Do I really need to know why the author wrote something?

Apparently I haven’t been taking my own philosophy to heart and have been lacking in the critical reading and thinking department.  The picture in my last post was “hijacked” by the online image police (or the photographer).  I was fairly certain I had chosen a free-use image and credited it properly, but I must not have.  Darn, I quite liked that picture.   Now I have to research image citation and copyright more thoroughly than I did.  Anybody use a particular site that they like?

On the platform, reading

Image credit: Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/moriza/96724309/ Creative Commons

Moving on to the purpose of this week’s post… For the last couple of weeks, our junior high team has been focusing on the reading strategy of Identifying Author’s Purpose.  As we were collaboratively marking our formative assessment, we discussed whether or not it was important for students to know the author’s purpose in everything they read or watch.    

Persuasion tries to get the reader or viewer to buy, do, or believe something the author wants us to, so we thought that it was very important for students to know when an author was trying to persuade.  Stories are meant to entertain and suggest a theme about human behaviour or the human condition.  Students, we concluded, need to know author’s purpose here as well.  For instance, our students read the story “Thank you, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.  If they had misunderstood the purpose of the story, they might think that the author is trying to persuade readers to let would-be thieves go free.  Students would have missed out on a deeper discussion and understanding of why people might act and react the way they do.

In social studies and science, we felt that knowing the purpose of the writing was also important for students to know, but perhaps a little easier to identify.  When dissecting the eye of a pig, it is fairly easy for students to know the author’s purpose is to explain ‘how-to’ and not to persuade.  Although, teachers may need to use persuasion to get students to make the first cut.  Most students would not confuse this with a story.  Our data from the formative assessments suggests that our students are generally competent in identifying the author’s purpose in both subjects.

With math, we weren’t as confident in our discussion.  Yes, the bulk of the text and other media used in math is to inform and explain, but is it necessary for students to be able to identify this?  If their goal is to solve a mathematical problem, does author’s purpose even matter?  I’m not so sure we really came up with a definitive answer.

One thing we did definitively answer is that setting a purpose for students’ reading or viewing is crucial, no matter the subject.  That is important and helps students understand what they are reading or viewing and why they are reading or viewing it.

What are your thoughts?  How important is it for students to be able to identify the author’s purpose?  Is that just as important as setting a purpose for reading or viewing?

Image credit: Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/moriza/96724309/

About Sherry Langland

I have been teaching English for 15 years and am passionate about teaching students to read critically, think critically, and live purposefully. I am also the lead teacher for our junior high department and am thankful to be part of such a dedicated group of teachers who are committed to collaborating around the most important part of our job: student learning. My biggest blessing is being the mother of 2 young men who are in their 20s and discovering their purpose.
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