|2013-09-01||Steve Gardiner||New Car Informational Text|
One of the features of Common Core State Standards which generates the most comments from and to English teachers is the increased emphasis on non-fiction, particularly on what is termed informational text.
Having spent three hours last Saturday sunk in the swamp of paperwork that is involved in buying a car, it seems even more interesting to me to consider this language arts change. There is no doubt we need to continue teaching short stories, personal essays, and poetry as we have in the past, but our society today requires an understanding of informational text far beyond what has been expected previously.
The language in those papers is complicated. The sentences are complex and the vocabulary is challenging. Yet, more important, is the volume of those auto dealership documents. The pages are long, often the equivalent of two or more regular sheets of paper. The print is small and signatures and initial blanks are scattered throughout. It is a daunting process for anyone, but I can only imagine the feeling of former students who would not read in English class and did not change their habits after leaving high school. The avalanche of language coming down on them at a moment when they are making a large, important decision, must be overwhelming.
It's not that the sale of a car is so technical. It's not. However, with the lawsuits and other legal issues so common in our society, auto companies have hired their own lawyers to generate reams of words to cover not just the actual sale of the car, but any possible complication that ever has or ever could be related to such a sale.
Purchasing a car is a time-consuming, stressful process, and I doubt if many or even any buyer sits there and reads the documents word by word. Most scan over the papers, ask a question or two from the salesman or manager, and sign the papers, anxious to get on the road in their new car. With that thought, perhaps the new emphasis on informational text won't make too much difference. On the other hand, students who get used to reading informational texts, learn how they are structured, and what to expect in them, will likely find the important parts they need in situations like car buying. They will feel more comfortable asking questions, in pausing to look at sections that concern them. As informational texts get more complex and more prevalent, this recent effort to teach informational texts in English classes is warranted.
I left the car dealership last weekend feeling a bit uneasy by the thick packet of paper I had just signed. It must be even more frightening for buyers who approach the process with less reading experience and less preparation research. If our students are to succeed and feel competent in the modern world, they need to understand informational text and how to make sense of it.