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.