If, like me, you have become all too familiar with the Common Core standards, you have found your way to “Appendix B,” the list of IT (informational text) titles that are provided into sections, K-5, and 6-12. You are also certainly aware of the apparent focus on “short texts” that I have discussed here previously. Well I had the good fortune of speaking with an astute librarian who played an important role in developing Appendix B, and I realized that how many of us see it — and, indeed, how the scrambling world of teachers, librarians, and publishers see it — is limited and misguided.
First, the list was created some 3 years ago, so it is inherently dated. Many of us noticed that, but not the simple reason for it — it was crafted as the CC was being developed, but while the standards are evergreen, the books are not (or not necessarily). The creators of the list were well aware of its limitations, but they saw the books as “exemplars” — instances of kinds of books that could support the CC, engage students, and work well in classrooms. They arrived at that determination by working with some 40 year classroom teachers in the age ranges who reported on books that had worked well for them — limited by (and this is beyond belief) those books publishers were willing to provide (that is, some refused to let their books be tested and used in the program, thus excluding them from Appendix B). This is a commendable process, but since the testing structure is no longer in place, it cannot be updated.
My thought is that we should create a new list around a different principle: more about less (which is very CC). Why not select a smaller list of exemplars and then have teachers, librarians, CC designers explain what it is about that book which makes it work — and thus extract guiding principles which teachers and librarians can use in evaluating other texts? The listed books then really do function as examples, not as (as it is easy to picture today) a cannonically approved and limited list.
Short text: it turns out that the carefully scaffolded short text exemplars are classroom strategies — showing how the CC focus on increasing text complexity can function in heterogeneous classrooms with differing reading abilities. In a sense it it is a way to jump over the Lexile divide. It does not replace books with passages. It shows, in some detail, how a passage can be handled.
Friends, neighbors, countryfolk: we have work to do in translating what CC really says about IT books and spreading the word. I know for a fact that publishers are in two modes — rushing around to rebrand everything as CC, or doing absolutely nothing. The first will flood schools with half truths packaged to look convenient. The second keeps good books away from the classrooms where they are needed. We need to bridge the gap.