Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Losing Fiction to Common Core-Be Aware!

It is 2014, and many of the school districts in the United States will be implementing the new Common Core Curriculum. Depending on One's point of view, the new guidelines now have a prescribed healthy or lethal dose of nonfiction literature. 

For example, the Common Core now dictates that students devote half of thier reading time in class to historical documents, scientific tracts, maps, and other "informational texts" like recipes, rain schedules and political essays. The Guidelines state that 70% of the 12th grade curriculum will consist of non fiction titles. 

Titles likes John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451, Beowulf, Harper Lee To Kill a Mocking Bird, William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream and Jack London Call of the Wild would be eliminated.  

In favor of: My Body by Andrea Pinnington, The Story of the White House by Marge Kennedy, Let's Read About Cesar Chevez by Jerry Tello and Totally Tolerant: Spotting and Stopping Prejudice by Lauri Mandel and Dianne Webber.  This list comes from Common Core book list by Scholastic Books.

The justification behind the change comes from David Coleman who sits on the College Board and is in charge of standardized testing. In an interview with Kurt Anderson of Studio 360, Coleman states, 

 "Coleman maintained that the backlash is a misunderstanding of the numbers – particularly the standard that 70 percent of reading by high school seniors, across all classes, should be nonfiction. “The standards are absolutely clear on the central role that fiction plays and continues to play in the English language arts classroom,” he told Andersen.
According to Coleman, the majority of time in English classes will still be spent on fiction – drama, literature, narrative fiction, and poems. “The only thing that changes is that there’s some portion of time spent on high-quality literary nonfiction,” he said. The standards cite Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham” as an example. Coleman emphasized that the reading should be of “high quality,” not abridgements of classics, or sixth-grade novels used in high school.   
American students are often reading four grade levels behind where they need to be in order to be ready for colleges or careers, Coleman said, and the standards aim to reverse the trend.
“Delivering a generation of kids who can really read at that level is the hope and promise of this work,” he said."
The books that I have seen recently are not what he has described. In fact, many districts are being forced to narrow down their selections to only two or three books a year because the emphasis has been on the non fiction.
Why is David Coleman anti fiction books and stories? Doesn't he understand that it's these kind of books that enrich critical thinking. 
Save the Deep Readers!!!
The article by Annie Murphy Paul contradicts David Coleman's assertation that children don't need "deep reading." 
She writes, "When a minaret dating from the twelfth century was toppled in the fighting between rebels and government forces in Aleppo, Syria, earlier this spring, we recognized that more than a building had been lost. The destruction of irreplaceable artifacts—like the massive Buddha statues dynamited in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan in 2001 and the ancient texts burned and looted in Iraq in 2003—leaves us less equipped to understand ourselves and where we came from, less able to enlarge ourselves with the awe and pleasure that these creations once evoked.
Which is why we should care about the survival of a human treasure threatened right here at home: the deep reader. “Deep reading”—as opposed to the often superficial reading we do on the web—is an endangered practice, one we ought to take steps to preserve as we would a historic building or a significant work of art. Its disappearance would imperil the intellectual and emotional development of generations growing up online, as well as the perpetuation of a critical part of our culture: the novels, poems and other kinds of literature that can be appreciated only by readers whose brains, quite literally, have been trained to apprehend them.
Recent research in cognitive science, psychology and neuroscience has demonstrated that deep reading—slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity—is a distinctive experience, different in kind from the mere decoding of words. Although deep reading does not, strictly speaking, require a conventional book, the built-in limits of the printed page are uniquely conducive to the deep reading experience. A book’s lack of hyperlinks, for example, frees the reader from making decisions—Should I click on this link or not?—allowing her to remain fully immersed in the narrative.
That immersion is supported by the way the brain handles language rich in detail, allusion and metaphor: by creating a mental representation that draws on the same brain regions that would be active if the scene were unfolding in real life. The emotional situations and moral dilemmas that are the stuff of literature are also vigorous exercise for the brain, propelling us inside the heads of fictional characters and even, studies suggest, increasing our real-life capacity for empathy.
None of this is likely to happen when we’re scrolling through TMZ.com. Although we call the activity by the same name, the deep reading of books and the information-driven reading we do on the web are very different, both in the experience they produce and in the capacities they develop. A growing body of evidence suggests that online reading may be less engaging and less satisfying, even for the “digital natives” for whom it is so familiar. Last month, for example, Britain’s National Literacy Trust released the results of a study of 34,910 young people aged eight to sixteen. Researchers reported that 39% of children and teens read daily using electronic devices, but only 28% read printed materials every day. Those who read only onscreen were three times less likely to say they enjoy reading very much, and a third less likely to have a favorite book. The study also found that young people who read daily only onscreen were nearly two times less likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily in print or both in print and onscreen.
To understand why we should be concerned about how young people read, and not just whether they’re reading at all, it helps to know something about the way the ability to read evolved. “Human beings were never born to read,” notes Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Unlike the ability to understand and produce spoken language, which under normal circumstances will unfold according to a program dictated by our genes, the ability to read must be painstakingly acquired by each individual. The “reading circuits” we construct are recruited from structures in the brain that evolved for other purposes—and these circuits can be feeble or they can be robust, depending on how often and how vigorously we use them.
The deep reader, protected from distractions and attuned to the nuances of language, enters a state that psychologist Victor Nell, in a study of the psychology of pleasure reading, likens to a hypnotic trance. Nell found that when readers are enjoying the experience the most, the pace of their reading actually slows. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow, unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions. It gives them time to establish an intimate relationship with the author, the two of them engaged in an extended and ardent conversation like people falling in love."

One of my deepest concern about the Common Core curriculum is the lost of cultural identity and heritage. This nations need to compete unrealistically with other nations test scores and its obsession over test scores is this nation losing sight of its cultural identity. Students will no longer read the rich rhythm of Hemingway's, Old Man and the Sea  or be inspired to travel to the gold fields of Alaska after reading Jack London's books, or identify with the struggles of the common man through John Steinbeck. Or take the time and watch a leaf flutter down from its branch like Walt Witman shared in Walden's Pond. 
Viking Dad and I have a long on going discussion. What two books did Professor H. George Wells take at the end of The Time Machine? Unless we train the younger generation to engage in deep reading, will we have a Professor H. George Wells to teach the future how to read?

Bless Bless
Viking Mom

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