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While reading is more important than ever, what students are reading in school is changing. The days of all students reading the exact same thing are over. An increase in the quantity of nonfiction reading is adding flexibility to the way that teachers teach and choice to the texts that students read.
“We are focusing on what students need the most and on what will be the most useful to them in their daily lives,” said Dan Mahoney, chair of the Carroll County High School English department.
With the implementation of the new Common Core Standards, educators are shifting their focus from fiction to nonfiction. This shift brings with it a change in teaching styles, as well as a greater push for reading across the curriculum.
The increase in the amount of nonfiction reading that students do is moving in parallel with a greater emphasis on technical careers as an avenue for success. At the Carroll County Alternative Learning Center, students are preparing for those careers through hands-on learning projects that incorporate technical reading. Each week, students construct robots from kits using only a technical instruction manual as a guide.
“Building the robots requires students to read and follow directions,” Principal Ed Nelson said. “We don’t build the robots for them. Students have to follow the instructions, or it won’t work. Technical reading is one of the most important skills that students can cultivate. No matter the path that students follow after they graduate, they are going to be reading and following directions.”
The nonfiction shift is happening across all grades, all the way down to Head Start.
“We teach our students the difference between fiction and non-fiction first,” Preschool Instructional Supervisor Leah Spencer said. “We use nonfiction books that complement the lessons that we are covering.”
Increasing nonfiction reading has pushed teachers to incorporate literacy more in subjects outside of language arts. In the past, reading instruction happened primarily in language arts classrooms. Now, reading instruction is happening across the curriculum.
“We incorporate nonfiction reading in our science and social studies classes as much as possible,” Kathryn Winn Primary teacher Hillary Scroggins said. “If we are covering a science unit on camouflage, we will read a book that reinforces that content.”
Nonfiction reading also gives teachers the flexibility to let students follow their interests. In language arts classes, the teacher can cover skills, such as surveying and analyzing the text, and the students can apply those skills to a text of their choosing. That text might be a history book for one student and a sports book for another.
“As educators, we need to do a good job of helping students follow their interests,” Special Education Director Kathy Bieger said. “By letting students use nonfiction in that way, we can help them become better readers.”
While nonfiction is increasing in importance under the Common Core Standards, fiction still has a place. The Common Core Standards for English divide content into five areas: reading literature, reading for information, writing, speaking/listening and language. Under old standards, reading for information was lumped in with general literacy instruction. This placed the burden solely on the shoulders of language arts instructors.
The Common Core Standards go so far as to have special literacy standards for history, science and technical subjects. Since literacy is foundational to learning in all areas, all teachers are responsible for reading success.