Imagine walking into a middle school library and seeing a display with a prominent sign stating "Great Stories: Check them out!" Accompanying the sign are the following books:
- Little Women
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- A Wrinkle in Time
- The Dark is Rising
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
- "The People Could Fly"
- The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks
- Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad
I certainly wouldn't be impressed. The average age of these titles is 1958, and the MOST RECENT of these books is nearly twenty years old.
These titles aren't an outdated display, but rather a list. A very important list: The grade 6-8 Text Exemplars for the new Common Core Standards. This list were compiled within in the last few years, even though it reads more like a list that was made decades ago.
|Logo from the Common Core Standards|
These ten titles are part of the "Stories" section and the samples "serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with . . . The choice should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms" (2 Common Core Standards Appendix B).
After examining the list, and reading the above, my breathing was rapid and my pulse elevated. It wasn't until I got to the final line that I felt my panic decrease -- at least a little bit. The Appendix does point out that the exemplars "...expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list."
Even though it clearly states that the exemplars aren't a prescribed reading list, it still concerns me. How many schools will ignore that statement and use the exemplars (maybe due to lack of time?) as a foundation for their curriculum. It's scary.
Now, I understand the importance of the classics, but I also value engagement. How many 12 year old boys will be engaged by Little Women? Even more modern titles like A Wrinkle in Time and Dragonwings are dated. If kids aren't connecting with the text, there's very little hope that they'll find success when undertaking tasks that ask them to "summarize the development of the morality of Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain's novel . . . and analyze its connection to themes of accountability and authenticity..." (89 Common Core Standards Appendix B).
Appendix B does include information on the process of text selection. Educators were surveyed to ask which texts they've successfully used with a given age band, and then these were examined by a committee for appropriate text difficulty, complexity, and quality, in addition to "publication date, authorship, and subject matter" (2 Common Core Standards Appendix B).
When you consider all categories in the ELA 6-8 Text Exemplars, the average age of initial publication is 1930. I've always been dismayed by ELA classrooms where students suffer through a list of moldy canonical literature. As a librarian, I want students to LOVE READING, so it's upsetting when teachers don't seize the opportunity to expose their students to modern, relevant titles.
I'm even more dismayed by the Common Core Exemplars because I feel like my district currently does a WONDERFUL job of mixing old and new. Yes, our 8th graders read Anne Frank, but the curriculum is balanced with more modern titles like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Twisted. I really, really hope the new standards and the exemplars don't mean we're going to give up all the progress we've made towards building a modern, relevant reading list in exchange for an outdated compilation of classics.
What do you think of the Text Exemplars for the Common Core Standards? Do all these older titles deserve a place on the list? Is the list an accurate representation of what's being taught in modern ELA classrooms?