To kick-off the 2017 school year, we are happy to announce the addition of a new literature guide — Instant Short Story Packs. Each downloadable pack addresses key skills through 5-10 standards-based analyis questions. To get an inside look, we sat down with Prestwick House Senior New Product Development Specialist, Doug Grudzina, for a quick question and answer session.

Why does it seem that so many English teachers begin the school year with short stories? How relevant is the short story to the overall English language arts course of instruction?

Well, for one thing, short stories are attractive to begin the year simply because they’re short. Everyone is still in vacation mode, and it’s nice to ease into a rigorous course of study. Working through a few short stories is an excellent way to introduce or review key elements of literature, literary and rhetorical devices, and analysis of text.

The short story is more than merely relevant, though; it is fundamental to the most important elements of ELA instruction.

What was your favorite short story to teach? Why?

There are a few that come to mind. I always looked forward to teaching Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Most students hate the ambiguity of the ending. They want to know the “right answer,” “what it means,” which is exactly what this story denies them. It forces them to read, reread, and read closely. It invites a variety of interpretations, but it demands that every interpretation reflect an accurate reading of the text, the actual words and sentences of the story.

Another favorite—for very different reasons—was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It’s a long story, and Irving’s prose style can present problems for some readers, but it’s one of those stories everyone needs to read because everyone believes he or she already knows the subject—the Headless Horseman. I love taking things back to their roots, their origins. Love it, hate it, or remain indifferent, students deserve to know the “type” from which the figures of pop culture and their own childhoods have evolved.

What do you think were some of the strengths of the short story/literature materials you used in your classes? What were some of the weaknesses?

I’ve never been a fan of anthology series, especially when they end up being a school’s de-facto curriculum. But one thing they do do well is set up categorized units. If you want to study genre, there are anthologies that do that. Want a thematic study, a chronologic survey? There are anthologies that do that. Anthologies are also a handy way to get a variety of types and titles without buying a bunch of individual books.

But what I always disliked about the big anthologies is that they contain very little actual instruction, and what instruction they do offer barely scratches the surface. The typical anthology gives you a little introductory blurb, the literary text, and then a few questions. Maybe a writing prompt. The text itself might be annotated, but beyond that, students are largely on their own to learn whatever it is they’re supposed to be learning.

If we can learn anything from the past twenty years of writing and revising educational standards, it’s that the study of literature needs to be more than simply “reading and talking about stuff.” The study of literature needs to include how to read the "stuff" and construct an appropriate response to what you’ve read.

How does the Prestwick House Instant Short Story Pack overcome that weakness?

The sole purpose of the Instant Short Story Pack is to teach the how-to. Of course, each pack includes the story followed by a series of probing, analytical questions, but the main “stuff” of the pack comprises follow-up questions, graphic organizers, and step-by-step guidance to teach students how to take apart each question and put together an answer that reflects a thoughtful understanding of the text.

The Instant Short Story Pack is about “reading the story and talking about it,” but, first and foremost, it’s about “how to read the story and talk about it intelligently.”

Can we have “three truths and one lie” about Prestwick House Instant Short Story Packs?

Okay, here goes:

  • The Instant Short Story Pack was created by a teacher with over 25 years’ experience teaching high school literature.
  • Instant Short Story Pack was reviewed by several current classroom teachers who had nothing but praise for the product.
  • Each Instant Short Story Pack contains everything a teacher needs to use it.
  • Instant Short Story Packs are perfect to introduce your students to a particular author or genre or to review at the beginning of a new term.

Which one is the lie?

None. They’re all true.

Teach literary thinking through short stories. Download a sample of Instant Short Story Packs today.