Reading Across the Subject Areas: The Common Core and Literacy

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

“The Standards set requirements not only for English language arts (ELA) but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects… Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields.”

– Introduction to the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards

By now, we’ve all had time to take the Common Core State Standards and digest as much as we can. When exposed for the first time to the standards, two things about them usually strike educators: how broad the standards are and why they are so.

These are not your parents’ standards.

They do not seek to tell us specific data that students should know and when (“Students should be able to describe iambic pentameter by 8th grade”). They instead give us the literacy skills our students should strive for. That is obviously a much more broad approach to education and there is a very good reason for it.

Students need literacy skills - not literature skills - in their lives after high school.

Think about it like this: assuming your significant other is not an ELA educator, when was the last time they were asked to analyze Homer’s The Odyssey in a professional capacity?

Now, when was the last time they were asked to analyze a report, instructional manual, or news article pertaining to their professional field?

States (and their requisite assessments) have recognized the importance of non-fiction reading skills for years. In Florida, for example, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for 10th graders (the last year the test is administered) consists of over 70% non-fiction reading materials.

To be fair, literary reading has also shown benefits to learners. Those texts tend to be more complex and require higher-level thinking than your typical non-fiction text.

What this means in the classroom of the future

Administrators and other educational thought leaders have rightly interpreted the Common Core to mean that they need to refocus the other subject areas on situational literacy. To be clear, the standards make a point of saying that it is not the job of the other subject areas to teach literacy skills that should be taught in English/Language Arts classrooms, simply to teach students what it means to be literate in their subject areas and opportunities to practice those skills.

Teachers of all subject areas should welcome this new focus. More opportunities to practice literacy skills can only mean more success for students in their English/Language Arts classrooms and those students will leave the other subject areas with a greater understanding of the skills involved with those areas.