Archive for the ‘Pioneer Institute’ Category

Read Fiction or Non-fiction?

Monday, November 19th, 2012

In my last post I wrote about teaching the Gold Rush, one of California’s fourth grade social studies units. It was a great time to read fiction and non-fiction.

reading fiction and non-fiction

reading fiction and non-fiction

Fiction stories galore have been written for students with this theme. Still available are plenty of primary non-fiction texts that explain how to pan for gold, what tools came into use to capture more glitter, and when men of many countries descended on northern and central California before it even became a state.

At the same time, fiction versus non-fiction reading laid out in the Common State Core Standards is the controversy in the education news. Remember, CCS was developed under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association to provide a set of guidelines for all grade levels in every state to acquire consistent learning before students graduate from high school.

What do you know? My master’s degree thesis to study writing improvement when students participate in the study of the non-fiction genre fit in with that standard.

One of the controversial and difficult standards to understand across grade levels is the fiction and non-fiction to use at each grade level. In spite of information in the CCS appendix, I’ve been asked at professional development workshops at my school and district to elucidate how to choose texts.

For one, when students reach the upper elementary and higher grades, does the standard look for text complexity in the story or only the reading level of the text? Some text may score high on the reading level but low on the difficulty of the story. Two, students are used to fiction and have well-developed understanding of inferences and can use personal background to sense the conflicts. In non-fiction works students need lessons in how to find the meaning of new vocabulary, much less inferences or cause and effect of actions.

The Pioneer Institute in Boston criticizes the emphasis on types of literature and primary sources to choose at any grade level. It is the group’s position that fictional literature is the most common type of reading in school and provides a wide variety of skills. The group doesn’t deny non-fiction use such as biography, newspapers, and journals, but thinks that the value of non-fiction reading vs. fiction literature is overrated.

On the other hand, corporations and college professors stress the need to be well-versed with non-fiction text as it plays a role in business and research.

In my opinion, one hopes students enjoy learning, whether the Gold Rush in California fourth grade, or rocks in the Earth Science unit, or Euclid’s first axiom about equal ¬†things that can influence human understanding about equality in all its forms (Abraham Lincoln used the axiom to explain the need to pass Amendment 13- abolishing slavery-to the Constitution).

Why controversy? Choose all kinds and genres of text to strengthen understanding.