Monday, December 24, 2012

Non-fiction & collaboration: Part of the Common Core Adventure

I'm given to deep sighs when I read articles such as the one titled Common Core: The Non-Fiction Conundrum, and through an organization such as the Association of American Educators, an organization one might think would be better informed.  But at the same time I want to take to task this particular educator, I also applaud her.  Confused?  Read on.

The issue is non-fiction informational texts. Based on the NAEP studies (and regard them as you will) and others, the expectation of the Common Core State Standards is that 70% of students reading will be non-fiction informational text by the time they reach 12th grade. Why? It has to do with college and career readiness. Not a lot of poetry and fiction read in the work place [insert inevitable joke about some business documents here].

Note, please, that is 70% of all reading across the content areas.  So some of that non-fiction informational text is in math, science, music, art, physical education, welding, woodworking, civics, etc. Yes, I mentioned welding and woodworking and I have some teachers in Belen, N.M. to thank for that. I'll come back to that.

First, let's unbunch those undies. We encounter non-fiction informational texts all the time. Textbooks? Non-fiction informational (we hope) texts. Graphs. Charts. Media. Biographies. Editorials. Bills of materials. Blueprints. Architectural drawings. In other words, just about anything that is not fiction could be non-fiction informational text.

Those welding and woodworking teachers were talking about having students create a bill of materials for a particular project, draft a plan for the project, actually build the project, and then document the process. They discussed having students involved in discussions along the way, the kind of discussions a professional contractor might have with a customer. Reading. Speaking. Listening. Writing. All of the critical skills. Boom! And they discovered they could work together (yep, that's called collaboration) in ways they hadn't imagined before. Booyah!

For Common Core, we are talking about literacy skills. We are talking about navigating academic vocabulary as well as domain specific vocabulary. We are talking about making sure that when students are immersed in mathematics, they have the basic literacy skills of mathematics. And yes, those content area teachers might need to learn something about how to help students work on comprehension and fluency as reading teachers understand those terms and skills.

This is the point at which I applaud Melissa, the author of the non-fiction as conundrum post. At the end of her post she writes:
Left with the fact that language arts teachers shouldn't sacrifice teaching literature and that content-area teachers are not the best at teaching language arts, it seems that to properly implement Common Core, collaboration across subject areas is going to become necessary.
The concept of teachers collaborating is not something new. In fact, educators have known for years that interdisciplinary teaching aids both motivation and understanding. Despite the data, up until this point, many primary and secondary teachers still keep strict divisions in the school day for the different subjects.
While teachers have varying opinions on Common Core, it is possible to look at these standards as an opportunity to help transform ourselves into better educators through collaboration.
Yes, the Common Core State Standards are indeed an opportunity to transform to better educators, and collaboration will be a very significant part of that experience.

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