Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I am just back from speaking at the Shenandoah University Children's Literature Conference -- a gathering of some 300 local teachers and librarians that has taken place annually for nearly 30 years. Brian Floca gave a wonderful talk about the creation of Locomotive -- perhaps a hint of what he will say to the world at the Newbery-Caldecott banquet. Chris Soenpiet then gave us a guided tour through his books and how he creates them. I of course had no wonderful paintings and deeply-researched drawings to share -- I got to be the lecture guy speaking about Common Core and NF. The twist being that Virginia is not a CC state. But when I read through the Virginia Standards of Learning they turned out to be -- at least in the areas that I was examining -- simply a more detailed, spelled out, version of the exact same emphasis on evidence, argument, POV, comparing and contrasting different nonfiction sources. I was encouraged.

I think we need to shift some of our attention away from the CC heat -- objections on the Left, objections on the Right; this state changing the name of the standards, that state delaying the assessments, this governor trying to win his national political bones by loudly resisting CC -- to the fact that the mode of selecting, sharing, and reading NF that we discuss here in this blog is now required in essentially every state. The key point is not "common" -- shared terminology -- but "core" -- a basic approach.

There is a key "turning the ship" part of this approach: we are asking educators, parents, administrators, librarians who may themselves have experienced NF as textbooks, and "information" as data to be passively absorbed, to now see NF as active inquiry involving comparing sources, questioning ideas, probing for the research and argument behind any claim -- in math, science, history, as well as poetry, fiction, drama. The kinds of books -- and approach to books we feature here can help. But only when the adult professionals using those materials recognize that NF is now playing an entirely new role: it is not imparting knowledge to be absorbed, it is, rather, introducing students to the rules by which knowledge is created.

The attendees at the conference seemed receptive to these ideas. Marina Budhos, my wife, gave a separate talk on her dual roles as a fiction and nonfiction writer -- and thus the claims and needs of fiction and nonfiction -- which also went well. I hope others will be as willing to ignore the political heat over what we call our standards and focus on how adult professionals need to think in new ways to serve their students. 

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