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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Guest Blog — The Standards are Big News

As you all must have seen, the government posted its proposed new national K-12 standards this week, and the plan totally changes the game for all us. Not only are content areas given their due, but literacy is now clearly defined as including a strong non-fiction strand. We are back in the schools — in the mandated curriculum. I’ve as Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello, Assistant Professor in the Language and Literacy Division of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education, who teaches courses in children’s and young adult literature and content area literacy, to comment. Her guest blog is in two parts, which will appear here today and Monday:

The Common Core Standard Earthquake:

Seismic Shifts for Content Literacy and the Role of Nonfiction K-12


            The rollout of the final public draft of The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science, written by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) has changed the conversation, perhaps once and for all, regarding content literacy and the role of nonfiction literature in K-12 classrooms. Never before have I seen such a clarion call, such a public articulation of the role that literacy plays in the content areas, with particular regard to nonfiction literature in all of its manifestations, from literary nonfiction to government reports, charts, and studies.

            When I commented last week on Nonfiction Matters, it was in response to Marc’s entry on “Learning to Read” and “Reading to Learn.” Traditionally, it was thought that children needed to first learn to read before they were able to read to learn. Researchers identified “the 4th grade slump” as the critical time when students start to falter as readers, because they are held responsible for content knowledge that they have learned through reading. Thus, content literacy efforts, literacy in the disciplines of science and social studies, but also the arts, have most often been associated with grades 4 and up. But over the past decade, in the field of literacy, we’ve seen a break from that notion that children learn to read exclusively with fiction.

In part, the understanding that the very young are ready for nonfiction is rooted in the natural curiosity young children display for the world around them – that this very curiosity is what compels them to learn to read. In part, it’s due to the explosion of innovative, exciting, and engaging nonfiction picture books for the very youngest of readers. Authors such as April Pulley-Sayre, Gail Gibbons, Nicola Davies, and author-illustrators like Steve Jenkins, have transformed the genre and provided emergent and newly independent readers with nonfiction picture books that offer rich language experiences, fascinating information, and visual feasts for the eyes. 

Monday Dr. Cappiello will talk about some of the ways she brings nonfiction into her classroom, and then open up the conversation we all need to have about how to meet the challenge of the new standards.


  1. Now that I’m a mom of a son AND a reading teacher I see even more clearly how important it is to offer students a variety of types of books. I’m teaching reading in Spanish right now, so it is much more challenging to find books, and the textbook I have to use is almost all fiction. There is one boy in my group who has not shown any interest in what we are doing except when we read the ONE story in the text that is nonfiction. I’ll bet these standards will bring me more books! I’m glad!

  2. Lela: that is interesting — I wonder how much younger NF is available in Spanish? Has NF ever won a Belpre award — for any age level? Maybe a My Life story, but I mean a book about a topic, science, nature, inventions, history, pets — etc.

  3. Linda Zajac says:

    Hallelujah! Congrats to those NF authors mentioned above (and all those not mentioned) for lighting the way.

  4. What the hell is a “Gutenburg moment”-why so sloppy?