Ky. Voices: New standards right to require fiction and nonfiction reading in all classes

January 7, 2013 

  • At issue: Dec. 14 Burgoo item from The Washington Post on common core education standards

Recently, there has been much discussion about the role of fiction and non-fiction reading in the Common Core State Standards.

The reality is that the Common Core requires students to read a combination of fiction and non-fiction across all classes.

This means the English Language Acquisition classroom will keep the major focus on reading fiction and literature, and the bulk of non-fiction reading will take place in other disciplines, including science, social studies and technical subjects.

As a middle-school science teacher, I have insight into the key role that reading plays in my classroom. The days of teaching science solely with a textbook — going chapter by chapter with little variation — have long passed.

I have the job of providing a diverse set of texts and media to create a rich environment where the students use real-world experiences and events to discuss and create a hypothesis and explain a theory.

As scientists, we are asked to look at material, determine the validity and support our positions with specific facts. As teachers we must provide the students with this base of knowledge.

Students must be taught to look for facts versus fiction, take notes and analyze statements and vocabulary they are unsure of to defend in writing their positions.

To ensure this occurs, a range of different texts should be used in the classroom.

While non-fiction will always be the main type of reading in a science classroom — including scientific journals and reference texts — fictional readings can provide an engaging and thought-provoking look into the future, environmental issues and scientific current problems.

Fictional media also can be powerfully paired with non-fictional texts to create a debate, develop technology, problem-solve for solutions, and see how life follows science fiction.

The key is making sure we consistently use material that is at grade level or above in our lessons.

Students need to be exposed to challenging readings (fiction or non-fiction) that require them to read carefully, understand an idea or argument using evidence from the text and be able to articulate their summary though writing.

We do students a disservice if we water down the material and keep them at their reading level, as it is only through practice with sufficiently complex texts that students can progress as readers.

Classrooms in general are where students who are struggling can wrestle, in a safe environment, with texts and gain the needed skills to become successful readers in the real world.

Science teachers should be embracing the Common Core standards and their balance of fiction and non-fiction in their classrooms.

Common Core requires good teaching and has the specific purpose of building in students the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in life outside of a classroom.

Being able to read, understand and write about a variety of media and texts — including fiction and non-fiction — is chief among these important skills.

Hallie Hundemer-Booth is a seventh-grade science teacher and instructional coach at Holmes Middle School in Covington.

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