While much of the Common Core buzz has centered on mathematics, another change is the increased use of non-fiction texts. While many schools already made such increases before Common Core, there are now mandatory increases of using non-fiction texts, beginning at the kindergarten level.
Educator and author Marc Aronson lectured recently in Portland on the topic of increasing non-fictional text usage in schools. Marc earned his doctorate in American History at NYU while working as an editor of books for young readers. He was the first winner of the American Library Association’s Robert F. Sibert Medal for the best informational book for readers through age 14. He teaches in the graduate library school at Rutgers where he trains school and public librarians, and frequently speaks at conferences on materials for children and teenagers.
Marc Aronson found time before his lecture to speak with Chalkboard staff on the topic of the Common Core and the increase of non-fictional text in the classroom. When asked what were the urgent things he would say to Oregon teachers, he had this to offer:
Make sure you have read the Common Core standards.
That is because I think a lot of the heat and tension are from people who “know” the standards third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand. I think when you read the standards, you will find that they are very clear.
Our students are living in an environment of constantly changing knowledge.
This is the reality of the technological world we live in. I believe we are living in a time where tools for gathering data and processing knowledge have exponentially increased their speed and power. Students have to have that forward-thinking mentality because it’s out of our hands—that’s the reality we are in.
I urge teachers to look at the standards, and non-fiction books, non-fiction websites, with the eye of:
Does this help my students learn inquiry?
Does this help them see all of knowledge as a detective story?
Does it help them develop the tools so they can make sense of new ideas, new technology, and new knowledge that will arrive in the coming years, but which isn’t here yet?
If you speak to a librarian, a person who see kids and their caregivers looking for fun reading, they will tell you non-fiction is very popular. Kids want to know things. They want to know things about the world. They want to know things about dinosaurs, weather, and about sharks. And as educators we want to teach reading as a skill that is worth their time. For many kids, non-fiction provides motivation. It makes the process easier, because you are giving students more of what they actually want to read.
I work and meet with countless teachers and administrators across the country. Every time I go to such a conference I hear the story of a child who wanted to read a nonfiction book and was told he couldn't, because reading meant, "reading a novel.” That is a bias, and therefore, it is a barrier that we have to remove.
We have to expose more teachers and administrators and show how lively, how engaging, how fresh, and how dynamic much of the non-fiction being created for K-12 truly is.
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