Common Core and the World of Children’s Books

And now a break from regular programming to bring you an interview about the changing school library market.

I met Jessica Robison at the recent Carolinas SCBWI conference and was fascinated to hear what she had to say about Common Core Curriciulum. I hope you’ll be fascinated, too.

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches eleventh grade English and AP English Language. She’s also a member of the Common Core Curriculum Implementation Team in Richland School District One in South Carolina. “My passions,” she says, “are people, reading, and writing, so English teaching suits me.”

Jessica, we’ve been hearing “Common Core” a lot. What does it mean?

The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states in the US, and provide educators, students, and parents with clear, specific goals for every grade level in the areas of Math and Language Arts. Visit this website for more information: http://www.corestandards.org/

What’s the origin of Common Core, and what’s the goal?

For as long as I can remember, college professors and employers have complained that students are not prepared for college or the workforce. Their writing is not up to par, for example, or they are unable to comprehend college-level texts. As educators, our main job is to prepare students for their future, so we’ve known for quite awhile that something had to change in our schools to give our students the skills they need.

     The Common Core standards are based on the actual needs of our students instead of what teachers and state stakeholders think they need.  Our past state standards started with the writers asking what kids should be able to do in kindergarten, and planned forward. Without the focus on the end goal, there was less urgency at the early and middle grades. The Common Core’s use of backwards design makes it more rigorous in its expectations on students from elementary to high school, and I believe it is more in tune with what students will be expected to do after high school.
     The Common Core starts with the end in mind. Here’s what I mean: the creators of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) asked this question: “What do students need to know and do when they graduate from high school?” They compiled answers from the community, colleges, and other stakeholders. Then, they worked backwards. “Ok,” they said, “then these reading and writing standards should be the standards for twelfth grade.  And what do students need to be able to do by the tenth grade?” Then they planned tenth grade, and so on. After comprehensive study and backwards planning, the team put together the CCSS.
What will change in the reading requirements for different grade levels?
From what I understand, educators will be putting more emphasis on re-reading and checking for deeper understanding. There will be less focus on reading a text, doing a worksheet with questions, and moving on.  Also, the ELA (English Language Arts) classroom will be flooded with nonfiction, and teachers will be encouraging students to read books appropriate for their reading level.
What do you think teachers and librarians will be looking for in the years to come?
Personally, I am on a quest for interesting nonfiction, as our focus shifts in that direction. I’ve recently gotten several good recommendations, but in the words of the famous meme, “I WANT MOAR!”
What are teachers around you saying about Common Core and the way it will affect how they teach reading/ writing/ literature?
Since I work with an amazing group of motivated educators, we are excited. Bring it on!  Once Common Core is implemented, we’ll see more student-driven discussions, with higher level thinking.  I think students will be reading harder books. I think they will get more frustrated, but will learn how to work through their frustration, which is another skill they will need in the real world.
 
Thanks so much for sharing, Jessica! I’ve been reading a bit of back and forth about Common Core. Here’s a recent editorial in the Washington Post, and here’s a post from a blog by a group of nonfiction lovers.
Personally, I think it will be really interesting to see where Common Core takes children, educators, and writers. I hope fiction won’t be lost in the shuffle, but there are lots of wonderful nonfiction texts that I hope will get new mileage in the classroom.
What do you think?

Max and Moritz: Great Uncles of the Comic Strip

File:Max und Moritz.JPG

You know the Brothers Grimm, but maybe you haven’t heard of some other famous German brothers: Max and Moritz. They’re some of the most beloved characters in all of German literature.

Published in 1865, Max and Moritz is the story of two naughty brothers whose adventures range from mischievous to vicious. Their darkly comical story is told in a series of seven pranks, and in the end….well, let’s just say they don’t get away with their crimes. It’s not exactly a Disney fairy tale.

The subversive  humor of the book and the boys’ flippancy toward adults represented a departure in the children’s literature of the time, which was strictly moralistic.

The book’s action-filled sequential line drawings are paired with relatively little text. It’s widely believed that Max and Moritz was the direct inspiration for the Katzenjammer Kids, the “oldest American comic strip still in syndication and the longest-running ever.” (from Wikipedia)

The other day I made a date with myself to go to the Wilhelm Busch Museum here in Hannover. The creator of Max and Moritz, illustrator and poet Wilhelm Busch, lived in and around Hannover for several years of his life. The museum is located on the edge of the royal Herrenhauser Gartens. It’s my favorite kind of museum: small, intimate, a beautiful space with really strong exhibits. It houses some of the original Max and Moritz sketches—I love seeing the rough beginnings of things.

Here’s the museum below:

The museum also hosts temporary exhibits of illustration and caricature, and I was lucky enough to catch the show of Lisbeth Zwerger, famed Austrian illustrator. I’ve been a fan of her whimsical fairy tale illustrations for a long time, so it was really interesting to see them in person. Along with German and English editions of Max and Moritz, I couldn’t resist getting Zwerger’s Noah’s Ark, also in the original German—I guess it’ll be good for my language skills.

Also on display, and equally interesting, was a large retrospective show of  influential British carticature artist Ronald Searle. I snapped a quick pic of this machine in the corner of the gallery:

What do you think it is? I’m guessing it’s a hygrometer to make sure the air doesn’t get too damp and damage the artwork, but I don’t know.

I can’t wait to get back to the museum for the next exhibits.

The Max and Moritz image above, which is in the public domain, was found at wikipedia. Information in this post comes from the English and German wikipedia entries for Wilhelm Busch.