Common Core Shifts: Nonfiction Reading

Common Core Shifts:  Nonfiction Reading

(First in occasional series on shifts in curriculum.)

Parents should be aware of the Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states, including Massachusetts.  The standards are intended to provide a “consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn” and to be “robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”  In 2011, Massachusetts published new curriculum frameworks that align with the common core.

These standards will be assessed using new tests, such as the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), which is being developed by a consortium of 18 states.  The PARCC will be field tested this year in Massachusetts. At Lawrence, some third graders will be participating in the PARCC Mathematics test rather than MCAS.

From time to time throughout the year, I will highlight a “shift” in curriculum that emerge from these new standards.   This week, I begin with a shift in reading: an increased emphasis on reading nonfiction. Recommendations now suggest that fourth grade reading be divided evenly between fiction and nonfiction.  In eighth grade, the recommended split is 45% fiction-55% nonfiction. In high school, it’s 30% fiction-70% nonfiction.

Why nonfiction?  Nonfiction reading provides students in all grades with opportunities to build their content knowledge, vocabulary, and expand their view of the world. Since children have a natural curiosity about the world around them, reading nonfiction text is a great way to extend their curiosity and grow stronger as readers. Possible topics to explore include, but are not limited to, science, history, the arts, famous people and places, and the way things work.

Unlike fiction, nonfiction text does not have to be read from beginning to end. Students learn to navigate the special features of nonfiction text, such as the table of contents, glossary, index, headings, diagrams and captions to find the information that is of interest to them.

To illustrate the slightly different skills required by nonfiction and fiction reading, consider two passages from last year’s fourth grade MCAS:

  • For one nonfiction passage about rock climbing gyms, students were asked to respond to the question:  “Based on the article, explain what climbers can learn from practicing at indoor gyms.  Support your answer with important information from the article.”
  • For a fiction passage about a boy named Yeshi, students responded to the question: “Describe how Yeshi changes from the beginning to the end of the story. Support your answer with important details from the story.”

(To see the entire text of each passage, go to:,sr)

Testing aside, nonfiction deserves our attention in schools.  We want our students to become life-long readers.  As readers, we each have different tastes and interests.  To promote a love of reading at home, parents should be mindful of their child’s interests. The publishing of wonderful, high-quality nonfiction books for children has increased tremendously over the past few years. Next time you visit a library or bookstore, ask for recommendations.

Rick Rogers


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