Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Common Core and Literature, a Deadly Combination?

[My classroom, Photo by Tiffiny Federico]

70% nonfiction.  30% fiction.  

That seems a bit backwards to me. 

The Common Core State Standards stresses that students be immersed in expository reading and writing in order to prepare them for both college and a career.

Now, the disclaimer is that the 70% / 30% is for the students' ENTIRE school day.  Therefore, much of the nonfiction will be read in science, history, and math classes.  Unfortunately, the push for nonfiction selections has settled into English curriculum.  District approved units of study, District assessment tests, and state test prep all pretty much focuses on nonfiction.  Literature is getting the squeeze.

For the past few years, English teachers have been asked to go back and adjust their curriculum to include a variety of nonfiction texts.  My department has gone through the pieces of literature we cover and found database articles, newspaper articles, primary source materials, etc. to supplement students' understanding.  For example, "from The Noble Experiment" (the autobiographical piece about Jackie Robinson) in the 7th grade is paired with newspaper articles  and videos of interviews with Branch Rickey, the Dodger's GM.  And "from Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad" from the 8th grade is paired with multiple databases on the abolitionist movement.

We have also begun to include more "mini-research" units throughout the year.  It doesn't seem like much, but with all the days for testing, the prep for testing, the district units, and such, TIME to devote to teaching an entire novel seems to be slipping from our grasp.  In our meetings we bemoan the fact that years ago, we each taught two or more novels a year, and now we are lucky to get one in.

When I attend any district-wide trainings, the grumblings I hear are much louder.  My administration really values the teachers and gives us some latitude (as long as our test scores don't drop).  But I've heard horror stories from other schools where everyone MUST follow the district's lead lockstep.  It's very disheartening.

[Independent work, Photo by Tiffiny Federico]

The teachers at my school and the teachers in my district are not the only ones discussing how the CC is changing our curriculum. 

The conversation and concern over this 
has been loud and long.  

Here are a few samples:

In 2012, a Huffington Post article titled "Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say" shows the concern and fear of English teachers.  Several classroom teachers describe their misgivings.  The interesting quote that stood out to me was from the POV of David Coleman who actually headed the process of writing the standards, "...principals and teachers are misreading the guidelines.  The boost in informational texts, he says, is intended across disciplines: When social studies, science and math teachers increase nonfiction and informational reading assignments, English teachers won't have to alter their literature lessons." If that's the case, then why all the fear?  Read article here.

In 2013, the article "Common Core vs. Great Literature" by Mark Bauerlein was published in the New York Daily News.  It takes a look at how the CC is being implemented in NY's high schools.  It takes note of the titles of texts given to students in particular units of study.  There is a trend moving away from traditional titles such as Jane Eyre and The Red Badge of Courage and replacing them with articles from the NY Times, NPR, Fox Business News, etc.  The comment that stood out to me was, "This is not what the architects and contributors had in mind when they crafted the ELA standards. (Disclosure: I served on the English Language Arts 'Feedback committee' for the Council of Chief State School Officers.)  The push for informational texts was not supposed to displace outstanding literary texts." Read article here.

There are many videos related to literature and the common core.  I watched several debates with "experts" (Huffington Post Live), and there were multiple videos that were promoting the common core (I'm guessing those were used in teacher PDs).  Then I chanced upon a series of YouTube videos by two teachers, Noah and Janet.  They have created uncommoned.com, a website in which they share lessons and ideas.  They have taken control of the CCSS and made it their own.  Until the politicians decide to suspend or replace the common core, we are stuck with it animist find ways to make it our own.  I appreciated how Janet chose to work within the confines of the CC, but keep English English.  A bit of common sense to the common core.

I wish my administrators, and those in my district, would take a look at this particular video: A Common Teacher Talks About Common Core: Informational versus Literary Texts.

My take on this?

I have been teaching English for 22 years.  



No questions asked.  

To fail to teach lit. is to fail to teach English.  

I have experience.  I have the respect of my peers and my administrators.  I know that when I shut the door to my classroom, I'm in charge.  Yes, I will cover nonfiction as it supplements the literature, but I will NEVER cut literature out of the curriculum.  I fear for those who are just joining the ranks of the profession.  Those who will fear for their jobs and follow every district sponsored unit to the jot and tiddle.  They will need the passion and the courage to maintain control of their curriculum.


"A Common Core Teacher Talks About Common Core: Informational versus Literary Texts." YouTube. UnCommonEd.com. 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

Bauerlein, Mark.  "Common Core vs. Great Literature." Daily News. NYDailyNews.com. 10 July 2013. Web. 3 May 2016.

"Bye Bye Gatsby: Can New Requirements Destroy a Love of Reading?" HuffPost Live.  The Huffington Post, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 3 May 2016. 

"Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards mark the End of Literture, English Teachers Say." Huffpost Education. The Huffington Post, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 3 May 2016.


  1. Your perspective comes through loud and clear. The use of color to set of key points was helpful. Your text included plenty of white space for the reader. I enjoyed reading this. Good work, Tiffiny.

  2. Tiffiny, this was so interesting!
    Your voice and passion is evident and it pulled me right in. I clicked on all your hyperlinks and read the articles for added information. I think you used color very well, as well as text and "white" space. I find it interesting that you had us watch the video at the end. But it worked. You were very informed and thorough in presenting the topic. Thanks.
    My only suggestion would maybe be to make the font just a little bigger. Overall though, great job.

  3. Tiffiny, I loved reading your blog entry. You are obviously very passionate about this topic, and I completely understand! I think the Common Core standards about nonfiction were meant to increase the amount of reading read in other classes, but somehow the application has been affecting mainly English/Language Arts classes.

    I really like how many outside links you included and the different types of media you incorporated into the entry (pictures and video). My only suggestion would be to change the text somehow. It's fairly small and since it's a light color on a darker background, I had some trouble reading it! I don't have the best vision, so I had some trouble with my eyes being able to focus on the text - it being a little bigger might be a good solution.

    Overall, great job!