I write for NoveList, a resource that provides reading recommendations, book lists, articles and much more for people who adore books. It’s a subscription service purchased by schools and public libraries. Contact your favorite librarian to discover how to access it.
NoveList K-8’s primary audience is teachers and librarians and I am so proud to be on their staff of amazing writers. Why? It’s so obviously bent on serving teachers and librarians and their superstar stable of writers includes authorities like Toni Buzzeo (who’s done a slew of “Picture Book Extenders” that offer ways to get the most out of the picture books you share and she’s doing a whole series on specific books for Common Core Connections). I’m one of a team who yearly composes “Grab and Go”, thirty great book recommendations on topics from Community to Adventure Books for 4th-6th graders.
The work in which I have the most pride is a series of articles to serve teacher who struggle with conveying comprehension to their students. Each begins with a bit of definition of and suggestions about curricular-related subjects such as, text connections, moment in time, irony, personification, and symbolism. Then comes the most useful part–a list of picture books, each annotated specifically to explain why it meets the needs of the topic.
Last year I rewrote every article to explain how these topics fit the Common Core State Standards and I’m presently reworking these to become clearer and more concise. That meant that I spent a lot of time studing the standards for reading and writing.
At first I was excited about the CCSS’ promise of rigor. A jargon term? Maybe, but my investigations showed that rigor suggests a new kind of classroom partnership in which teachers use questions that urge students to use higher order thinking. Their students, in turn, show deeper understanding through their ability to apply their knowledge of content, examining what they study in more meaningful ways. This is the way I’ve always taught so, of course, the concept of rigor pleased me.
But as I studied the specifics of the Standards, I had a shocking discovery. I realized that the word “book” is never used. Readings are referred to as “texts.” To me, that’s a scary term. With the pressures teachers face and their compensation being linked to testing, my fear is that they will trot out those famous five paragraph essays (you know the ones that don’t really exist in real life), present them in isolation and teach kids how to get to the right answers. Maybe they can succeed in this, but the thought of it makes me feel like we won’t be moving much from the “skill and drill” philosophy of the 1950’s, children might just hate reading more and their responses will look more like rigor mortis than rigor .
If the much of the inspiration for Common Core was boosting comprehension skills, I believe the first step in succeeding is to introduce books that interest students. It’s easier for students to access higher order thinking and a desire to dig deep to analyze a book that they care about! How much would you want to explore a 5 paragraph essay that has no meaning to you?
On the more heartening side, my editor, Beth Gerall, told me that my articles are some of the most popular in NoveList. That backs up what I see in my workshops. Teachers love books and want to use them to excite students, not just as “texts” to be studied. Ugh, even the word sounds clinical and cold, nothing that brings to mind something that will encourage lifelong reading, the kind of reading that naturally promotes reading to understand.
Presently, I’m updating my lists to include 2013 books. These lists are composed of picture books, even those that fit upper elementary and middle school. There are a slew of picture books that are deserving of study, those that, unlike the many five-paragraph texts available, can reinforce skills while inspiring poignant class discussions. I believe there are teachers who will choose books. As I work to update and include 2013 books in my articles, I thought I share some uncommonly unusual books that support Common Core’s rigor as I go.