Monday, December 17, 2012

The Writer's Common Core Syndrome

Last week Jim Murphy wrote an excellent INK blog( voicing his worry that writers will write to the Common Core Standards.  He has a point.  After all, there is not one nonfiction writer that I know who didn't cheer when they read the part about kids reading 50% nonfiction and 70% by the senior year.  We didn't bother to read further.  We have all been infected in some way with the Writer's Common Core Syndrome where your mind is taken up by the Common Core wondering if your work- in-progress will “fit” the standards, or you may spend more time thinking up classroom activities and lesson plans that can be used with your old books than time writing a new book.   

I have an antidote -- Read this sentence 10 times –
The Common Core is a standard for teaching, not for writing.

That’s right.  It is a standard for teachers and school districts not for us.  If we want to “fit” into CC all we need to do is continue to write the great nonfiction that we are writing. 

I cheered when I read the CC because I saw it as an invitation to Science teachers to put down their text books and read my book FOR THE BIRDS: THE STORY OF ROGER TORY PETERSON to introduce a lesson on nature observation, or an Art teacher might use it to introduce a drawing lesson.  Social Studies teachers might use FARMER GEORGE PLANTS A NATION to illustrate the importance of breaking away from England, or Science teachers might use it to discuss composting or to introduce a seed experiment. I’m not a teacher, but my mind reeled with the images of my books being read in a variety of classrooms, not just sitting in the nonfiction section of the library (where there may or may not be a librarian).

However, I don’t think that many Science, PE, History, Art, Music, etc., teachers are being encouraged to do that – yet. It seems that many school districts are leaving it up to the English department.  (After all , that’s where books and reading come from, right?)  Not enough of the public and school officials are aware of what the CC really is.  If that worries you then direct your friends to The Reading Zone and this blog post that puts the CC into perspective.

The author, Sarah, is an English teacher and I like what she has to say about CC - “Standards are not curriculum, despite headlines that like to insinuate that those words are interchangeable.  Standards tell me, the teacher, where my students should end up.  I decide what our journey will look like.”  

She goes on to say, “Our students should be reading real-life informational text in their content area classes.  I want to see my students reading field guides in biology!  I want them to analyze journal articles and primary documents in history!  Why shouldn't they read biographies of mathematicians in geometry or instruction manuals in CAD class? ”

It really is that simple.  CC wants kids to read REAL STUFF!  Not manufactured, one-size-fits-all text books that leave no room for discussion or imagination.  Books are not meant to linger in English class, but are meant to inhabit  ALL classrooms. 

And Writers?  You need to write REAL STUFF!!  Do that, and your books, magazine articles and newspaper columns will always be a perfect fit.


  1. Yes, so true -- "The Common Core is a standard for teaching, not for writing." Great post! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Jeanne. So glad you agree.

  3. Great analysis of the issues. I so agree that children want to read real stuff, written by wonderful authors like yourself.

  4. Most importantly, CC is just the newest flavor of the week. There is always some educational fad or another. I'll do what I can to get kids a wide variety of books while CC is around, and hopefully I'll still be doing the same thing once it's no longer in vogue.