The other night Marina and I visited our local middle school, as our older son enters sixth grade in the fall. We were thrilled at first as we visited the lively Social Studies classrooms, saw the great student projects in the Science rooms, and met the dynamic Math teachers. But then came Language Arts. It broke my heart — but not one single 6th, 7th, or 8th grade class even allowed — much less featured — nonfiction — not in assigned reading, not in author study, not in independent reading. So I decided to look at the CC standards to see what they say.
Go to this site, http://www.corestandards.org/ then scroll down to page 39. This is what middle students students are expected to learn — as Language Arts skills: how to find key ideas and supportive details; how decode a text — that is, figure out ideas and words in context, and, beyond that, determine the author’s point of view and see how s/he hands opposing views; how to evaluate a presentation — including not only text but visuals or other media. In other words literacy includes both developing the skills of making sense of what is going on in NF — what the words and phrases means — and both comprehending and evaluating what the NF piece is trying to do — the case it is making, how it makes it, and whether that argument is valid.
Now I am certain that textbooks will, or perhaps already do, offer very mapped out ways to accomplish these tasks — with arrows, sidebars, and lists of questions. But, in reality, in the real world, the way to develop these skills is for middle school students to read real NF by real authors who have real arguments and views. That is the simple slam dunk answer. And it means that authors, editors, reviewers, librarians, teachers, parents need to recognize that opening books up to point of view, opinion, speculation, judgment, argument is precisely what young people need from us. The world is complex, and insights change on the fly — we have to bring young people into that world of change and debate — and the CC approach is our ally.
Now we just need to get that message to our local schools.