Those of us following the Common Core debate have heard a lot about the 50/50 split that K-5 teachers and curriculum directors should be adhering to when apportioning the time in which to teach literary and informational texts. Frankly, I think assigning percentages for this kind of thing is silly. First of all, it can lead to a false impression that as long as my school’s curriculum reflects these percentages, we can say we are meeting one of the key components of Common Core. (In fact, the Common Core authors’ inclusion of specific percentages is a treat for textbook companies who use these percentages as a way to market their new ELA series as “Common Core aligned.”) But teaching something more often doesn’t mean I’m teaching it better, right?
If a 5th grade teacher spends 50% of her time having students read informational text but most of the texts are used as supplementary resources or ways to provide quick bits of background knowledge, are students really going to be challenged to provide rich descriptions or thorough comparisons; grapple with how an author supports a contention with evidence; or overcome the other hurdles inherent in reading informational text?
Further, one of the real benefits of using more informational text is it gives teachers more versatility to design text-based informative and opinion prompts and short research projects in the curriculum. What part of the 50/50 split is being used to promulgate these kinds of experiences as opposed to quick reading through a couple of sections of Syd Montgomery’s The Tarantula Scientist before beginning a unit on George’s The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets?
Yes, Common Core is calling on teachers to spend more time teaching informational texts. But this is the easy part! More critical to the Common Core is the difficult task of selecting high quality texts to guide careful reading, vocabulary acquisition, evidentiary writing, and (single and multiple) text-based discussions. Let’s be sure that our curriculum planning efforts don’t succumb to superficial notions of what Common Core alignment is really all about.