let’s stop worrying and love the common core

You’ll live to be read another day, sweet Catcher in the Rye. Beautiful illustration by naomi yamada.

Dear sweet baby Jane.

So if you want a rage stroke, read the articles I’ve listed below. If you want to just read an accurate description of how the fiction/nonfiction actually breaks down in the Common Core, just read this one.

I think the way everyone (yes, LITERALLY* EVERYONE EVER) was misquoting the 70% figure and assiduously babycrying about Recommended Levels of Insulation being an exemplary text (which it IS, for INFORMATIONAL TEXTS, not LITERATURE) really shows us that our ability to read different types of text SUCKS.

Listen. I think the common core probably has flaws, but I don’t care, because it has at least one major strength: knocking lexile off its perch as the definitive way we give kids books to read.

See, a major component of CC is text complexity. This concept forces us (us referring to teachers, parents, and librarians, mostly) to consider a whole text when we’re deciding when to read it and who to read it with. (I love this mostly because it reminds me a lot of the whole child approach to teaching). Lexile is only one piece of the puzzle. It must be used in conjunction with theme, levels of meaning, structure, prior knowledge demands, etc, to decide where a piece of writing would best be used. (I’d never be able to explain it better than Jackie Owens did in this presentation, so if you want to see how to evaluate a text, check that out, bookmark it, print it out and laminate it–it’s an excellent tool to use.)

The idea is that we want to empower kids to be stronger, more well-rounded readers. We want them to be exposed to a wealth and breadth of reading materials so that they can discover their talents and passions. You know that some kid is going to geek out intensely on that insulation text (well maybe not, but don’t we all know kids who pore over game manuals who could easily and happily make the leap to, say, car repair texts? or mortgage applications?), and who are we to deny that kid that opportunity?

Being able to adjust one’s reading style to the text at hand is an important skill, and one that we’re sorely lacking. You don’t read a verse novel the same way you read your tax form, and if we don’t teach kids that, we’re setting them up for failure. Maybe if more kids knew that it was okay to skim the boring parts of a novel (hello, flensing in Moby Dick and architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) they’d be more able to stick with a difficult novel and get out of it what they could. Further, if we read more informational and technical texts, maybe we’d have been better able to avoid some of the effects of the financial crisis because it wouldn’t have been so damn difficult to read and understand loan documents and mortgage applications.

So teachers, don’t worry, you can keep teaching The Catcher in Rye (shudder) until they pry Holden Caulfield’s literary corpse out of your cold dead hands. But you can also spend a little time reading biographies of some of the famous people mentioned in the text (such as Gary Grant, or the Lunts, perhaps, although I can see many a middle schooler having a field day with that name), or looking at articles of the period from the Saturday Evening Post. CC isn’t about taking anything away, it’s about adding supporting materials to deepen and enrich the experience of reading.

It’s also a great opportunity to insist that literacy isn’t solely the responsibility of the LA teachers and librarians any more. Read a novel in math class (Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth both lend themselves wonderfully to big, beautiful, crazy making math discussions), or read Silent Spring in biology class. I read Silent Spring in biology class when I was in high school, and it’s pretty much the only damn thing I really remember, frankly. For kids who aren’t technically minded, having stories to hang these concepts on is a wonderful scaffolding and support technique. And for kids who love to crunch numbers and muck about with beakers, being exposed to the lyricism of Rachel Carson’s prose or the sheer goofiness of Milo’s adventures will remind them of the human element inherent in every discipline, no matter how far removed it may seem.

SO FRET NOT FRIENDS. The world of literature for children has expanded, not contracted; there is a bounty out there, with something for everyone. Rejoice.

AND DING DONG LEXILE’S DEAD. Or, at least, not so very powerful.

Now I want a ding dong. Or actually, a zinger.

*Chris Trager style

How To Do it Right

Two Common Core Blunders To Avoid–and How to Do It

The Role of Fiction in the High School English Language Arts Classroom

How to measure text complexity

Common Core and Nonfiction, Again

Rage Stroke Articles

Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say

English Class: Hold the Literature?

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

 

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