The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Non-fiction Is Broader than the State Standards

on April 8, 2016

Today’s post examines the world of non-fiction writing and finds it broader and deeper than the creators of the CCSS.  I’d like to know what readers think.

One of the things that the Common Core Standards propose for student reading is an increase in non-fiction texts throughout the grades. Although I approve of the focus on non-fiction, which has long been ignored in many school curricula, I think it is a mistake to specify certain percentages at different grade levels and focus on a narrow range of appropriate texts for middle and high school students. At those levels everything recommended by the Standards is either a historical document, a piece written by a famous person, or information about a past scientific discovery or a natural event. At the elementary level all the books recommended are also informational but are more varied in their topics and writing styles. Still, they do not include much about the real life experiences young children may have, such as bullying or living in poverty. In my opinion the range of nonfiction at all levels should be much broader than recommended.

In the real world a reader can find a large range of non-fiction documents, some of it giving us valuable information not otherwise available; some intended to persuade us, and some just meant to be entertaining. But since all these types are common reading for educated adults, I see no reason why they should not be offered to young people too. Most important, in my view are newspaper and magazines informational articles and opinion pieces. This type of non-fiction writing opens student’s minds to the places, people and events beyond their experience, and to opinions very different from their own. It also offers content not available in school textbooks: sports news, political cartoons, comics, word puzzles, and descriptions of what life is like in other parts of the world.

Another very important form of non-fiction is instructional material that ranges from food recipes to driving directions and how-to manuals that accompany new pieces of machinery. All of these demand careful reading, and the last one mentioned is often poorly written. Since none of us is free to dismiss any of them as irrelevant, why shouldn’t students learn how to read them early on?

Still another type of significant non-fiction is warnings that vary from street signs to the supplemental messages that come with prescription drugs. Although warnings vary from easy to understand to ambiguous, we all need to become familiar with the range within this genre. It is not too early for young children to be informed about such signs in public places and warning on containers around the house.

I think it is also appropriate to include business letters in the non-fiction category. By middle school it is time for students to think about receiving them and, maybe, writing them. Sometimes these letters are a form of advertising, but other times they tell of opportunities  students may be ready to explore. In that case teenagers may  wish to respond to such letters or to initiate their own. They need a classroom  introduction to the correct formats to use and the necessary information to provide in a business letter so that they can write appropriately when the time comes.

Finally, let me include advertisements in the non-fiction category even though many of them are at least partly fictitious. From the time that children begin to read they are confronted daily by messages advertising alluring products. Although they may not be ready to doubt such assertions as “You will love this toy,”they should learn early that all advertisements exaggerate in some way. That’s what they must do to capture your attention. Besides, it is always fun for kids to write advertisements for the school store or an up-coming school event.

Readers familiar with my work know that I have been a strong critic of the Common Core Standards ever since their inception. But since they are not going away any time soon, I think it is necessary for school administrators and teachers to tighten and stretch their mandates whenever necessary. The needs and capabilities of our students should always come before the edicts of the decision makers who think and live outside the world of young people’s learning and living.







One response to “Non-fiction Is Broader than the State Standards

  1. Don Bellairs says:

    Do you remember how hard it was to get some of your students to read ONE book? To read anything? EVER. Those kids are the reason we have CCSS now. They have been left out==i id HARD to teach kids to read and write. We will see which teachers can motivate kids to read.
    Teachers can still include their favorite pieces of non-fiction literature in their lesson plans. CCSS is not a prison.


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