Daily American Staff Writer
9:40 AM AKST, December 7, 2012
English teachers in Somerset County are not concerned that they will have to replace novels with nonfiction texts in the next two years.
The Common Core State Standards, adopted in Pennsylvania and other states, call for public schools to increase nonfiction reading. The new standards require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools by 2014, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12. Common standards were established to ensure that students are receiving a high-quality education consistently from school to school and state to state.
Among the suggested nonfiction works for high school students are Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," "Fed Views" by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and "Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management" published by the General Services Administration.
But Somerset County teachers say that the teaching of nonfiction includes all subjects, not just English class. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, allowing English teachers to continue to assign literature and fiction.
"Requiring more informational texts is not about requiring more of the English teachers, but making curriculum in general come alive in all disciplines by adding new texts," said Somerset Area School District English teacher Traci Baker. "It's an exciting time in education. Teachers are collaborating to create lesson plans that are multidimensional. Students are learning on a different level across the curriculum. Reading and writing is not just for English anymore."
Jami Reese, English and reading teacher at Somerset, called the new standards exciting.
"I believe the new standards provide opportunity for all classrooms to include nonfiction texts unlike ever before," she said. "Of course, as English and reading teachers, we are extremely comfortable in teaching novels because we are trained on how to teach great literature. However, many teachers have always sought nonfiction to accompany those works of literature. This is nothing new for us, only a clear, solidified focus."
"For example, instead of reading from a science book, Common Core requires science teachers to read from scientific journals, newspapers, essays, etc.," Reese said. "The new standards will provide a rich reading environment across curricular areas. Students will benefit from the variety of texts, both fiction and nonfiction. Educators should be thrilled with the new Common Core standards. In my opinion, these standards are not about one test like the PSSA. Instead, they are about allowing educators to teach deeply in subject areas instead of worrying about what is covered on a test."
North Star School District English teacher Melissa Gardner said she sees the Common Core standards as a learning opportunity.
"Each day presents new challenges to teachers and we are very equipped to making adaptations," she said. "I personally see it as just another learning opportunity for myself and my peers. Students are not usually as excited by nonfiction as they are by fiction, but if the right works are chosen it is possible for the students to feel a certain sense of excitement toward the work."
But there may be a downside if teachers have to cut back students' reading of fiction and poetry.
"The student's experience to the writer's sense of creativity and even an emotional connection to a work can be lost," she said. "If a teacher approaches this change with a positive attitude, the students tend to become more willing to accept the change. For example, teachers will have to not evoke the 'we have to do this even if it seems boring' attitude and shift to a stance of 'let's keep an open mind and give it a chance.' Students are typically more accepting of change if a positive role model presents it to them in this manner."
Eve Kline, director of the Somerset County Library, said requiring nonfiction over fiction reading is disturbing to her. There is so much children can learn from fiction, from an author's style of writing and from the subjects.
"Historical fiction weaves fact and fiction into an understandable story through the eyes of the characters," Kline said. "Children are not as reluctant to read a fiction book with a story; the nonfiction is like a textbook. I have always been taught that a nonfiction book is often as many as 10 years old when written. If this is still true, I would question some of the information, especially in certain subjects."
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