The Common Core Shifts English Language Arts

BY  |  Monday, Sep 23, 2013 8:00am  |  COMMENTS (6)

common coreThe Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have arrived.  And with them come three main shifts in English Language Arts (ELA):

  1. Build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
  2. Read, write and speak based on evidence from text
  3. Read complex texts that may have an academic vocabulary

Baker & Taylor, a leading distributor of books, videos, and music products to libraries, institutions and retailers, recently hosted a webinar to discuss how parents can approach these shifts with their children.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

ELA Shift #1: Build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction

Until now, nonfiction has primarily been viewed as ‘good for reports’ and a way to answer students’ questions. Marc Aronson, who is an author, editor, publisher, speaker and Rutgers University instructor, adds, “It’s unfortunate, but many parents and teachers equate ELA with fiction.  There’s a notion that this shift will make ELA dull, uninteresting and less appealing to kids. But nonfiction is actually quite popular (for adults, think of cook books, memoirs and diet). Many students are happy about this shift.” Consider the second grade boy who is interested in snakes.  Before, many teachers told him a book on snakes did not count as reading. Now, he has more freedom to explore this interest. Nonfiction will be used to spark questions and guide students along their own educational journeys from one text to the next.

To help everyone ease into the nonfiction arena, children’s book and young adult author Deborah Hopkinson suggests that parents read with their kids.  “My new novel, The Great Trouble, is about the 1854 cholera epidemic.  There’s a fascinating adult nonfiction book by Steven Johnson called The Ghost Map, which would make a perfect companion read and a way to extend discussion about this topic and how it still has an impact in our world through the recent epidemic in Haiti.” She adds, “Asking librarians for reading material for yourself as a parent enforces the idea of lifelong learning and the idea that adults, too, can broaden their reading to expand from their current favorite genres, to new ones as well.”

ELA Shift #2: Read, write and speak based on evidence from text

Students will have to formulate solid arguments. They will be expected to weigh evidence pulled from multiple sources (with different points of view) on the same subject. Teachers will no longer simply ask students how they ‘feel’ about what they’ve read.  Instead, students will engage in dialogues around questions like “What is the central idea?” and “How come the author says this?”

Parents can also engage their kids at home.  Elaine Fultz, Teen Specialist, MLS, Dayton Metro Library, suggests, “If a child says they like a book, a parent can ask why and NOT accept a vague answer like, ‘It’s good,’ or ‘It’s funny.’  Follow that question with, ‘What exactly is good about it — show me. ‘Tell me details,’ or ‘Read me the funny part.’  This is all about young people reading closely rather than skimming and having vague opinions with no firm ground on which to stand.  Older students will have to ‘marshal arguments,’ and prove their assertions in writing.”

Mr. Aronson points to current events to give parents a broader perspective, “Like the events unfolding with Syria, as time goes on our children will need to make dire choices with huge consequences based on imperfect information. We want our kids to be able to make sense of a complex world.”

 ELA Shift #3: Read complex texts that may have an academic vocabulary

The CCSS considers how students read just as important as the complexity of what they read. Students will be expected to grow in both areas as they advance through school.  According to, “the Common Core Standards provide text complexity grade bands and associated Lexile bands that are intended to put students on a college- and career-ready trajectory.” also explains the three main factors to determine text complexity:

  1. “Qualitative dimensions of text complexity, such as levels of meaning, structure, language conventionality and clarity, and knowledge demands.
  2. Quantitative measures of text complexity, such as word frequency and sentence length, which are typically measured by computer software.
  3. Reader and task considerations, such as students’ knowledge, motivation and interests.”

It will be important to encourage kids to work through increasingly complex texts. Urge them to read subjects that interest them. Children will read well above their reading level to access information they care about.

Keeping all of this in mind, Ms. Fultz also points out, “The most important thing for parents to understand is that their child’s reading ability is NOT one number or letter. Parents should allow their children to read “above” and “below” as they are interested in reading something, especially nonfiction.”  Kristin Fontichiaro, Clinical Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan, adds, “Non-fiction can be read in a less-linear and more conversational way. Parent and child can discover new information, explore the world around them, and enjoy the journey together.”

(Photo: Flickr)


  1. POSTED BY bluemarble  |  September 23, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

    #1 makes me so sad. There is so little room for arts in school as it is. My strongest and fondest memories of experiences with English in school were from reading fiction and poetry. And I say this as someone who has a job where I spend a lot of time reading and writing “content rich” nonfiction.

  2. POSTED BY Menben  |  September 23, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

    Is this the same Common Core curriculum where a parent in MD was arrested for complaining about it? Reference video:

  3. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  September 23, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

    Exactly where the shift is, from what to what, is not clear. Clearly nonfiction is given a greater priority. In and of itself, this may be good because (so-called) nonfiction plays a larger role in our society today. However, the term “content-rich nonfiction” is deceptive. The distinction between fiction and nonfiction is often not clear and not needed.

    This common core shift seems to still lag very much behind the actual reading experiences of today’s children, which require the integration of a variety of media sources (not only the written word) in making judgements and arriving at appreciations. Evidence is gathered (and analyzed often comparatively) from a variety of sources, not simply from within a singular text or reading (/media) experience.

    The shift away from “reading levels” should be welcomed, though it needs more explanation. The example of Syria was poorly chosen.

  4. POSTED BY agideon  |  September 23, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

    One of the interesting aspects of “shift 1” above is that it is implemented, at least partially, outside of the LA class. That is, reading science texts for information is something that happens as a part of the science class, even if it “counts” towards LA as well.

    This was explained during one of the many presentation we’ve had on the new curriculum.

    Aside from the LA-specific details, I find this interesting in how it speaks to consistency and coordination between “separate” classes. I like the idea of collaboration amongst otherwise separate classes. This is something that gets too easily lost as students start taking different subjects with different teachers, and I think it very good for the kids that it is being restored.

    I’m not sure how the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is “not clear”, though there there are supposedly composites such as historical fiction. This has seemed clearly to be fiction that happens to be woven around actual events to me. It’s no more non-fiction than a science-fiction story that cites the occasional [valid] fact.

    Does anyone consider these non-fiction?


  5. POSTED BY flavia  |  September 25, 2013 @ 8:16 am

    It’s important to point out that the CCSS don’t replace fiction with nonfiction entirely. There are still literature standards that require students to read a range of fiction, poetry, and drama.

    Look through the “Reading: Literature” standards for K-12.

  6. POSTED BY danahawkinssimons  |  September 26, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    here’s a link to the entire webinar:

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