Informational Text at the Expense of Literature?
Will the Common Core emphasis on having students read greater amounts of informational text result in students reading less quality literature?
I am often asked this question as I deliver literacy professional development at schools across the country, especially from English and ELA teachers who are understandably concerned that they may not have the time to expose their students to classic literature. I recently ran across two articles that address this issue:
What English classes should look like in Common Core Era (by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post)
The Common Core has not killed literature (by Meaghan Freeman, The Atlantic)
Both pieces take the position that, contrary to what some skeptics of the Common Core argue, the new standards still allow for a significant focus on reading literature in English classes. I agree, and here are two major arguments that support this position:
- The increase in informational reading that is required in the Common Core standards can and should be addressed by requiring more reading in other subjects such as math, science, history, and other content areas. Prior to the Common Core, it was very common for Keys to Literacy trainers to hear from content teachers that they assigned very little reading to their students. A typical explanation was that the text was too difficult for their students, or that it was more interesting for the students to learn the content via classroom discussion, teacher presentation, and the use of multi-media. The result is that for a long time American students in grades 5-12 did not have sufficient exposure to challenging content-based informational text. If content teachers take up the challenge of explicitly teaching their students how to learn from informational text, that will allow the English courses to focus on reading literature.
- Literature can be used to teach most of the reading skills required in the Common Core. The Standards identify literacy skills that students must acquire, but they do not tell teachers how to teach these skills or what to use. Reading closely to determine what the text says explicitly (R#1), determining the central ideas or themes of a text (R#2), analyzing how and why ideas develop over the course of a text (R#3), interpreting words and phrases as they are used in a text (R#4), and analyzing the structure of texts (R#5) can be taught using quality literature. English teachers who have deep background knowledge in how to teach reading skills already do this. And I know through experience that English teachers who do not know how to embed skills instruction into the study of literature can learn how to do so through quality professional development.
I hope you’ll take the time to explore this topic a bit more by reading the Strauss and Freeman articles.