The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) asks students to read fewer stories and read more expository text with a goal of developing their analytical skills through formulating arguments. The CCSS calls for a 50/50 narrative/expository split in early grades and moves to a 30/70 split in later grades. Many educators are worried that this kind of move will deprive students, especially poor students, of the power and legacy of the story. But are these mutually exclusive? Can’t we ramp up student engagement with expository text and critical discourse while still keeping stories alive? I wonder why the conversation seems to be an either or. Isn’t it a both? The focus on expository and the art of argument is not so much a usurper of the narrative but a response to the reality that students face with college and career expectations. I know a lot of us teachers want to share our love of stories, our passion for the narratives that shaped us, and our life’s work with our students. But let’s be real. How many of our students will go on to be English majors? The narrative has a role in helping students learn about their own lives and the lives of others, but there is so much more out there. As a long-time high school teacher, I found that my students came to me as ninth graders with an intimate knowledge of narrative structures. They can write endlessly about their lives. They really know about stories – beginning, middle and end. However, when I ask my students what research they have done or how many news articles they have read: sadly I hear crickets. We must utilize a balanced approach to early literacy that uses both narrative and expository texts and related tasks to develop students’ critical thinking skills and build on this foundation as students progress through the grades. When CEOs are asked what they look for, consistently they say they want critical thinkers who have strong writing and presentation skills, and are team players. They need to be able to advocate. New content can always be taught to those who have solid background knowledge and are confident in a variety of academic structures. So will the Common Core State Standards kill stories? Well they may kill some of them but in the end, a balanced approach to stories is what students, especially poor students, need to compete.
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