Monday, December 31, 2012

The Common Core, Fiction, and Nonfiction [Opinion]

Recently, I have seen a lot written about the Common Core State Standards in regard to the reading of fiction versus nonfiction literature, most of it critical of the Common Core's emphasis on the reading of informational, non-fiction material. 

In my opinion, much of this criticism is disproportionate, and in some cases, totally without merit.

The Common Core State Standards suggest that by grade 12, reading should be 70% nonfiction, or "informational texts." This is the culmination of a gradual progression from the 50% nonfiction reading recommended for elementary school students.

These guidelines concern some English teachers and others who feel they must replace traditionally-taught literature with technical reading. Common Core critics like to point out that suggested reading includes documents such as the Environmental Protection Agency's "Recommended Levels of Insulation." They don't mention the inclusion of such informational titles as "Google Hacks: Tips & Tools for Smarter Searching, 2nd Edition", by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest;  Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491, by Charles Mann; or “Amusement Park Physics” Jearl Walker. Everyone would probably do well to actually look at the Common Core suggested readings.

English teachers should still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. The lead writer of the standards, David Coleman, says that principals and teachers are misreading the guidelines. The increased reading of informational texts is intended across disciplines. English teachers won't have to alter their literature lessons. These goals of the Common Core can be achieved by social studies, science, math, and teachers in other disciplines putting more focus on reading to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Marc Aronson thinks the new Common Core State Standards could be transformational to teaching and learning by supporting close, rigorous reading of informational text and encouraging students to ask for the "evidence."

Having been a teacher of mathematics, I have long seen that much of the difficulty students have in math is a direct consequence of a poor ability to read for information. They will read a word problem in the same way they read a novel. So, I for one, think the added emphasis on reading informational content is well justified in our increasingly information-based society.

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