"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Common Core Confusion

A requirement embedded in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for more reading instruction using non-fiction is causing confusion. Exactly how much more non-fiction is going to be required? Some writers have said that elementary reading instruction must have 50% non-fiction and 70% for high school. Others indicate that the exact amount is not determined by the standards.

Apparently, the amount of non-fiction required will be based on the interpretation of school systems and/or state departments of education. Many are already asking teachers to reduce the amount of fiction students read...and replace it with non-fiction.

There's been an expected backlash against reducing the amount of fiction which students read...and replacing it with non-fiction. Elementary teachers and English teachers, especially, are concerned because of the important place fiction holds in their classrooms.

So, just how important is reading fiction? It turns out that it's extremely important.

Your Brain on Fiction discusses the neuroscience associated with reading fiction.
Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life...Fiction, Dr. Oatley notes, “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

These findings will affirm the experience of readers who have felt illuminated and instructed by a novel, who have found themselves comparing a plucky young woman to Elizabeth Bennet or a tiresome pedant to Edward Casaubon. Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.
It's also true that reading and listening to fiction helps students develop a desire to read...and, since reading improves reading, the more students read, the better they will become at it. Teaching reading skills is important, but it's also important to give students an incentive to learn to read. We know that motivation matters...and the motivation to read is improved by reading fiction.

The confusion over the CCSS requirement for non-fiction needs to be addressed before schools, school systems, and states change curricula. Here's Diane Ravitch (reference to David Coleman - see here)...Will the Common Core Standards Reduce Time for Literature?
...English teachers across the nation are cutting back on fiction, because they have been told that the Common Core standards say they must.

The standards say that reading must be 50% fiction/50% nonfiction, and increase in high school to 70% nonfiction. Teachers are dropping novels and poetry and short stories to comply.

But David Coleman says that people are misinformed.

He points to a footnote on page 5 of the 66-page document. He says that English teachers can keep teaching mostly fiction, while math and history teachers teach more reading about math and history. (Had math and history teachers been teaching fiction up until now? Is this a change for them?)
Is the problem with the way the CCSS have been written? One of the "key points" of the language arts standards is to teach students to "write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence..." Maybe the writers of the CCSS need some instruction on how to construct a clear and concise sentence.

Or maybe I just didn't read enough non-fiction when I was a student.


Stop the Testing Insanity!



Terry said...

It seems to me that those who insist that the Common Core will reduce,even eliminate, reading fiction misinterpret or ignore what the standards say. The CCSS make reading and writing not just the responsibility of language arts, but in every subject area. If a high school student's reading should be 70% non-fiction that includes reading in social studies, science, math, foreign language as well as in language arts. The Common Core does have standards for Reading Literature in language arts grades 6-12 and reading standards for social studies, science, and technical studies as well. Some of the reactions seem ill-informed and unwarranted. I agree that the CCSS need to be well understood before curriculum changes are made; however, a thorough, careful reading of both the reading and writing standards should help alleviate some of the concern. By the way, the percentages noted in the standards come from the NAEP Reading Framework.

Stu said...

My concern is that school systems/states will make requirements based on incorrect or confused information. The indications are -- at least from what I've read -- that some of that is already happening.

Terry said...

That is my concern as well. The way to combat it is for educators at all levels be informed. They need to read the standards, if only at their grade levels and disciplines, and then address them in their lessons. Many are already addressing the standards because they are not so different from the Indiana standards.

Hoosiers Against Common Core said...

There are also problems within the writing standards. Prof. Sandra Stotsky addresses this issue in a post on www.hoosiersagainstcommoncore.com. She points to the lack of coherency between the writing and reading standards.

Also, I disagree with the comments on the NAEP reading frameworks being aligned with common core. Limitations posed by Common Core's idiosyncratic 50/50 division of reading standards: 10 for informational (or nonfiction) reading, 9 for literary study, at every grade level. This division is unsupported by reading research or NAEP's own reading frameworks (see Bauerlein & Stotsky, 2012).

a. Much less room for literary study (which always included literary nonfiction in the form of speeches and historically contemporary essays). Makes a coherent literature curriculum impossible.

b. No indication what "information" is inherently part of the English curriculum (i.e., the counterpart to the information about math, history, and science that is taught in the math, history, and science curriculum respectively). Results in an even more incoherent curriculum unless informational selections are historically contemporary or intellectually antecedent to literary texts studied.

c. Leaves the K-8 reading curriculum wide open to less demanding reading than complex literary texts because the purpose of informational text is precisely to convey "information." Lends itself to reading comprehension exercises especially because "cold reading" being recommended by confused people at Aspen Institute (see Brown & Kappas, 2012).

d. Leaves the curriculum also open to "context" texts now labeled pre-reading that may distort or distract from the literary text if they are not contemporary to the text or if they moralize.

e. If informational or nonfiction text analyzed for rhetoric, will literary texts be analyzed aesthetically, for balance?

f. If no agreed-upon body of information in an English curriculum, how can informational test items be valid and fair? Cannot assess the information in scattered informational readings because students haven't learned the disciplinary context for the information. Nor is it clear how English teachers or students know whether the information in them is correct, complete, unbiased. If the information is daily life-based, then it is a reading comprehension exercise and not appropriate in the English curriculum.