those of others.
There are many types of sources that can be used in conjunction with a primary text. As stated, Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens' class uses a bilingual children's picture book. Because picture books can often be read at multiple levels, they can be engaging for high school students as well as younger readers. Children's stories often make political statements, explore mythology, and examine cultural mores; thus, they can stimulate rich discussion in the classroom.
There is an added benefit: By introducing The Story of Colors (La Historia de los Colores), a children's book written in Spanish, the teacher opens up another level of intertextual exchange -- language. The teacher can engage students in a powerful cross-cultural exchange by asking bilingual students to read the Spanish text and other students to read the English translation. Teachers should encourage the Spanish speakers to comment on the English translation. As Houtchens explains: "A lot of my students speak another language at home, and the other language they speak at home is Spanish. They don't get much chance in the mainstream classroom to hear their own language and their own stories, and hear their own voices validated."
Intertextual reading helps students make connections across a broad spectrum of works. Because students can compare different kinds of texts, they are better able to understand how literary works are produced in a cultural, social, and historical context.