Common Core. I’m going to get those words out of the way at the start. Please don’t run away screaming. My goal is to show that there are ways to use middle grade fiction to meet the guidelines of the standards.
One of the misconceptions about the Common Core is that it expects students to read nonfiction ("informational texts") instead of fiction. Another way to look at it is that students need to be reading more overall, and that the nonfiction can come in classes other than English Language Arts. It’s also easy to see that the standards encourage collaboration amongst departments within a school whether it’s through research projects.
As a librarian, it’s exciting to see the possibilities. Students might read a book like Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner in English class, then study the brain and concussions in science, and the geography and history of the Florida Everglades in Social Studies. Or students might read Holly Schindler’s The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky and then study found art in their art classes before creating their own projects. In fact, completing research is a big part of the Common Core writing standards, so any time students can be encouraged to find out more about what they are reading in their fiction, they are meeting a standard.
When I wrote The Water Castle, I was vaguely aware of the Common Core, but hadn’t given it much thought. It turns out, though, that the book fits very nicely with the standards since it includes science, math, and mythology. When I created the Educator’s Guide, I was sure to connect the activities to the standards. (You can download the Guide here.) I am currently working on a guide to go along with my upcoming release, The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, and once again I’ll be keeping the CCSS in mind. This is a work of historical fiction that took a great deal of research on my part. Research and writing are a huge part of the CCSS, and I plan to emphasize that in my guide. Of course, as a librarian, I have an ulterior motive: getting more classes into the library.
As an author, I hope my books allow for exciting discussions and inspire kids to dig deeper and research different aspects of the story. And if this helps teachers meet the CCSS, so much the better. All this month at Smack Dab authors will be sharing the ways in which their books can be used in interdisciplinary studies. I hope that teachers and librarians will chime in to share the ways that they’ve used middle grade novels to meet the standards. At the risk of getting political, i don’t think the standards themselves are good or bad. It’s all in the implementation. There are many wise and creative teachers out there who are using literature to implement the standards in ways that are, dare I say it, fun.