Sunday, May 19, 2013

Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries -- a new series

Throughout the U.S., teachers and librarians are talking about what it means to implement the Common Core State Standards in their school. Five of us -- librarians and literacy experts -- are working together to show what the Common Core means for school libraries in real life. We’re calling the series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries.
Today, I’m laying out some of the groundwork for our thinking. Come join all five of us on Wednesday, May 22nd, as we launch this new project:
As teachers have worked to make sense of these new standards, many have focused on the overarching shifts in teaching that the Common Core standards are calling for. EngageNY, a collaborative platform for teachers in New York, has developed several presentations on these shifts. Two key shifts are particularly important to me as an elementary school librarian:
  • the call for balancing informational and literary texts, and
  • the focus on helping students read increasingly complex texts.
As a school librarian and parent, I want to provide many opportunities for our students to read about the world around them. Young children are fascinated by so many different things in the world - animals and their habitats, faraway places, different people’s customs, famous people’s lives. It is important that we provide our children with access to materials that interest them. I am convinced that if children are encouraged to read more nonfiction of their choosing, they will develop skills that will help them read and think about nonfiction as they grow older.
As the Common Core document states for ELA Standard 10,
“Building knowledge systematically in English language arts is like giving children various pieces of a puzzle in each grade that, over time, will form one big picture. ... The knowledge children have learned about particular topics in early grade levels should then be expanded and developed in subsequent grade levels to ensure an increasingly deeper understanding of these topics.”
So what does the Common Core mean in real life? In our series Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we are choosing high-interest subjects and looking at how we can support elementary students as they read increasingly complex texts around a subject. We want to provide both stimulating read-alouds, especially for young students, and just-right books of increasing complexity.

As Lucy Calkins writes in her Curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop,
“We want to encourage our students to be researchers of the world and to know that reading can be a source of information to grow knowledge both about subjects they are experts in and ones that are newer to them.”
Lucy Calkins writes about curriculum that spirals from grade to grade, level to level. We are taking this idea to the library, suggesting that we look at our collections for an interesting topic and provide interesting reading materials that spiral up, gradually increasing in the complexity of the text. This allows students to build on knowledge, revisiting favorite books and then stepping into more complex material. It allows them to delve into a topic with more depth, becoming an expert in an area that interests them. But in order to do this, we must be conscious of the reading levels of the materials we select. As Calkins writes,
“It is important to get slightly easier books if the topic is new. While shopping for new books this month, keep in mind that a child can read a just-right book on a topic she may be familiar with—like cats. But if that child decides to read books on a topic about which she has no foreknowledge, like gemstones, it will benefit her to begin with books that are easier than her just-right reading level. As she builds up her vocabulary and background knowledge about gemstones, she’ll move on to reading with success books that are at her just-right level (or slightly above that level).”
In our special segments, Common Core IRL: In Real Life, we will share our favorite books on a common topic, spiraling up through the elementary grades. In the School Library Journal, Marc Aronson and Sue Bartle have suggested that school libraries develop clusters around high-interest topics. We are taking this one step further, providing suggestions for increasingly complex texts, both as read-alouds and independent reading books.

See the Common Core in action at Common Core IRL: In Real Life. Come visit Kid Lit Frenzy, 100 Scope Notes, Great Kid Books and The Nonfiction Detectives on Wednesday, May 22nd, to learn all about frogs as we suggest resources for spiraling up, gradually increasing in the complexity of the texts.

©2013 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Great idea! I will definitely be reading and learning with you. :)
    Brandee @ Creating Lifelong Learners

  2. Looking forward to the series -- such a great group of people to learn from.

  3. What a great idea! I'll be sharing this with the teachers in my district.

  4. I am excited for Wednesday! What a timely idea.

  5. This is very exciting!

  6. Wow what a great initiative. I would love to follow along your suggestions and find great reads for DD. Thanks for sharing!