Expanding the Common Core Text Exemplar List with Global Literature
by Michele Marx
Arms laden with books, Angela burst into our first Teacher Talk meeting of the school year eager to talk about the large selection of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) exemplar texts for the K-1 grade band weighing on her, at that moment both physically and figuratively. Placing her burden on the Teacher Talk table, Angela reviewed each of the texts she was able to collect from her local library. As a teaching veteran with her own first grader at home, Angela regarded the texts with both the eye of a professional and the eye of a parent. Sharing many of the selections with her son, she listened closely to his responses to the texts. Together, they found a few new titles from the exemplar list that she would recommend, or perhaps use when she returns to the classroom; however, overall she was struck by the date of publication of many of the books and the feeling of datedness in many of the stories and illustrations. Exemplar texts for the K-1 grade band especially stood out in relation to selections that were not included. For example, the read aloud exemplar selection of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was originally published in 1900, was more notable for its datedness and its status as classic children’s literature than its relevance in a current kindergarten or first grade classroom, particularly with respect to the rich and vast body of contemporary children’s literature. With consideration to the CCSS criteria of complexity, quality and range, Angela wondered what were the characteristics of the texts included in the exemplar list, which were intended as “guideposts” for selecting texts? How, we all wondered together, could the CCSS exemplar text list be expanded to include texts representing current multicultural and global perspectives? And, how, most importantly, could we incorporate global literature to support, expand, or use instead of limiting our students to the texts on the exemplar list?
Teacher Talk: Reading and Talking in a Professional Community
The members of Teacher Talk have a history of reading and discussing children’s literature together, particularly around topics of social justice and global issues. Initiated in 2000 as a University-based inquiry and support group for teachers who had graduated from the Literacy Studies programs at Hofstra University, each of the participants in Teacher Talk is dedicated to teaching through children’s literature, as well as nurturing their own literacy lives through reading and talking about books together. The group meets monthly during the school year and consists of teachers representing early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school and college instructors and professors of literacy education, as well as school district administrators. We are all, at heart, classroom teachers.
The particular interests of the group have shaped our monthly discussions around professional articles and books, as well as selections of children’s literature, that help us better understand the lives of the children we teach as well as the world we live in. Teacher Talk’s inquiry into the Text Exemplars, as defined by the Common Core State Standards, came as a natural extension of a yearlong exploration of global literature supported by a grant from Worlds of Words. As we considered what exactly is global literature and what does it mean to read global children’s literature to build intercultural understanding, the looming Common Core State Standards influenced how we perceived our opportunities for text selection and literacy experiences in the classroom.
From New York to Hawaii, public school to private school, urban school to suburban school, early childhood classroom to college level seminars, and classroom teacher to school district administrator, the members of the Teacher Talk community lead very different professional lives. We found, however, that the Common Core State Standards gave us a common language to talk across grade levels, learning environments, and school and community demographics. Nevertheless, although we shared a common document, our experiences with the CCSS were vastly different. For example, for some the Text Exemplar List of Appendix B was a mandatory reading list; for our private school teacher, the CCSS was more of a ‘good idea’ than a set of mandatory expectations.
Given the different interpretations that exist for the Common Core State Standards, we decided to explore how we can develop more opportunities with our students for global thinking with children’s literature, and what it means to keep children’s literature alive in our classrooms while meeting the requirements of the standards.
According to Short (2012), “Literature expands children’s life spaces through inquiries that take them outside the boundaries of their lives to other places, times, and ways of living” (p. 50). Recognizing the globalized world we live in, our interest in global children’s literature is as a tool to prepare young readers “with the skills and attitudes necessary to live and work and interact with others in an increasingly diverse, complex and interdependent world” (Nieto, 2005, p. 31).
With a commitment to expanding the exemplar list of texts with global children’s literature, we have closely examined the existing, emerging and competing definitions of global children’s literature to be able to clearly identify global texts. Largely distinguished by origin of the text, in place and authorship as well as in setting and characters, recognizing global children’s literature is about bringing attention to its purpose of enlarging our worldviews and expanding our understanding of ourselves. Thinking about a framework for global literature in this way, global literature is more than just the text; it is what the reader brings to the text and the discussions that emerge (Rosenblatt, 1995).
Expanding the CCSS Text Exemplar List with Global Literature.
We decided that we would begin our inquiry by closely reviewing Appendix B of the CCSS, Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks for the Common Core Standards English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, and by reading a professional text, Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Calkins, Ehrenworth & Lehman, 2012). These shared readings provided the framework for our understanding, thinking, and work together to expand the text exemplar list with global literature in ways that are relevant to our own individual work and goals.
The exemplar texts are organized by grade bands, which range from the Kindergarten and First grade band, through the Grade 11 and the College and Career Readiness band. The texts for each band are subdivided and the categories of the subdivisions are related to the grade band. For example, the K-1 grade band has the categories of stories, poetry, read aloud stories, read aloud poetry, informational texts and read aloud informational texts, whereas the 6-8 grade band has the categories of stories, drama, poetry, Informational Texts: English Language Arts, Informational Texts: History/Social Studies, and Informational Texts: Science, Mathematics, and Technical Subjects. The authors of the CCSS explicitly state that the text exemplars in each grade band are meant to serve as models for quantitative and qualitative text complexity including length, topic and level of difficulty, literary merit, and breadth of texts (2010b, p.2). The text exemplar list in each grade band is intended to support the standards of the Common Core and is not intended to be a complete, or even a partial reading list; this implies that it is not meant to be a mandatory reading list.
Providing a sense of the texts that meet the criteria for each grade band, Appendix B of the Common Core contains whole or excerpted selections of the texts. It also includes sample performance tasks aligned to the standards. These tasks typically appear after the categories for poetry, or where poetry is represented, as well as for informational text in science, math, and technology.
Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman (2012) advocate for teachers, literacy coaches, and school leaders to question others’ interpretations of the Common Core State Standards and place the responsibility of understanding the standards firmly on the individual shoulders of teachers and school and district leaders so that they, themselves, may determine how the goals of the standards are met (p. 2). Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (2012) is a powerful affirmation for the professionalism of teachers and school leaders, and a positive discussion of the ELA standards for reading, writing, and speaking and listening.
Armed with a deeper understanding of the Common Core State Standards, particularly as it relates to English Language Arts, we felt empowered to take ownership in our own teaching settings and explore how teachers select books for their classrooms to go beyond the list of text exemplars. We are committed to finding possibilities for teaching with global literature to build knowledge of global issues and cultures. With our focus squarely on global literature, in addition to considering the qualities of the texts so that our selections align to the CCSS, we asked ourselves the following questions.
• What criteria am I using to determine that the text is global literature?
• How does the text incorporate global or universal themes?
• How does the text represent global cultures and/or issues?
• Is the global message conveyed overtly, or is the message more metaphorical or symbolic?
• How do the illustrations in picture books impact global understanding?
• How does the main character express her understanding of universal or global themes?
Literacy Experiences with Global Literature and the CCSS
Our goals as a Teacher Talk community included not only to select global texts for the classroom that go beyond the list of exemplar texts, but to also consider the literacy events that explore what it means to use and read global literature while meeting the requirements of the Common Core State Standards. These literacy events are what happen when we bring our developing understandings of the exemplar list and global literature and align them to the CCSS. To experience what it means to read global literature in the age of the CCSS, we have collected our texts, paired them, and shared them. From the challenges to the victories, these are the stories we want to tell in these vignettes.
Our vignettes can be read in isolation or as a collection; because we approached our inquiry in ways that addressed our individual work and goals, we have different stories to tell. In addition to our shared goals and commitments, we do, however, have common threads, like the value and respect for being a member of a professional study group like Teacher Talk. Joan Zaleski, Angela Buffalino-Morgan, and Esmeralda Carini, all currently in phases of their education careers where they are not in a classroom, decided to collaborate on planning a cross-curricular unit for third grade using Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Lin, 2009) as their anchor text. Their successful planning will be fully realized when their unit is implemented in the upcoming school year. As you read their stories, you will notice how they refer to each other and influenced one another in their planning of their unit. But perhaps the greatest thread through all the stories is our united commitment to keep children’s literature alive in the age of the Common Core State Standards. Our vignettes can be viewed through our goals.
~Keeping children’s literature alive while meeting the CCSS requirements
To nurture a love for reading in children, and to increase children’s opportunities with global literature, Joan Zaleski advocates for developing pre-service and in-service teachers’ knowledge of global children’s literature. In the age of the CCSS, her work, however, just begins with widening the range of knowledge of children’s literature and extends to scaffolding how to share texts creatively. Recognizing the call for cross-disciplinary literacy teaching and learning, Joan describes in her vignette how she developed an ELA Fantasy curriculum unit based on Lin’s (2009) Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Deciding to collaborate with Joan and using her ELA unit as a model, Angela Buffalino-Morgan webbed themes she identified in Lin’s book that reaches across the curriculum to the content areas of social studies, science, and math to include informational texts.
The cross-disciplinary curriculum map that Angela Buffalino-Morgan developed using Lin’s (2009) Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as an anchor text provided a conceptual and visual framework for creating text sets with global children’s literature. However, finding global texts that align to the rigor and expectations of the CCSS was not as easy for Angela as visiting her library with the list of text exemplars in hand, the fruits of which were shared in the opening vignette. In her vignette, Angela describes how she negotiated the challenges of finding texts with cultural authenticity, as well as the availability of global, international, and multicultural children’s literature, while contemplating the criteria of the CCSS.
Since neither Joan Zaleski nor Angela Buffalino-Morgan has access to a school-age classroom, Esmeralda Carini provided an opportunity to bring this cross-disciplinary unit to 3rd graders. Having a grade and class to plan for changed their work from an empty exercise and added new motivation and enthusiasm to their collaboration. Recognizing the enormity and challenge of implementing the CCSS for a school leader and classroom teacher, Esmeralda had assigned herself the responsibility of developing a cross-disciplinary unit that is CCSS aligned and incorporates global literature. She welcomed the opportunity to collaborate in a peer supported professional community.
As a content literacy specialist, Esmeralda Carini has been working hard on her development of Common Core District training for English Language Arts. In her vignette, Esmeralda describes how she used her Professional Development training sessions as an opportunity to encourage classroom teachers by placing decisions determining curriculum development back into their hands. Esmeralda’s goal has been to develop an understanding that “the Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach” (2010a, p.6) and by doing so, to develop respect for their own professional judgment and for the professional judgment of each other.
~Creating opportunities for global thinking with children’s literature.
Stephanie Annunziata was motivated by her interest in understanding and interpreting the CCSS for herself, as well as her desire to satisfy the concerns of parents. She undertook a project to create a way to bring global literature and global thinking in a CCSS aligned literacy experience into the homes of her students in a meaningful way. In her vignette, Stephanie shares how she created Poetry Take-Home Backpacks for her 1st-3rd grade students. Given her grade and age range, Stephanie organized three different bags for her students to take home to share with their families/parents. These book bags were organized with texts around global themes, and filled with meaningful engagements that were not only Common Core aligned, but also instigated conversations about global themes of humor, perspectives, and nature.
Faced with a changing curriculum to meet the rigorous expectations of the CCSS, Vera Zinnel was tackled the challenge of creating space for conversations with global literature and thinking globally with her third grade class. Feeling the pressure to adopt a new curriculum, in her vignette, Vera describes how she struggled with what she would have to give up to have the time to deliver the curriculum being imposed on her and how she held fast to her commitment of keeping literature alive for her students through critical conversations and literary experiences with global literature.
Squeezing in time at the end of the school year to share global literature with her English as a Second Language students, Amy Gaddes’s vignette is a poignant reminder of the importance of global literature for our students. The safe place she creates for dialogue allowed conversations around the texts where her students could explore who they are – their own cultural identity – and could learn about each other. As Amy traveled this journey with her students, she was reminded about how much she can learn from and alongside her students. This is a telling lesson for all of us at the table of Teacher Talk and underscores the importance of selecting global texts to expand the Common Core list for text exemplars. The school year and these stories may have come to an end, but our work with global literature has just begun.
Calkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., Lehman, C. (2012). Pathways to the common core. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Lin, G. (2009). Where the mountain meets the moon. New York: Little Brown.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010a). Common core state standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010b). Common core state standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects: Appendix B: Text exemplars and sample performance tasks. Washington, DC: Authors.
Nieto, S. (2005). Language, culture and teaching: Critical perspectives (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge
Rosenblatt, L.M. (1995). Literature as exploration (5th ed.). Chicago: Modern Language Association of America.
Short, K. G. (2009). Critically reading the word and the world: Building intercultural understanding through literature. Bookbird, 2, 1-10.
Short, K. G. (2011). Reading literature in elementary classrooms. In S.H. Wolf, K. Coats, P. Enciso, & C.A. Jenkins, (Eds.), Handbook of research on children’s and young adult literature (pp. 48- 62). New York: Routledge
Michele Marx is Director of the Reading/Writing Learning Clinic of the Joan and Arnold Saltzman Community Services Center at Hofstra University.
WOW Stories, Volume IV, Issue 6 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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