Common Core in 2013: Facts from Fiction

By Beth Hillerns

The Common Core Standards are making their way into more and more schools and classrooms, and their implementation seem to be causing nearly as much controversy as their adoption. One of those controversies is the requirement that by 12th grade, students should be reading 70 percent nonfiction and 30 percent fiction.

This surprises me — not the requirement, but the controversy. The goal of the Common Core is to have students be college and career ready by graduation. Most of the reading I did in college and now do for my career is nonfiction, so the percentages don’t seem out of line with the goal. Apparently, though, some people have interpreted the nonfiction/fiction split to represent what should be taking place in the English classroom and not across the school day. I think this interpretation is a serious mistake.

There is a lot that could be controversial in the Common Core, but the nonfiction/fiction split should not be. Instead I think this issue highlights some serious organizational problems in our schools.

Problem #1 – Our teachers are isolated. Often the only interaction teachers have with their peers is in the staff lounge or parking lot.

Problem #2 – Reading skills across the content areas are not adequately supported. Although the Common Core specifically addresses reading in the content areas (social studies and science in particular), many teachers still view them as just language arts and math standards – the domain of those teachers.

Problem #3 – There is a misunderstanding of textbooks as curriculum. Textbooks should be one resource for teachers, but other sources should be included and other texts read by students. Too often, teachers have to find resources on their own, with their own time and money, if they choose. This leads to dry, uninspiring reading.

As long as these problems persist, teachers will find it challenging to implement the Common Core reading requirements across the school day. To address these problems, school districts can do three things:

Solution #1 – Facilitate peer observations as an integral part of our profession. Teachers in one another’s classrooms should be commonplace. This will help teachers learn from one another and know more about how to work together to implement standards that are integrated, not isolated.

Solution #2 – Employ literacy coaches. Literacy coaches can provide knowledge and demonstration of reading strategies and instruction to teachers who are already experts in their content area. They can also provide opportunities for effective peer observation.

Solution #3 – Use texts in addition to textbooks. Give teachers (individually or through a curriculum committee) the time to find texts that address their standards and the resources to provide these texts to students. A literacy coach can facilitate this process.

As our world becomes more integrated, we cannot afford to let our schools remain places of isolation. We’ve got to pay attention to the big picture first. The fact is, teachers can work together to implement standards across the curriculum.

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Comments (8)

  1. Pingback: Common Core in 2013: Facts from Fiction | VIVA Teachers | Text Complexity & Rigor |

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  3. gordon chan

    Politicians and policy makers are still trying to find the magic bullet. If students cannon learn, fire the teachers just as the NFL does to coaches.

    • Gordon, you’re right in that many are simply looking for a magic bullet. However, we know from science and experience that the learning process is incredibly complex. The Common Core Standards are aimed at getting our children to think about and analyze complex concepts. In writing this article, I hoped to present some realistic steps schools can take to help teachers implement the standards successfully.

      • gordon chan

        Since I am finishing my 48th year of teaching, I have found that many of my old lessons developed in the 1960’s are similar to the readings (non-fiction) and writings(expository, argumentative) of the common core. Are we going back to the future?

        • Gordon, you certainly have a lot of experience! I don’t know enough about curriculum/standards trends of the 1960s to respond specifically to your point. However, perhaps the biggest difference is that we are expecting all students to reach the level of complexity through the Common Core that may have been reserved only for top students in previous generations.

  4. Lesley Hagelgans

    I work in a small district with limited resources. The ELA teachers in our Middle School took the initiative to make recommendations to non ELA teachers like Science, Math, etc as to what types of reading and writing would work well in their content area. We also had numerous teachers come to the ELA teachers asking how they could incorporate more writing and reflection into their assessments and how they could use rubrics to assess the writing. This not only helped prepared our students for the integration of the Common Core, but this also helped build relationships across Content Areas. If teachers are struggling to integrate the Common Core literacy standards, check with the ELA teachers in your building. You have experts closer than you think. The ELA teachers make recommendations that allowed administration to see that all types of nonfiction reading and writing were being covered through various content areas, and it also relieved frustration for some teachers who felt they had to do it all themselves. The Common Core doesn’t have to be overwhelming if people will work as a team to tackle the new challenges held within the new or arguably revised expectations. I agree with Gordan that much of the Common Core is revisiting strategies and expectations of long ago, but so the pendulum in education swings.

  5. gordon chan

    You are correct about greater expectations for all students. I think we now have to find, discover teaching methods that can reach all students at the same time with great efficiency and effectiveness. I am still trying to hone my craft. Any suggestions?

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