Friday, April 6, 2018

In the Classroom: How Much Nonfiction?

While Common Core is now on its way out as states develop their own ELA standards, some of its most important goals are not being forgotten. Initially, the idea of devoting significantly more instructional time to reading and writing nonfiction was unpopular with many educators. But over time, they've come to see the benefits of incorporating more true texts into their lessons. As a result, the new standards being developed by states are preserving the emphasis on nonfiction. And that’s a good thing.

Common Core recommended that 50 percent of the books elementary students read and study should be nonfiction. And in high school, students should be reading 70 percent nonfiction. But I’m not sure those percentages make sense developmentally.

Young children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to explore and understand EVERYTHING. If you think about it, that’s their job—to soak up information about the world like sponges. And nonfiction can help them do that.

But teens are different. Their number one priority is to find their own place in the world. And novels are often better at helping them achieve that goal. Reading MG and YA fiction allows young people to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and see how they deal with the obstacles in their lives, how they navigate the world.

So while I believe students of all ages should read what they want to read in their free time, perhaps the Common Core percentages should be flip-flopped when it comes to reading instruction—70 percent nonfiction in elementary school and 50 percent high school. That would still allow young people to be ready for college and the workforce, but it would also allow individual teens to discover the person they want to be.

What do you think?


  1. I agree--it would make sense earlier for kids to have more widespread exposure to NF. And I think it would help with reluctant readers too!

  2. I think it's a mistake to prescribe a certain percentage based on age. If you want to get kids to read, it's important to follow their interests. And since elementary school is where we get kids hooked on reading, and high school is where we keep them reading, I'd hate to take that choice away from them. That said, Common Core really isn't about choice, is it? So your solution would probably address the mismatch that you're highlighting.

    1. Hi Jilanne,
      Common Core's recommendations are related to instructional time not the percentages of books children should be reading. I agree that children should read what they want, but should be exposed to a diverse array of fiction and nonfiction, so that they have the info they need to make informed choices about reading preferences. More and more, studies are showing that young children prefer expository texts, and yet most instruction at that age level revolved around fiction. I think educators need to take a close look at how their own preferences are possibly have a negative effect on students' development as readers.