By Peg Glisson
At a recent book club gathering, several fifth grade teachers were bemoaning having to "give up" their Survival Literature Unit because of Common Core. I know how much their students loved that unit and share their pain-so much so that it's been on my mind since having that conversation. As I thought about it, I realized they should have turned to their trusted librarian for help in redesigning the unit so it would be Common Core worthy!
This literature unit was designed to use literature circles, class discussion, writing prompts, and read alouds. Students were given a choice of preselected fiction titles, which were booktalked by their librarian and classroom teachers. The book choices examined not only physical survival, but also emotional and mental survival in day-to-day life. These youngsters would soon be heading off to Middle School, with all its changes and challenges; and the unit spoke to their concerns, whether it be surviving a school-related issue, a social situation, or a home situation. The unit helped them realize surviving physically, mentally and emotionally is possible and gave them opportunities to talk and write about how. Certainly these are themes that need to be explored with our young people. What better way than through excellent literature? Did they really have to give it up?
I think not. I think with the help of their librarian they could have argued to be allowed to redesign the unit, making it an excellent fit for Common Core. Their librarian could have helped them determine reading levels of the books on their list and offer alternatives so that all fiction fit the lexile range for grade 5 (the quantitative test). The librarian could also speak to the qualitative measure, i.e., the complexity of the topic and the writing style. Qualitative trumps quantitative! Remember that!
After dealing with any issues around the fiction titles, the teachers and librarian could have then searched for excellent nonfiction to include in the unit. These could include newspaper and magazine articles, probably accessed through databases, but especially books. Certainly biographies and/or memoirs could be easily added to the unit, along with some narrative nonfiction. Suggesting these types of titles is where librarians should really shine, as many teachers are much less aware of nonfiction titles than fiction. Turn to those notes you take as you peruse new books in your collection. If kept electronically, search them for certain tag words. Open CLCD to check their lexiles. While in CLCD, try a simple search. I searched on the Subject Heading Survival, and using additional qualifiers to limit to 5th grade, Nonfiction, published since 2000, Lexile Range 800 - 1010 and found 9 titles. Not all of them pass the "excellent literature" label, but there are two that certainly could be added to the unit. Visit some nonfiction websites, such as Great Common Core Nonfiction and I.N.K (their website, their blog, and their Facebook page), Sibert Award books, and The Uncommon Corps. Look for possibilities to include in your suggestions to the teacher, and then head to CLCD, again to check lexiles. Notice subject headings used for these books while in CLCD, for these can lead you to other titles.
If you are a teacher-librarian, there is one more step. Go to the ELA Common Core Standards, and note which anchor and grade level standards are covered by this unit and these particular books. Primary standards will most likely be drawn from the Reading Literature Standards, but some for Reading Informational Text, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language could also be addressed. Also note how this unit integrates with Social Studies, Science, and/or Character Building.
Now you are armed and dangerous! Librarians, with work like this, your teachers and administrators (including principals, department leaders, superintendents of curriculum, etc.) will know you are there for them! Lighten their load by sharing your expertise.
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