R.CCR.6 — that’s the sixth College/Career Readiness anchor standard within the Reading strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA/Literacy — reads as follows:
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
In other words, how does where a writer or narrator is coming from (point of view) and going towards (purpose) affect what he/she writes (content and style)?
How does point of view shape a text?
Point of view — or where the text is coming from — is worth time in the classroom if the time goes beyond teaching point of view as just another lit term. Asking students to identify whether A Separate Peace is written in first person or third person point of view is mundane; questions like these don’t answer a “So what?” What if point of view related questions looked more like these?
- In Knowles’ A Separate Peace, an adult Gene tells of his years at Devon. Yet, considering Gene’s deep involvement in the story’s key conflict, is Gene a reliable narrator? Give evidence to support your answer.
- In Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, there is a sudden shift between the narrator’s point of view in Chapter 12 and in the two-paragraph epilogue that ends the book. What does this shift mean? Is this shift an effective way to end the novel, in your opinion?
- In Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, what problems does Holden Caulfield’s narration present to the reader? How does Holden’s narration contribute to the style of the novel?
Questions like these provide a critical way for approaching point of view, and students 6-12 are ready to engage in this type of thinking with the proper scaffolding. Kids want to do more than identify whether a story is first- or third-person; they want to analyze, discuss, and argue about the complex issues that point of view brings up. This is what R.CCR.6 is getting at.
Point of view and purpose in informational texts
Whether reading informational texts in the ELA classroom, analyzing documents in history class, or reading articles in a science class, understanding the interconnectedness of point of view and purpose are integral for R.CCR.6 and for life as an intelligent adult.
For example, let’s consider a series of documents in The Human Record: Sources of Global History since 1500, by Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield:
- “Agreement between Charles D. Rudd, et al., and Lobengula, King of Matabeleland, 1891,” (308-309)
- “Letter of King Lobengula to Queen Victoria,” (309)
- “George Washington Williams, Open Letter to King Leopold II of Belgium, 1890,” (310-312)
- “King Leopold II, Open Letter to the Officials of the Congo Free State, 1897,” (313-314)
- “Ndansi Kumalo, His Story, Reflections of an African Warrior,” (315-317)*
Simple questions will get students ready to consider point of view, purpose, and these five documents as a unified whole:
- Who wrote this? How do you know?
- What was the purpose of this document? How do you know?
- E.g., In Document 2, the purpose is to seek justice for the deception of Document #1. King Lobengula is informing Rudd’s Queen of the deceptive conditions under which Lobengula signed Rudd’s “agreement”
- How do point of view and purpose shape the style of each of these documents?
- E.g., Williams is writing to his friend, who also happens to be a powerful king, but he is extremely disillusioned by the difference between Leopold’s claims about the Congo and what is actually happening there; thus, his style is fascinating: he is both humble and bold, repeatedly calling Leopold “your majesty” but also being brutally honest about the despicable conditions in the Belgian Congo.
*These primary source documents would allow for an interesting study in a world history unit on imperialism, but they also provide excellent framing for an ELA classroom preparing to read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.