Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughts on the Common Core Standards: English Edition

There's been a lot of chatter about the new Common Core Standards. We have a set for English and a set for mathematics. As a math teacher who writes novels, I have thoughts about both, but I'll focus on the English standards for this post.

The big attention-getter for these new standards is that it calls for more reading of informational, non-fiction texts, going from 50% of reading material in elementary school and gradually increasing to 70% in high school.

That's where the chatter comes in. Many are upset about the units on classic literature, beloved favorites, and poetry getting cut from the curriculum, as noted in articles here and here.

I have thoughts on both sides of this. I've seen personally that students are definitely lacking in their ability to read text for factual information, to reason through technical material. I agree that more focus on developing these types of reading skills is necessary.

I also agree that nurturing a love of reading for pleasure is important. Reading fiction has boundless benefits, especially for children and teenagers.

I've heard some say that technical reading is for science class. Basically, let the science teachers handle all that, along with the social studies teachers for historical documents. Leave the English teachers to focus exclusively on the fiction side.

On the other side, content area teachers say they don't teach reading and writing—that's the English teacher's job.

Which side do I fall on? Both, or neither.

From my time working in a school for the deaf, I have it ingrained in me that all teachers are language arts teachers. We don't all cover all aspects of language equally, but we all have parts we can build up, develop, and reinforce. I see no reason that shouldn't carry over to non-deaf education.

At the same time, English teachers are in more of a position to focus deeply on the nuances of non-fiction, informational writing without splitting as much attention with the concepts and other skills to be mastered. They also have more training in the teaching of reading and writing.

So ideally, a balance between both. Teachers brainstorming about texts that fit within their curricula, including English class. Working together. Supporting each other.

As much as I love fiction, it's not the be-all, end-all.

As much as I love math and science, they're not the be-all, end-all.

So my first step? Try to open some dialogue with the English teachers at my school ... because without Twitter, I wouldn't have even known as much as I do about these new standards.

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