Friday, June 15, 2012

Close Reading the Common Core on Fiction/Non-Fiction

Common Core:

The Standards are not alone in calling for a special emphasis on informational text. The 2009 reading framework of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) requires a high and increasing proportion of informational text on its assessment as students advance through the grades.

Note that this is simply the proportion of questions on the test. There's also a table showing the exact numbers.

The Standards aim to align instruction with this framework so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness. In K–5, the Standards follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.

Note the squishy verbs: "aim to," "follow NAEP's lead."

OK, let's ramp that up then:

In accord with NAEP’s growing emphasis on informational texts in the higher grades, the Standards demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom.

ALL RIGHT. Let's demand... a significant amount. How much again?

Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.

Ah! "much greater attention" to "literary nonfiction," which is defined as:

Includes the subgenres of exposition, argument, and functional text in the form of personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies, memoirs, journalism, and historical, scientific, technical, or economic accounts (including digital sources) written for a broad audience.

OK... more of that than has been traditional!

Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.

Interesting. Is the distribution of text questions to be "matched instructionally?" That's never been explicitly stated.

To measure students’ growth toward college and career readiness, assessments aligned with the Standards should adhere to the distribution of texts across grades cited in the NAEP framework.

OK, assessments should map to NAEP. Clear enough.

Then there's this footnote:

The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.

This is incorrect and inconsistent. As stated above, the NAEP percentages are about assessment, not the volume of reading.

This is all followed by 29 separate "range of reading" standards, none of which state anything about the comparative amounts of fiction/non-fiction/informational, etc. texts.

So why has 80% of the discussion about Common Core ELA focused on this question of applying these percentages of fiction and non-fiction to instruction? I have no idea.

Not that there is anything wrong with non-fiction! In fact, I have a distinct memory of my going of on a little rant on teaching more non-fiction during my interview for the Brown English MAT program. I just don't understand why this conversation is happening in the context of these standards, if the authors of the standards didn't find it important enough to address the issue clearly in any of the many, many range of reading standards.

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