In an April 27 Baltimore Sun article on the contention surrounding the Common Core, Catonsville high school teacher Kate Hamill notes her concerns about the informational text mandate. She worries “about the reduction of time for literature” and the fact that “middle- and high-school students don't any longer read enough challenging nonfiction in their other classes." Most English teachers are like Hamill; we can’t and don’t want to be responsible for all the informational text (forcing a reduction in time spent reading literature). The CCSS explicitly say that we aren’t. But the devil, here, is in the details of the implementation. Cross-disciplinary collaboration in the implementation of the Common Core is key.
When we collaborate, informational texts that are selected and used well can be rewarding supplements that open up existing units in a variety of disciplines in enormously valuable ways.
In the last month or so, we’ve been fortunate to meet and talk with dozens of dedicated English, social studies,and science teachers in New Jersey about seizing the opportunities ofinformational text. Working together, we can support our students’ success in meeting the literacy challenges specific to each of our disciplines and those we hold in common, while breaking down the institutional divides that often inhibit our students’ thinking and understanding of our subjects and of their relationships to each other and the world they live in.
While we were able to spark and hear some great ideas and conversations during the workshops themselves, finding common planning time on a regular basis to sustain collaboration is often difficult. One method we found for facilitating ongoing collaboration was to create and share a GoogleDrive spreadsheet in which teachers enter the topics and titles of texts they plan to teach throughout the school year. Their grade-level colleagues can check the spreadsheet for opportunities for collaboration and then look for engaging informational texts that will mutually benefit their respective instructional goals. Focusing on a common informational text from different vantage points or reading thematically related informational text connected to content-specific topics can offer students deeply rich and rewarding reading and thinking experiences that will support their success in their classwork, on standardized tests, and in the world beyond.