A few days before I flew off to meet publishers and wholesalers at the Educational Book and Media Association (EBMA) conference last month, I received an email that changed what I ended up speaking about. As I mentioned in my last column, I was invited there to talk about Common Core. I spoke to the group a few years earlier on the aims and structure of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Now they wanted to hear how implementation was going–with a particular eye toward what they needed to know about making and selling books “aligned with the standards.”
Then I heard from Meredith and David Liben of Student Achievement Partners (SAP). The project they had described to me some weeks earlier was moving ahead. That ambitious project is what I needed to describe to EBMA–and want to share with you today.
By now, we can all recite the shifts in the Common Core English Language Arts standards, starting with “reading content-rich nonfiction that builds knowledge.” But what exactly are those “content-rich” materials that “build knowledge?” How do we find them? How do we match, arrange, and juxtapose texts so students do not merely read more of the same from each text, but, rather, discover that what they have learned opens a door to another source, which leads to another? What materials not only build knowledge but increase text complexity in such neat steps that it is not difficult for all students to get started, and by the end of an investigation nearly everyone is reading appropriately challenging works?
Professor Mary Ann Cappiello has many examples of these text sets on her blog, The Classroom Bookshelf (and its archives), and along with co-author Erika Dawes, describes the use and creation of such collections in Teaching with Text Sets (Shell Education, 2012). Unfortunately, though, no team of authors can read everything nor will every librarian and teacher in the country seek out their wisdom.
With SAP, the Libens have combed the websites of the 50 states and unearthed the 50 most common subjects that make it into the K-12 curriculum. Their next step is gathering groups of qualified experts such as school librarians to craft text sets to match the subjects. The sets must meet several requirements: the materials must be available in a format (such as articles from databases) or at a price (entire books) that make sense for a whole class.
I was eager to tell EBMA about this because price is a stumbling block. Here is a real you-go-first problem. The librarians can’t select books that will be too expensive to use. The publishers don’t want to publish paperback or digital editions unless they are sure they will get the classroom sales. We need a better channel of information; if a team is seriously considering a book they must have a clear and rapid way of reaching a publisher to make sure the book will be available in a format and at a price suited to classroom use. EBMA was the perfect place to seek ways to create that channel. But what will a SAP text set look like?
Typically they would include a complex anchor text that maps out the topic and a sequence of shorter texts that grow in complexity while offering new and distinct information. The great news is that these particular text sets would not be required or mandated. They would simply be examples–selected by qualified readers and vetted by a second level of professionals–that demonstrate how texts can be arrayed to build knowledge and create a reading ladder. If a teacher understands the concept, but prefers his or her own text selections, that’s fine. If a librarian knows, or already has access to, other resources that fit into the set, great. The goal is not to tell educators what texts to use; the goal is to demonstrate what can be found and how those materials complement each other. In other words, text sets are precisely what a good librarian already knows how to assemble.
By crafting models on key subjects SAP is getting the ball rolling, offering excellent resources for educators who prefer one-stop shopping, while opening the door to motivated librarians and teachers to work together to create their own customized sets.
I love this idea, but I can only be a kindly uncle to the process. Since I write and edit books, I can’t be anywhere near the selection–nor can anyone on the publishing landscape. All I can do is spread the word to anyone who will listen. I’ll update you as the project develops and pass along any information I find on how to get involved. The great news is that this project calls upon and highlights the skills of school librarians, making you visible at the heart of the Common Core.