Friday, January 24, 2014

Considering the Standards (Common Core or Otherwise)

by R.C. Lewis

Disclaimer: While I am a teacher, I'm a math teacher. I try to keep up with English/Language Arts education as an author, but I don't know firsthand what those teachers face.

There's a lot of controversy about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their implementation. Too much emphasis on non-fiction reading … pushing us further into test-driven education … Let's leave that aside for now, though, because standards have been around before CCSS and will continue to be. It's my contention that standards in and of themselves aren't a bad thing—it's what you do with them.

"Hey, R.C., what does this have to do with authors of kid-lit?"

Is it just me, or is it really cool to think a class somewhere reading your book and talking about it? For some of you, maybe not. Maybe you're saying, "Yeah, right. My book will land on a Banned Books List long before any teacher will dare use it in a classroom." (And hey, that's its own kind of cool right there.) But maybe some of you have that same occasional daydream I do.

One way many authors are making their book more attractive for classroom use is by preparing (or paying to have prepared) discussion guides and other teaching materials. With both my author and teacher hats on (and believe me, that's quite the look), I can say some are better than others. Some more useful than others.

If you're thinking of preparing such materials on your own, here's some totally biased advice from me to you.

  • Start with the Standards: Seriously, you and I both know that you know your book. Click on over to this page on the CCSS. Select "Reading: Literature" and then the approximate grade(s) you feel your book might be used in. Read through the standards and see them through the lens of your story.

  • Make Teaching Easier, Not Harder: Put everything you can at the teacher's fingertips, rather than making them dig. Think about how the teacher will want to use the materials. Discussion guides meant to be used verbally should look one way, while questions for students to answer in writing should perhaps be formatted in more worksheet-style, ready to print. Alternatively, make your materials easy to edit or copy/paste from.

  • Avoid Minutiae … Unless that's the Point: Sometimes teachers want a few quick, simple questions on a section just to verify students actually did the reading. You might want to include those as "quick quizzes" or something. But those are pretty easy for teachers to come up with on their own. For general questions, dig a little deeper. Remember, you know your story.

  • Fiction & Non-Fiction Can Be Friends: This may be easier for some books than others, but if there's any way to incorporate non-fiction resources, go for it. For example, Mindy McGinnis's Not a Drop to Drink lends itself to connected reading on water conservation and other environmental issues.

  • Don't Forget Writing: Go back to that CCSS link and select Writing, followed by grade level. Take a look and think about how a project or paper related to your book could help meet some of those standards. Include suggestions about such projects in your materials.

Any teachers out there have further advice (or conflicting opinions!) on book-specific classroom resources? Authors, have you considered preparing materials for your book? What's helped or hindered you?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Hyperion in October 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.


Jemi Fraser said...

Great suggestions! Up here we are focusing a lot of inquiry too - so I'd also include a list of intriguing research topics kids could dig into that are connected to the book. These could be fiction or non-fiction, theme based, plot or character points...

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