Tools for Balancing Literary and Informational Text in the Common Core Standards
Implementation of the Common Core State Standards is an area of crucial focus in almost all states. Successfully meeting this challenge requires educators to remain cognizant of big-picture goals while deeply investigating detailed, interrelated subcomponents and building capacity for application.
In other words, Common Core State Standards require us to see the forest and the trees. Thinking Maps, a research-based instructional tool, can help us do just that. Thinking Maps are a series of eight graphic organizers designed to visually represent thought processes. One of these, the Brace Map, shows part-to-whole relationships and can be a powerful construct for seeing both the big picture and finer details.
At Sullivan County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York, we have done a great deal of work with teachers and administrators to support implementation of the Common Core English Language Arts/Literacy Standards. Initial stages of professional development targeted the instructional shifts for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. The shifts, as outlined on http://engageny.org, provide helpful guideposts for teachers to align their instruction and assessment practices.
The leap from understanding the theoretical descriptions of key instructional shifts to actually embodying the shifts in classroom practice, however, is one that requires concrete support in the form of examples, tools, and templates. The Text Genre Brace Maps below were designed to support teachers and schools in understanding the different text structures and incorporating them into the curriculum.
Elementary Grades K–5 Text Genres Brace Map
(Click on image to see the full size.)
Grades 6–12 Text Genres Brace Map
(Click on image to see the full size.)
The Sullivan County BOCES website, www.scboces.org/commoncore, features these Text Genre Brace Maps and many other resources for implementing the Common Core standards. Reprinted with permission.
On the surface, the balance of informational text and literature seems straightforward enough. The Common Core State Standards Initiative, with reference to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, shows the percentage of informational text students need to read at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, and these percentages are presented in the Brace Maps.
But in working with teachers and administrators, we learned that they often had differing interpretations of what was actually called for in practice, and they needed help to implement the appropriate balance of informational and literary text.
Using Text Genre Brace Maps to Balance Informational Texts and Literature
Although the teachers we worked with consistently agreed that myths and folktales are literary works and science journals and social studies textbooks are classified as informational, other genres sparked debate. Initially, some teachers expressed plans to fulfill the 50 percent focus on informational text by reading additional narrative nonfiction, such as biographies and memoirs. Other teachers suggested reading more historical novels and realistic fiction that presented factual information. The Brace Map helped these teachers and administrators come to a common interpretation of the different genres, balance text types, select texts that represent a variety of text structures, and connect reading and writing across text types and text structures.
To help define classifications of text, Lynn Miller, Sullivan County BOCES library systems director, consulted with fellow librarians and referenced the Dewey Decimal System. Judy Carr, a consultant and ASCD Faculty member, color-coded the Brace Maps to distinguish narrative and expository text.
The results were these two categorical definitions that teachers could use to plan the appropriate balance of instruction in literary and informational texts:
- Literature: Stories, drama, and poetry. Realistic fiction and historical fiction fall into the literature category and do not qualify as informational text.
- Informational text: Predominantly follows an expository text structure rather than a narrative form and often includes print features, captions, tables of contents, indices, diagrams, glossaries, and tables. Although biographies and memoirs are informational in terms of their content, their narrative structure excludes them from being the predominant focus for instruction of informational text.
These conclusions are further supported by continued attention to the "forest," or big picture. One of the big-picture goals of Common Core implementation is for college- and career-ready students to build content knowledge across disciplines through reading informational text. If teachers predominantly define biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs as informational texts, students’ acquisition of content knowledge may be compromised significantly.
Providing a graphic summary of texts’ multiple structures makes clear the variety of structures that need to be taught and assessed. On a broader scale, districts can use the Brace Maps strategically to audit the range of texts to determine whether students have opportunities to read the appropriate balance of texts. Different structures, such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, and problem/solution, are essential aspects that students can use to both better understand texts and organize their own writing of similar types of texts (see Deborah Wahlstrom's resources on Text Structures for Different Types of Writing [PDF]). The structure of the text is also one aspect that can be examined through text-dependent questions when students are engaged in academic conversations (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011) about a text. Differing structures can be examined as part of the exploration of multiple texts.
As units and curriculum maps are refined to align with the Common Core standards, the Text Genre Brace Maps will support teachers and districts as they balance informational texts and literature to support implementation of the Common Core standards and the big-picture goal of college- and career-ready students.
Zwiers, J., & Crawford, M. (2011). Academic conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understanding. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Denise Alterio is an independent educational consultant and staff developer for Sullivan County BOCES.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 21. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.