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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Common Core, Beginning or End?

The world is noticing. All around me I see new attention to the CC Standards and the Nonfiction Literacy strand within them. Perhaps it is the new school year, but educators of all stripes are trying to figure out what to do — which means that even book publishers are starting to (mistakenly) ask prospective authors to align new book ideas to the standards. That is a mistake because the NF strand is about an approach to writing, reading, and thinking, it is not a selected list of topics. An author could write about trucks, tsunamis, or TR and be in tune, or, equally, out of tune, with the standards. But still the question shows that even trade book editors, far removed from classrooms, have heard tell that a change is afoot.

Dr. Zarnowsky pointed out to me that there is even already some blowback. In the current issue of Language Arts, an article takes issue with some of the thinking behind the standards: •Research and Policy: Relating Policy to Research and Practice: The Common Core Standards
Randy Bomer and Beth Maloch

It seems perfectly possible to me that CC can be as poorly thought through and ham-handedly executed as NCLB (I hope you all read that Diane Ravitch essay I included here last week). But our interest, our stake in the ground, is not CC. Rather it is that CC has raised the issue of NF literacy. All of us — authors, librarians, teachers, parents, administrators — need to experiment, to try out different approaches to getting young people to engage with inquiry, to develop ideas, to test theories, to write research papers, and to grow in their ability to question the givens of the world. We would be terrible teachers if we rigidly stuck to one plan, with the goal of teaching students to be innovators. CC as it is stands is not a panacea, it is not The Solution (much as those of us who care about NF may feel it that way) — it is the recognition of the need for a new beginning.
(And, so I see from a survey that landed in my in-box, even YALSA is asking members about the horrible decision to create BFYA out of the mutilated body of BBYA — so perhaps the NF wave is rising even into the chambers of those who exiled it from Best Books discussions.


  1. Myra Zarnowski says:

    I agree that the attention being paid to nonfiction is good. It’s the idea that we can build understanding bit-by-bit in a spiral curriculum that is questionable. It sounds so enticing, but honestly, is it true? Bomer and Maloch’s article really gave me pause when they wrote, “Just because a complex behavior, like Writing Standard #1 is repeated across all grades from K through 12, it does not mean there is evidence that it is thus developed in a linear fashion in actual people” (p. 42). Again, it sounds so logical and looks so easy. It’s enticing.

    And yet, I have always found that children’s real excitement comes from exploring information that they didn’t know before. Last year, I spent six months (from January to June) reading about bees with fifth graders. They began by reading THE HIVE DETECTIVES, a wonderful book about scientists who are trying to figure out why honey bees are dying in huge numbers. They found this fascinating and never, ever tired of the topic. We saw videos, went on a field trip to a working hive, talked with a scientist and so on. Yet, when I was telling a school administrator about how excited the kids were and how much they were learning about bees, this administrator told me that they weren’t learning about bees, they were learning nonfiction reading strategies!!! No, I said, they were learning about bees.

    When are we going to learn that no one sets out to learn reading strategies? Our students yearn for compelling content. They will learn reading strategies in order to engage with compelling content.