This is the first in a new series of reviews of textbooks for educators. In this review, I write about the text book for English teachers – Less is More, written by Kimberly Hill Campbell (available here and here).
My initial reaction to Less is More by Kimberly Hill Campbell was excitement and agreement. When I was an undergraduate English major, I often chose short story classes for my requirements. I knew that I wasn’t a very fast reader, so taking multiple novel courses wasn’t a wise option for me. Reading Campbell’s text gave me insight to my own learning as well as giving ideas for my own teaching. I have never been a struggling reader, but I certainly connected to short texts more easily than longer texts. Campbell’s assertion that a student can learn all the same skills and themes rang true to me. It was eye-opening to me to read, “A short story… invites readers to look closely, to dig deep. Unlike longer works… the brevity of short stories supports a level of scrutiny that enables students to develop their skills as literary analysts” (35). I always felt like I was lazy to prefer short stories, but Campbell has changed my thinking on that. An in-depth study of a short story teaches the same skills, and has the same power as an in-depth study of a novel or longer work.
In Less is More, Campbell presents ways to study many different types of short writing. One of the most interesting ‘light bulb moments’ for me was in the section on essays. She writes about how we require students to write countless five paragraph essays, but that type of essay is rarely seen in the real world. We also rarely teach the art of reading essays, which would naturally feed into being able to successfully craft an essay. I have taught non-fiction texts, but have never framed them as essays with the purpose for teaching essay writing (besides showing previous student essays as examples). The section on essays reminded me of my college intro writing classes, and how we often read essays as examples, and how that was a beneficial experience for me. I am inspired to bring more essays into my classroom after reading this text.
Kimberly Hill Campbell presents many ways in which reading short texts can be implemented in the classroom. One of the ways that Campbell presents her classroom is that it is a community of learners. I know that this can really change how students react to their learning experience. Providing students with short texts can really help foster the sense of community since each student can connect to the texts, and have the chance to share their connections.
Less is More is a book about using short texts in a middle or high school language arts classroom. Campbell describes how she has used short stories, essays, memoirs, poems, children’s books, and graphic novels in her classrooms to teach literary analysis, reading skills, and to support writing goals. While this book would be most useful to language arts/English teachers, there are ideas that would also be useful to teachers of other subjects as it provides ways to access various types of texts, and styles of writing. Campbell has been a middle and high school English teacher, as well as a professor and mentor in an Education graduate program.
Campbell organized her book into eight chapters – two of which act as an introduction and explanation of her philosophy that short texts can be useful in the classroom. In her classroom, she noticed that the “common response to longer texts was an intense dislike for the text – a dislike that grew in intensity the longer we worked with the text” (3). This idea drives the rest of the book and all the topics she covers in the following six chapters. The rest of the book is comprised of six chapters that give examples of how she has used each category of short text – Short Stories, Essays, Memoirs, Poems, Children’s Literature and Picture Books, and Graphic Novels – in her classrooms. Within the chapters, Campbell explains the importance of each type of text, as well as providing detailed examples of how she used each type in her classroom. She also includes lists of sample texts and their pedagogical uses. This aspect of the organization is particularly helpful. In each section of each chapter, Campbell provides a table that shows not only titles of texts, but also where it can be found, and other examples of how they can be useful to instruction, such as ‘sensory detail (84),’ ‘writing craft to explore (66),’ ‘topic (190).’ The tables are well organized and easy to read, thus they are easy to use. Her lists of stories and texts are helpful, extensive, well-rounded and inspiring in each chapter. Additionally, at the end of each chapter, Campbell has included detailed works cited lists, as well as lists of recommended resources that support the teaching of each style presented.
The chapter on using short stories was particularly useful and interesting. “A short story… invites readers to look closely, to dig deep. Unlike longer works… the brevity of short stories supports a level of scrutiny that enables students to develop their skills as literary analysts” (35). Campbell argues that by using short texts, a teacher is providing a “way into literature” (2) for students who have resisted working with longer texts such as novels and plays. She argues that “virtually all the literature elements used in novels can be analyzed more easily and efficiently with short stories, in a way that includes the varied readers in today’s classrooms” (43). In this chapter, Campbell goes on to provide specific examples of how she has used short stories to encourage literary analysis and to support state writing goals. Within the chapter, it is organized by literary device with ideas on how to use short stories to teach each device to students. She presents examples of stories that use each element – character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme – and ideas of how to use these stories to teach the elements. The examples are clearly explained and would be interesting and easy to implement based on her descriptions. Beyond that, the chapter also addresses how a teacher could use these stories to support instruction on writing in the classroom.
Less is More would be a great addition to any middle or high school teacher’s library. It is full of real, implementable examples for adding short texts to curriculum to encourage and teach important skills in literary analysis and writing in a wide variety of styles. Campbell’s writing style is clear and engaging. Her examples are pertinent, realistic and thorough. Not only is this book an instruction manual of sorts – giving ideas of how to teach certain literary topics and ideas – it is also a wonderful reference source with lists of sources, texts, and ideas of how to use them.