from the teaching files of educator
and children's author Barbara Jean Hicks
I've written before in this column encouraging authors doing school visits to pay special attention to their state's educational standards as they prepare their programs. An author's ability to tie her presentations to state standards makes her more valuable (and more saleable as a speaker) than an author whose primary focus is entertainment.
Not that we don't want to entertain! Every teacher knows that fun learning is the best learning, so a didactic presentation won't have the same impact as an entertaining one. The trick is to know what students at your target age level are expected to know and help teachers by supporting those concepts in your program in a fun and interesting way.
Understanding standards, as well as general trends in education, is also helpful for authors deciding what to do for their next project. What should you be writing to find a market for your work? How can your personal interests be presented in a way that meets educator's demands? How can your next project help teachers meet their classroom goals and help students learn what they need to know?
Here's some inside information about recent shifts in education policy in the U.S. that may help authors interested in meeting the needs of students and teachers with their next project:
Three core shifts in the approach to language and literacy are of great significance to children's authors--especially those of us who want to make sure that what we are offering will have an impact on those who make decisions about what to buy for school libraries and classrooms.
1) Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. This is good news for nonfiction writers--and a wake-up call for fiction writers. Currently, on average, only a small percent of elementary English/Language Arts texts are nonfiction. As a fiction writer myself, I'm feeling encouraged to transfer my story-telling and language skills to write about topics in history, social studies, science and the arts--content that schools will be hungry for. The common core standards do not de-emphasize the importance of literature, by the way, but recommend that students read rich literature and content-rich nonfiction in equal amounts.
2) Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text, both literay and informational. This is a huge shift from the most common forms of writing practiced in K-12 education, personal experience and opinion. For student writing, the common core standards place a premium on using evidence from texts to present careful analysis of information and claims. This kind of writing requires careful reading of texts--and requires the ideas presented in the texts to be complex enough to challenge young readers to think. That challenges me as a writer!
3) Regular practice with complex texts. I've never been one to talk down to my young picture book audience, believing that a child who hears rich language from an early age will understand and incorporate rich language in his or her verbal expression. For children reading on their own, the common core standards build a staircase of increasing complexity in texts throughout the grade levels. "Complexity" refers both to sentence structure and vocabulary, specifically academic vocabulary. The evidence is that textbooks have been increasingly "dumbed down" over the last 50 years. Writers who can provide content that is both complex and engaging will be sought after. Could that writer be you?
Information in this article based on "Three Core Shifts to Deliver on the Promise of the Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Math," by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba.