Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Standards, Dear Reader, Lie Not Within the Book, But Within Ourselves

Recently I received an email from a librarian saying that she dreaded seeing a nonfiction book with a shiny sticker placed on it by a publisher saying "common core compliant." Too late. There are already websites touting common core connections as if the standards resided inside the books.  Check out some recent claims. One publisher claims that its titles are aligned with the standards. How? Another claims that its databases are aligned. Again, how is this done? What does this mean?

I am reminded of an article I once read a long time ago in LANGUAGE ARTS entitled "Who's Building Whose Building?" by Dennis Searle. In that article, the author worried that adults who claimed to be scaffolding students' understanding were actually pursuing their own agenda.  I am not worried about nonfiction books or databases pursuing their own agenda when it comes to CCSS.  What I am worried about is the mistaken idea that CCSS lies inside the books. It does not.

Even a cursory examination of CCSS reveals that the connections to be made, the skills to employ, and critical responses are for the students to do with the guidance of a teacher. Books and related items are the raw materials for students to think about. Of course, we need high quality nonfiction to stimulate our thinking.  The productive experience resulting from meeting CCSS standards comes from rigorous engagement with curriculum in science, math, social studies, and language arts. That's where the standards come to life, and that's where we find education that is "core curriculum compliant."

So, I think this all boils down to placing our focus on the integration of curriculum content, materials, and CCSS. That's the crucial alignment. When planning instruction, let's ask these questions: What content am I exploring with students? What material can make this content come alive because it is informative and stimulating? What standards can be incorporated as we study this material?

Right now I am working with my colleague Susan Turkel to plan a second grade unit dealing with plants. This topic is part of the mandated second grade curriculum. We are spending time researching materials. We make decisions about what to use one day and modify these decisions the next. Once we finally decide on materials, we look for openings and opportunities for reading them, discussing them, and writing about them.  These openings will allow students to learn new information and respond to it.  Students will learn about both the content and process of science. Hands-on activities will stimulate even more questions and ideas.  CCSS comes to life when our minds are engaged. That's the true meaning of being CCSS compliant.


  1. Well said thank you for making an important point.

  2. The standards are the skills that authors use to create nonfiction books. We nonfiction authors talk about these skills all the time in our group blog I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). Check it out