Summary: In response to reading Leah’s Pony, students were asked “What are some signs of hard times?” The publishers expected such answers as “Crops aren’t growing well,” “Businesses are doing badly.” Students’ actual responses included “When you get kicked out of your house,” “When there is not much food left” and “When…my sisters get taken away.”
Comment: What is the meaning of this research? Students haven’t learned the game of playing “give them (adults) what they want.” Instead, they said what the concept of “hard times” meant to them personally, not as they were depicted in the book.
In preparing students to read the book or as reflection on the book, personal experience should be invited. But to develop comprehension skills, students need to answer the questions according to the text. Their personal responses count as part of their reflections on the meaning of the text, but not when involved in comprehending the text. I.A. Richards pointed out this fallacy by students when they read literature—substituting personal experience for the ideas in the text (Practical Criticism).
Title: Announcing the 2010Alan C Purvis Award Recipient. Committee: S Filkins, D. Lloyd. S Looker. “What Hard Times Meant: Mandated Curriculum, Class-Privileged Assumptions and the Lives of Poor Children.” Elizabeth Dutro. Research in the Teaching of English Vol. 44, No. 2, February 2010), in Research in the Teaching of English (February 2011), 335-336.