I woke up this morning to Rosalyn Schanzer's post on the I.N.K. blog about a December 2nd story in The Washington Post that demonstrates exactly what people don't know or understand about both the Common Core Standards and nonfiction literature for children and young adults. It also represents the tremendous gaps in Appendix B.
I wish that there was at least one reporter at a national newspaper who more closely examined this thing called "nonfiction" or "informational texts" that children are supposed to be reading. Yes, young adult nonfiction is entirely absent from Appendix B starting in middle school. So you can't look at the Core Standards to see examples of appropriate nonfiction for students to read at the secondary level. It was this gap that galvanized Marc, Myra, and I to establish the Uncommon Corps in the first place. We knew the authors of the standards must not have known enough about middle grade and nonfiction literature. It was up to us to start spreading the word.
However, Appendix B has age-appropriate nonfiction titles for the elementary grades! Some are dated, yes, but these are titles that are more than appropriate for students learning to read, and reading to learn in language arts, science, and social studies. Many boys (and girls) love and prefer nonfiction. What is so hedonistic about requiring that it be read when we're talking about the picture books of Steve Jenkins or April Pulley Sayre and so many other fine writers and illustrators? One look at Kadir Nelson's I Have a Dream picture book demonstrates the ways in which speeches can be examined by children and young adults in novel ways. Why are so few reporters actually taking a look at those books and talking to the authors and editors who create these books and the body of teachers and librarians who use them? Why are the same people always quoted in the newspaper as the voice of dissent?
Finally, MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHERS CAN TEACH A BALANCE OF LITERATURE AND NONFICTION/INFORMATIONAL TEXT. No one officially connected to the Core Standards is suggesting in print or otherwise that novels are dead, that literature shouldn't be taught. But literary nonfiction is also literature, and it has a place in the secondary English Language Arts classroom.
It is up to the other subject areas to step-up and start providing real-world reading experiences for young adults, context-rich opportunities to explore nonfiction trade books, digital texts, newspaper articles, government reports, research papers, the works, rather than using a single text book that students don't read in the first place. It is up to principals and superintendents to read the Core Standards and give their teachers the correct information. It is up to every teacher in the building to share the opportunity of teaching young people using a wide variety of texts of all genres and modalities.
I think I got that out of my system. For now.