our background knowledge about times
when we are rushing off to work and
merge it with clues in the text that show
how short the mom is with the boy.
From our background knowledge and
these text clues, we infer that this is not
the first time the boy has asked for a dog
(BK + TC = I). (p. 142)
nation, a bending of syntax (“He intent /
Is all on his play-business bent”). The
poem goes on:
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.
This is exceedingly elaborate yet
makes no logical sense. The “back-
ground knowledge” Harvey and
Goudvis present doesn’t lead to the
inference; the mother may be short
ticular texts well. And there are rewards
regardless of the teaching; the literature
holds its own ground.
Close reading of literature can be both
rigorous and enthralling.
with her son because she’s in a rush,
but that in itself doesn’t show that the
boy has asked for a dog before. Harvey
and Goudvis fail to note two clues that
mother and son have discussed this
before: the boy’s question “Why can’t
I have a dog?” (implying a previous
“no”) and the mother’s “not again”
(implying this has come up before). The
background knowledge may add to the
overall picture, but it isn’t necessary for
I bring up this example because
I have seen many others like it, in
books and in action. When the strategy
becomes the main point of the lesson,
it’s easy to distort both strategy and text.
And too often, jargon—such as “
activating background knowledge”—
overwhelms the lesson.
When Books Lead the Way
By contrast, close reading of literature
can be both rigorous and enthralling.
To make sense of a text, one must
take in its structure, details, rhythms,
sounds, and more. Certainly literature
can be taught poorly, but when it’s part
of a school’s curriculum, there is likely
to be more support for teaching par-
The first two lines depict a vivid, real
scene (the mother does see the child).
One can imagine a child playing in the
shade of the trees (“round the garden
trees” suggests movement and color)
and the mother looking on. By contrast,
the next scene is dreamy and specu-
lative: the reader “may” see another
child, if the reader “will” look through
the “windows of this book.” There is a
wonderful pause before the word “play”;
it seems to emphasize the distance
between reader and child. The other
child is “far, far away”; this makes the
book’s windows magical because they
look out into a distant place. But there
are bounds to this magic:
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
What should literature instruction look
like? First of all, the literature should
be at the center. The selections make
all the difference. Students should not