|p: Ambient Photography |
There have been many articles about the Common Core that have highlighted frustrations about new standards that will greatly increase the amount of nonfiction students will be asked to read. One blog entry even implied that the Common Core is disrespecting fiction titles and trying to pass off wood chipping manuals as nonfiction.
These characterizations are not particularly helpful in the grand scheme of things. In the national conversation, the nonfiction in question is repeatedly referred to as “informational texts,” a label that immediately bathes the genre in an unflattering light and exacerbates the misconception that upping the nonfiction ante will be a negative thing.
Indeed, the term “informational text” conjures images of dry, fact-filled tomes that pale in comparison to the fiction educators are wont to give up. Compound this imagery with comparisons that pit a suggested reading of “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration to, perhaps, E.L. Doctorow’s RAGTIME, and it will not be terribly difficult to muster support for those who seem to be against reading more nonfiction.
While it is true that Common Core will open the door to a broader range of texts, this type of warped comparison is creating fear as well as giving nonfiction short shrift and, more importantly, it is skewing the conversation in general.
It is imperative to understand that the intention behind the Common Core is to recognize that part of what is needed is knowledge, as knowledge is part of what informs literacy. This misconception that Common Core exists to take away the literature naysayers love—and by literature they mean fiction
—has people really riled up. Instead, a benefit of what Common Core is doing is broadening what we commonly think of as literature. The kind of nonfiction that challenges a student’s thinking and expands their views of the world is most definitely literature.
In part, it is the list of Common Core titles that keeps circulating that is contributing to the conflict. The list includes award-winning narrative nonfiction as well as historical documents and can seem constricting. What would be more useful than a list of texts would be a list of qualities
of a nonfiction text that make it beneficial to readers and learners for providing them not only with information but avenues of critical thinking, placing people and episodes of history in context so readers can better understand how our world was, and is being, shaped. Marc Aronson, an author and teacher at Rutgers who has led more than 20 Common Core workshops for teachers and librarians is working with the people at Student Achievement Partners to effect this change.
Since I am an author of narrative nonfiction, this may make me biased; however, my colleagues and I are in a unique position of experiencing first-hand how excited students become when reading and analyzing nonfiction texts that challenge and encourage them to dissect meaning for themselves. We write books that make kids think about what is being presented, and question things for themselves. This is evidenced during school visits, as well as in letters and emails from kids asking wonderful questions of authors.
The implementation of Common Core is an excellent step toward preparing our students to be more critical thinkers, able to form intelligent opinions and solve problems. Of course, it is also a work in progress and there will be glitches along the way that need to be refined. To this end, rather than restricting teachers and librarians by supplying them with a list of titles to utilize, the idea of a list of qualities would be a vast improvement.
In the meantime, I am offering teachers some useful ways to connect the CCSS to my two new books—COURAGE HAS NO COLOR, THE TRUE STORY OF THE TRIPLE NICKLES: AMERICA’S FIRST BLACK PARATROOPERS (ages 10 and up with more than 100 photographs/Candlewick Press) and WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN’T BE DOCTORS? THE STORY OF ELIZABETH BLACKWELL (picture book, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman/Henry Holt).
For COURAGE HAS NO COLOR, Lynn Rutan wrote a wonderful Teacher’s Guide, which is being made available in its entirety here
. It includes Discussion Questions as well as Writing Prompts and Research Activities with Common Core Connections. For WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN’T BE DOCTORS? I am currently working on a guide that will be available soon and do similar things. The author of more than ninety books for young readers, Tanya Lee Stone graduated from Oberlin College, worked as an editor of nonfiction books, and earned a master's degree in science education. She moved to Vermont in 1996, wrote her first book, and has been writing ever since. In addition to her two new books—COURAGE HAS NO COLOR and WHO SAYS WOMEN CAN'T BE DOCTORS?—Stone's books include ALMOST ASTRONAUTS, ELIZABETH LEADS THE WAY, SANDY'S CIRCUS, UP CLOSE: ELLA FITZGERALD, and A BAD BOY CAN BE GOOD FOR A GIRL. She also has a forthcoming picture book about Jane Addams called THE HOUSE THAT JANE BUILT. Tanya has received many awards for her work, including a BOSTON GLOBE-HORN BOOK Honor, YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Jane Addams Honor, a Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, a Golden Kite Award, and a Robert F. Sibert Medal. She teaches Writing Creative Nonfiction and Writing Children’s Literature at Champlain College.
© 2013 Tanya Lee Stone. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise. The Common Core: Showing Nonfiction the Love Book Reviews: Social Justice