Last week I posted on the Common Core and how it may affect us as children’s writers. Serendipitously, this week, our principal is meeting with the Learning Leaders (the group with which I volunteer) about how we can support the Common Core Learning Standards (New York’s version) in the school library. I decided to prepare an example for the meeting, as discussions about the Common Core often get bogged down in bureaucratese or educational jargon.
One of the standards that appealed to me was for the fourth grade. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series remains popular with our students, and one of the biggest teaching moments for me relates to Riordan’s use of mythology. The state standard declares (in part):
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are: 4. used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean). Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, K-5, p.18
While Riordan or Hyperion may well have created a guide for teachers, I came up with my own questions on the fly one day while trying to persuade an avid fan that perhaps she might like to check out a different book that week. While trying to ascertain exactly what she enjoyed so much about Percy and his adventures, it dawned on me that mythology itself might be the way to channel her interest and coax her to try reading something else. (Luckily, I had read Riordan’s books myself!)
My questions to this fourth grader were:
1. Who is your favorite character? Why?
2. Can you tell me who each of the gods and goddesses are? Can you tell me what they represent?
3. Did you know that the Romans worshipped these gods and goddesses under different names? That other ancient cultures had similar gods and goddesses?
During our discussion, it became plain that, while Riordan did a great job characterizing the Olympians, my friend knew only the basics about the Greek gods and, indeed, had some questions of her own. This led me to propose she check out a book of Greek myths and, in following weeks, myths from other cultures. About a month later, she proudly told me how Zeus related to Thor!
For us as writers, reading over the Common Core Standards and thinking about them can help us enrich our writing. For nonfiction, perhaps that enrichment is specific: additional materials such as teacher guides, further reading lists, fun quizzes, etc. For fiction, perhaps it is a reference, a comparison, a metaphor intended to draw the reader deeper, to nudge him to explore other texts.
While it was Joel Stein’s witty article that spurred me to post, another excellent article about the Common Core was published in Publishers Weekly last summer (July, 18, 2012). PW‘s focus is, understandably, on the exemplars listed in the standards and their effect on publishers, but read closely. The comments and quotations from educators and librarians provide great guidance to children’s writers looking to understand the impact of these standards.
In itself, the Common Core will have little effect on children. How it is applied? That’s the real story. We as writers should should help drive a positive application by writing high quality fiction and nonfiction that both entertains and educates. Just as great literature always has.