Much of the virtual water cooler conversation launched by last week’s Washington Post article entitled “Common Core Sparks War over Words” has focused on who shoulders the burden for teaching the increased amounts of informational text called for in the Common Core State Standards. While important, this debate misses the far more interesting question of why folks insist on so narrowly defining informational text in the first place.
Rather than excising great literary works from the curriculum, Common Core believes the new standards might simply be calling on teachers to expand their repertoire. Evidence that the intent is not to exclude narrative nonfiction is found in the standards themselves (page 5): “Fulfilling the Standards for 6-12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.” Literary nonfiction, which includes biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies, also includes accounts of pivotal moments in history, recounted in narrative form, whose purpose is, first and foremost, to impart information. Common Core hopes the new call for informational text will grant teachers the opportunity to seek out engaging nonfiction, which, among other things, has the power to incite interest in otherwise disinterested readers. Exposing elementary school students to such age-appropriate books and stories that include rich illustrations will often engender a drive to learn that more traditional informational text, with technical language and a bunch of graphs, charts, and diagrams can’t.
Early next year, our organization will be releasing U.S. and World History Maps for grades K-5 that can be used to teach history content and ELA skills. The literary nonfiction works selected are as rich as any elementary school teacher could hope to find and yet they impart much needed background information to students. For example, Moonshot by Brian Floca tells the story of the flight of Apollo 11. It is a beautifully written story, full of information about America’s space exploration, but capable of captivating the minds of students in grades 3 to 5 for whom it is targeted.
Let’s seize this opportunity to expand what students read, and select engaging informational texts that encourage students to read to learn. If we seek to inspire our students with engaging texts, making nonfiction selections will not be a chore. It will be a welcomed adventure.