Informational Texts vs. Fiction Ratios in the Opening Ceremony of London’s 2012 Olympics

July 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

Mary Poppins to the rescue:
Photo from A Guide to the London 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies

The London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was broadcast at 9pm on 27 July 2012 (EST). As a platoon of  Mary Poppins clones decended clutching their iconic umbrellas to vanquish the Lord Voldemort mid-ceremony, I was suddenly struck by an idea. How would the Common Core English Language Arts Standards view this production? The extravanganza developed by world-class directors Danny BoyleBradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey and their teams was an eclectic mix of information  and fiction that “celebrated contributions the UK has made to the world through innovation and revolution.”

What grade, however, would the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) give London’s Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies? To make this assessment, a set of criteria needs to be established.  Informational texts are factual and real. Add a touch of whimsy or artistic interpretation and informational texts blur into that fuzzy blend of the literary genre of fiction. Lyrics in music are often considered poetry, so music also falls in the realm of fiction, and for the purposes of this assessment, so will an artistic dance that expresses a story.

Recommended ratios of informational texts to fiction by grade level.

The CCSS suggest a decreasing ratio of fiction  to an increasing ratio of informational texts  for students in grade 4, grade 8, and grade 12. (see chart) This does not mean that English/Language Arts classes must drop literary fiction, but that other disciplines (History/Social Studies, Math, Science, Health, etc) should include more informational texts in their instruction in order to achieve the suggested ratios. The London 2012 Opening Ceremony was a blend of information and fiction (literally!).

Did London’s “Isles of Wonder” Opening Ceremony meet the recommended ratios of fiction to informational text according to Common Core State Standards?

A quick tally of the highlights as they appeared as either  fiction or informational text:
  • James Bond at Buckingham Palace escorting Queen and Corgis-fiction
  •  Skydiving Queen Elizabeth II-fiction
  • Thames River origin marker, Thames waders, Thames rowers, Thames boat traffic, Thames on a Google map -informational text
  • A flyby of Mr. Rat and Mr. Toad from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows arguing in a boat on the Thames-fiction
  • The Pink Floyd Tribute pig  seen floating above the Battersea Power Station-fiction
  • London landmarks Big Ben and London Bridge-informational text
  • Big Ben’s hour and minute hand rapidly spinning and time traveling in London’s Tube- fiction
  • Posters of past Olympics contrasted with posters advertising 2012 Games-informational texts
  • Fluffy White Clouds held with string on a set of an English meadow –fiction
  • Tribute to the Agrarian Society featuring a very busy sheepdog with livestock -informational text
  • Tribute to the Industrial Revolution with Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the man who was responsible for England’s Industrial Revolution-informational text
  • Kenneth Branagh as Kenneth Branagh reading Caliban’s speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempestfiction
  • Forging of Tolkien’s “One Ring to rule them all” leading to the Forging of the Olympic Rings-fiction
  • Song by Scotland singer Emeli Sandé  and  dance British choreographer Akram Khan: fiction; their performance pre-empted by a silly interview by Ryan Seacrest of Michael Phelps-informational text
  • Tribute to National Health Service replete with backlit hospital beds filled with bouncy children, and dancing nurses and orderlies-informational text
  • Arrival of villainous characters from children’s literature (Including The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang, The Queen of Hearts Alice in Wonderland, and an inflated Voldemort from Harry Potter) chased away by PT Traver’s famous nanny, and all replaced by one giant sleeping baby-fiction
  • Rowan Atkinson’s,  (Mr. Bean), imagination running amuck in Chariots of Fire –fiction
  • A “Tube” made of tubes to highlight a contemporary romance: boy meets girl via cell phone-fiction
  • Musical hits from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s with unnecessary extended rap performance-fiction
  • Clothing from  the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s (with the exception of the fictional Sgt. Pepper Costumes and Freddie Mercury Bobbleheads)  informational text
  • The big reveal of the creator of Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee also known as “TimBL”, computer scientist, MIT professor and the inventor of the World Wide Web -informational text
  • Soccer great David Beckham arriving in a speedboat to hand the torch to Steve Redgrave, a five-time Olympic champion in rowing-informational text
  • The Olympic Cauldron, formed of 205 copper petals (one for each country) ignited by seven young torchbearers nominated by Britain’s past and present Olympic and sporting greats-informational text
  • Paul McCartney’s appearance for a British pound -informational text;  Lyrics of “Hey, Jude” sung by all athletes and audience –fiction
  • Pyrotechnics exploding from every conceivable platform in and around the stadium-informational text

My quick tally of 25 selected moments of the opening games comes to a total of 15 fictional texts (55% ) compared to 13 informational texts (48%)-(including two “blended information and fiction”). These percentages indicate that the production was too heavy in fiction. However, perhaps this high number of fictional texts is not really a surprise as Danny Boyle was hired specifically for his talents with stories (Slumdog Millionaire). According to a CNN report, Bill Morris, director of Ceremonies for the London Games said, “His ability as a storyteller, as a creator of spectacle, his background in both theater and film and the passion he has for this city and this project — they all just screamed at us. It wasn’t a difficult choice.”

Ultimately, London’s Opening Ceremony would not meet the suggested ratio of genres for the Common Core State Standards. According to my criteria and chosen highlights, the elements of the Opening Ceremony would not meet the suggested ratio of 50%  fictional texts to 50% informational texts in Grade 4, and certainly would not meet the ratio of fiction (30%) to informational texts (70%)  for students by grade 12.

There is one more informational fact that could be added to tilt the ratio.  The cost of the opening ceremonies was  27 million British pounds. That cold economic fact could be assessed against the joy of watching the Danny Boyle’s frenetic and spectacular celebration of Great Britain, both real and imagined. However, even this ratio would still not satisfy the recommendations for reading genres. When judging Olympic Opening Ceremonies, the Common Core is not the gold medal standard.

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