The Common Core State Standards: Facts and Fiction

School reading lists are about to change. The adoption of the new Common Core State Standards mandates a significant shift in reading instruction, requiring that by the time students reach high school, their school reading will be 30% fiction and 70% non-fiction.  Elementary education has long been weighted toward fiction and will see the most change. If you think about your own elementary school days, or even look at your child’s bookshelf, most of it is probably fiction. Some elementary teachers worry that they’re being asked to trade Charlotte’s Web and The Phantom Tollbooth for Wikipedia and USA Today. The situation isn’t that simple or that dire. While teachers are right to think they must incorporate some new media into their curricula, it turns out that the breakdown between fiction and non-fiction reading requirements for elementary students is actually 50/50, with the greater shift toward non-fiction coming at the middle and high school levels, when the ratio shifts to 20/80 to accommodate the need for more factual and data-centric learning as they transition to college and the workplace.

Developed by teachers and administrators in collaboration with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the Core Standards will evolve as researchers study how to keep boosting literacy skills and expand student’s science and technical vocabularies. The first step in that direction is acknowledging that reading instruction happens in every classroom, not just Language Arts. Supporters of the new standards hope they’ll encourage Science, Math and Social Studies teachers to collaborate with their Language Arts colleagues and librarians to choose a variety of reliable sources so that kids can make multiple connections across the curriculum.

photo credit Sarah Campbell

photo credit Sarah Campbell

Change doesn’t come easy. It will take time to find non-fiction sources worthy of replacing some of the classic fiction. The new standards also steer educators away from traditional textbooks and toward primary sources as well as varying interpretations of events rather than a single perspective presented in a single book. Books alone cannot hope to keep pace with the Internet, where history and progress are updated every day. Creativity, eloquence, and a strong narrative can all be found in real-life stories, and those are the books, articles and websites that will make their way into the classroom. So while it’s possible that some old favorites will drop off your child’s school reading list in the coming years, it’s just as likely that they will bringing home some new items you’ll want to read yourself.

We at Tumblehome Learning (THL) find ourselves happily in the middle of the curriculum shift, with books and kits that draw children in and enrich what they are doing at school. We have always known that STEM subjects need not – and should not – be learned solely from textbooks, and that strong narrative threads paired with hands-on learning are effective ways to teach the basic principles of science and math. Our books prove that core STEM concepts can come alive in fiction and non-fiction reading and that building a science vocabulary can be easy and fun. Our Galactic Academy of Science Files series provides a fictional context that opens the door to the non-fiction concepts in stories about engineers and scientists in settings that are both familiar and exotic to students. Tumblehome books complement the transition to the new standards by presenting STEM concepts in story form that can serve as either a curriculum mainstay or a supplement to elementary and middle school learners, with characters they can understand and concepts to excite them. Each book includes biographies of the scientists doing the real-world work described in the stories, helping kids connect to their own future possibilities. Change is coming. We’re ready.

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