February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On Common Core | Cultivating Collaboration


Cultivating Collaboration: The First “C”

The Common Core (CCSS) has arrived. We’ve had time to study the standards, peruse the list of recommended materials, and explore the suggested curriculum maps and assessments. Now, how do we begin to put this nationwide initiative into operation? What meaningful steps forward can we take? In this column, we’ll focus on the ideas that shape our approach to the standards. All start with the letter “C”—we call them “The 10 C’s.” We begin with the concept that holds all the others together: collaboration.

Librarians, teachers, administrators, parents, and children must work in concert. Why? Because we bring different strengths, abilities, and interests to the conversation. Teachers are familiar with grade-level curricula, and they get to know their students’ needs and interests early in the year. Librarians are adept at finding the best resources, whatever the subject matter, or reading ability of the student. Administrators understand the importance of librarian-teacher collaboration and can provide common planning time and guidance. Add the enthusiasm and support of parents and children for a rigorous curriculum and all the stakeholders have entered the picture.

The best place for the collaboration to begin is around the topic of quality nonfiction. Under the Common Core, the expectation is that 50 percent of elementary grade reading is in informational texts; at the high school level, the percentage increases to 70 percent. That’s a challenge, but it also offers educators an opportunity to launch a conversation in their school communities. Begin with these two essential questions: What is quality nonfiction? Where can I find it?

Identifying Quality Nonfiction Literature
While there are no hard and fast rules on what constitutes quality nonfiction, there is consensus on some basics. Begin the dialogue by sharing the criteria used by award and book selection committees. How do they go about selecting the titles? What do articles and reviews in journals such as School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine, Journal of Children’s Literature, Reading Teacher, and Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy contribute to this discussion? For starters, consider accuracy, organization, style of writing, visual material, documentation, and connections to the curriculum in relation to specific titles.

Finding Quality Nonfiction Literature
Educators have an immediate need to identify quality nonfiction literature in all the content areas. Lean on your librarians. As one colleague put it, librarians “have the keys to the castle.” They know good literature and they know how to find it. We suggest that together teachers and librarians begin by examining yearly professional book lists to see which books fit either established curriculum or current topics of interest.

Here is our starter list and a brief description of what each offers.

NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
Each year, one nonfiction title and up to five honor books in any content area are recognized. The website lists titles selected each year since 1990.

Notable Social Studies Trade Books For Young People A list of K-8 titles of recommended books for teaching social studies. The website lists titles selected each year since 2000.

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12
Lists recommended science books since 1996. Since 2010, the list contains links to activities related to selected books.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal
Lists winners and honor books since 2001. Books are selected for their engaging, distinctive language, visual presentation, documentation, and being “respectful and of interest to children.”

As this school year begins, collaborating with colleagues to identify nonfiction that supports a content-rich curriculum is essential to the success of the CCSS. Working together we can identify the raw materials we need to support teaching and learning. From there, we can decide on the best  use these resources. As we take these steps together, we work towards building an effective school community, whose hub should clearly be the school library.

In last month’s issue of Curriculum Connections the authors of On Common Core introduced themselves and the series.

Curriculum Connections

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