High school teachers in various content areas may be facing some changes this school year as many states adopt the Common Core Standards. The problem, however, is that the initiative has focused too much on selling the idea of common or national standards rather than explaining which content areas will be held accountable for teaching the standards.
It’s long been the burden of the English/Language Arts (ELA) department to be held accountable for all the reading and writing instruction in grades 6-12. Yet, we all know reading and writing does not just happen in English or reading class. Social studies courses rely heavily on reading, as do science content areas. Teachers in those areas know that their strongest students most likely have higher reading and writing skills. This is nothing new, of course. But now the Common Core Standards are spreading out the literacy standards to include those content areas.
The confusing part is how the standards are written. The assumption is that everything under the ELA standards should be taught by ELA teachers. Not so. Even though grades 6-12 literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are listed under the ELA standards, these are directed specifically to those content-area teachers; however, they are extremely similar to the “Reading: Informational Text” strands in the grades 6-12 ELA standards. Which, of course, causes even more confusion.
For example, look at the first standard in the grades 9-10 “Reading: Informational Text” for History:
RH.9-10.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
RI.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Isn’t drawing “inferences from the text” the same as finding “evidence” in the text “as to the date and origin of the information”? I’m pretty sure that inferring is the same thing as drawing evidence.
So why the two separate strands, both listed under the ELA standards? Why rewrite the same standards twice? This is what has many ELA teachers angry, because it looks as if the Common Core Standards are forcing English teachers to limit novel study in place of more non-fiction reading pieces. But, according to Carol Jago, past president of the National Council of Teachers of English and one of the writers of the standards, this is not so. At the Illinois Reading Council Conference in Springfield this past March, Jago explained to our group that while the Common Core suggests 70% of the reading material for high school students is non-fiction and 30 percent fiction, this is across all content areas, not in English class alone.
In fact, students probably aren’t getting enough fiction reading to meet the 70% standard if they only read it in English class. If most students take just one English course in a seven-period school day, and we aren’t counting one period for a math class (which does not fall into the literacy standards), that means they are only reading fiction as required reading 16% of the time--and that is if 100% of the reading in English class is fiction.
So what does this mean? First, it means that English teachers need not worry about having to give up their novels. Second, it means that history, science, and other technical fields may want to look into teaching a novel in their field, if they don’t already. Or, perhaps, do a collaborative novel unit with an English teacher. And third, it also means that not only are the reading standards spilling over to the other content areas, but the writing standards, as well.
On the bright side, for those content area teachers who may be fearful of having to assign a large research paper and novel unit to their students, the Common Core Standards suggest shorter research projects and reading passages that are assigned more often, so students practice the skills more than once a year.
Sites that can help you when you are ready to do a research project with your students are:
History.com - Today in History: I use many of these events in history and wrote journal prompts based on them. Students can also do mini-research projects based on the events (which cover all content areas). My journal prompts are found here. You can try out the August prompts free.
By: Tracee Orman
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