Oct 30, 2012 by Scott Sterling

Common Core

The majority of passages in statewide reading assessments are now made up of non-fiction, informational material. Seeing this trend only grow, administrators have begun asking teachers in subjects other than English Language Arts (ELA) to start incorporating more reading and writing tasks in their courses. They point out that a lot of graphs and statistics appear in these assessments. The essays tend to be of a historical nature. Scientific articles and stories appear often.

It makes sense. How many working adults in their daily lives are asked to read and react to pieces from Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald? Now, how many of those adults in their work have to read and react to reports, news articles, or other informational reading materials on a daily basis? Even in jobs that can be classified as “math jobs” or “science jobs”, skills like understanding the author’s purpose and comparing and contrasting matter.

An evolution, dictated by the Common Core

The new Common Core standards for reading have validated this approach, with language clearly stating that our students should be proficient readers of informational texts - not just literature. They have refocused ELA instruction to create a well-rounded reader and writer, not just one that can discuss personification or onomatopoeia.

To be clear, students are still expected to learn their reading and writing skills in their ELA classes. But what’s the harm in asking students to argue a cogent point or extrapolate information from the relevant texts while learning about science or social studies?

The theory is that more practice will equal better results. But the teachers of other subject areas are not as experienced in creating lessons that utilize these sought after skills. They need help, and not just from the ELA teachers at their school.  

The implementation solution

To that end, teachers across the subject areas have begun employing template tasks, writing prompts that ask teachers to “fill in the blanks” in order to make the prompt relevant to their own subject area.

These template tasks are the work of the Literacy Design Collaborative on behalf of the Gates Foundation. The hope is that if they make incorporating ELA strategies easy enough, more teachers of the other subject areas will be willing to integrate reading and writing practice in their classes.

An example of an informational template task would be “After researching (informational texts) on (content), write a (report or essay) that defines and explains (content). Support your discussion with evidence from your research. What implications can you draw?”

These templates make reading and writing tasks accessible across the curriculum, giving students further opportunities to practice the skills they learn in their English/language arts classes.

The success of our schools - not just on statewide assessments but in the altruistic goal of creating students prepared to contribute in the working world - is finally a cross-curricular effort.

For further reading:

Reading on Science, Social Studies Teachers' Agendas

Literacy Design Collaborative

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Related reading:

21st Century Learning: Preparing Students Today

Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher