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Common Core Questions and Answers

Kristin Fontichiaro

We had a terrific response to last week’s webinar, “Common Core State Standards: Getting Ready for K–8 Research,” which was sponsored by Cherry Lake Publishing. We’ve asked the webinar’s presenter, Kristin Fontichiaro, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, to address some of the many questions that came in during the program. You’ll find her answers below. If you have more questions about the webinar, our new Common Core Resources page, or Common Core in general, please post them here on Likely Stories or send me an e-mail. We look forward to continuing the conversation! —Gillian Engberg

In what ways can public libraries best assist school libraries?

This is a great question! First I want to suggest that we focus our language a bit and ask, “How can public librarians support school librarians?” I say this because I worry about the number of school districts that, for financial or other reasons, are eliminating school librarians but keeping school libraries opened and staffed by paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals can do great work managing collections and circulation, but they lack the vigorous coursework and teaching praxis to provide instructional support.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that public libraries have larger budgets, bigger staffs, and longer hours than school libraries. So that triumvirate of benefits means that public libraries can fill in collection gaps, access gaps, and face-time gaps that a single school librarian may not be able to fill.

Secondly, if there is any way for a public library to negotiate digital subscriptions that can also be used in the public school environment, that is a huge benefit for cash-strapped districts.

Next, public librarians can continue to engage in high-quality, literacy-focused preschool activities with and for young learners that prepare kids for school. These don’t need to be hard sells, full of flashcards and worksheets. Simply adding some informational text to your storytime or asking kids to predict or tell you the main idea of a story starts those wheels turning early.

Finally, public librarians who participated in last year’s webinar, “Common Core Opportunities for Librarians: Strategies for Leading the Way,” told us that many parents felt uncomfortable reading nonfiction (or informational texts, as CCSS calls this genre) with their children. In response, Katie McMahon, one of our graduate students, created a flyer (it was distributed as part of last week’s thank-you email to participants in the webinar “Common Core State Standards: Getting Ready for K–8 Research”) that you can customize and share with parents. It gives an introduction to CCSS and talks to parents about how they can share informational text with their kids.

Where can we find the books mentioned in the webinar? In what formats can we get them?

You can find Navigating the Information Tsunami: Engaging Research Projects that Meet the Common Core State Standards, K-5, on the Cherry Lake Publishing site or via Titlewave.com. It’s quickly being added to other vendor sites. It’s currently available in paperback only. We also showed titles from the Language Arts Explorer Junior, Information Explorer, and Information Explorer Junior series. These books are available in paperback, library binding, or eBook format.

Will you be having a webinar on research for grades 9–12?
We won’t have one featuring Cherry Lake resources on 9–12 research, as our books go up through 8th grade. (We’d like to know how large the interest is; email me to let us know!)

However, Booklist Publications has lots of CCSS ideas up its sleeve this year. Visit the new dedicated Common Core landing page on Booklist Online for links to Common Core–related material from Booklist and Book Links magazines, Quick Tips e-newsletter, and Booklist Online, including the Bookends blog. You’ll also find Booklist‘s growing links to Common Core-related webinars. This single-point access to Common Core materials, including pdfs of CCSS-related columns and articles, allows for easier group sharing during professional development workshops and in-service training. Also, keep an eye out for Library Media Connection (LMC) and its slate of webinars this year. And, in my role as the “Nudging Toward Inquiry” columnist for School Library Monthly, we’re looking for and publishing strategies about CCSS implementation all year. One of our upcoming columns will focus on research for grades 9-12.

So . . .  Cherry Lake is the sole publisher of the original information on the CCSS?

Nope! While I think we did the first book on CCSS research projects, we aren’t a formal affiliate of CCSS. The original CCSS standards were published by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Almost every publisher is working to align its materials with CCSS.

Speaking personally, I publish with Cherry Lake because it was already publishing materials about how to build strong literacy skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and research before CCSS came on the horizon. I think it was ahead of its time, presenting hard and soft skills that kids need to thrive in their uncertain future. CCSS presents very few “new” ideas. Librarians who do a close read of CCSS often discover that they and their classroom colleagues are already incorporating many of the standards into their practice.  So while publishers are labeling their titles as CCSS-aligned, the better solution is to read the standards and trust your instinct on the texts that are the best match.

Where can we find Lexile levels? What are the ways in which we define text complexity in CCSS?

You can learn more about the Lexile method of measuring reading difficulty at Lexile.com. Remember that Lexile measures reading difficulty quantitatively; CCSS defines text complexity by how we measure it quantitatively (e.g., word/sentence length), qualitatively (e.g., human-measured levels of difficulty such as use of figurative or metaphorical language), and reader and task (e.g., what does the reader already know? What does the reader need to do with the text?).

Is information literacy part of CCSS exit skills?

Yes, but they are not labeled as “information literacy skills.” We looked at writing standard 7 from K–8 and saw research in every grade, and that pattern continues through 12th grade. And there are many more info lit-related standards beyond that. If you read the beginning of the English Language Arts standards document, you’ll find a paragraph that points out the importance of research in CCSS and the fact that it has intentionally been spread throughout the Standards, not siloed in its own section. Look in the Reading Informational Text, Writing, and Speaking and Listening sections throughout CCSS for examples. Keep in mind that CCSS only claims to cover English Language Arts and Math, so they don’t cover everything in a child’s learning day; there are no CCSS for art, music, physical education, science, social studies, civics, or industrial arts! Also, as we discussed in the webinar, there are many standards regarding information literacy or research that have very vague language. It’s our job to go in and infuse those standards with the multidimensionality we know they deserve!

What do I think of information literacy? Do I think it is a well-understood concept?

I think the goals of information literacy are very valuable and necessary. However, they are often misunderstood or not acknowledged at all. At other times, they are seen as important but, due to financial or time constraints, not as urgent as the skills that are currently being tested. At the college level, “information literacy” seems to have taken hold as an expression more than at the K–12 level. I’m starting to see more discussion in non-library K–12 settings about information literacy skills, even if they are not labeled as such. I teach an inquiry-based course on information literacy for teaching and learning, and we talk a lot about barriers to success: time, priorities, knowledge, perception of search skills that may be stronger than they are, improvement in search algorithms over time that make it easier for us to find stuff than it used to be, etc.  We have documented those inquiry-driven explorations in the free eBook Information Literacy in the Wild.

The good news about CCSS is that there are standards that deal directly with search, credibility, use of multiple print and digital sources, synthesis, writing, and presentations. This gives librarians unprecedented opportunities to open and broaden the conversation about information literacy and inquiry-based learning.

With all of the digital depositories out there, how can we help students navigate that raw information?

This a tip-of-the-iceberg response to a question that deserves much more space than this blog post can hold. I assume you mean the combination of open Web and subscription database repositories of content. One thing we cannot underestimate is the need for our students and classroom colleagues to navigate their favorite sources (e.g., Google, Bing, Wikipedia) effectively. Subscription databases can be great, and they are essential for scholarly use, but the great majority of questions that we try to solve in our lives are solved with free, open Web searches and sources. I highly recommend Google’s encore Power Searching with Google course; take it with your classroom colleagues and/or students! Also, I’m intrigued by the potential of the National Archives and Records Administration’s visual and keyword-driven DigitalVaults.org as a way for students to begin to search visual images in a web of interrelated topics. Those primary sources can drive great questions!

Anything else?

Sure. This past weekend, I had a lot of fun doing a workshop for the Massachusetts School Library Association on the Common Core State Standards. One of the activities we did was to look at the “exit grade” standards (e.g., 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 12th) so that librarians could get a snapshot of what their students need to be able to do before leaving their school. We organized the standards into a chart form.  You can find that activity, as well as an archive of the presentation, here.

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  1. aklank@harmonytx.org' Angel Klank says:

    Even though Texas has not adopted the standards, this webinar was very informative. Thank you for sharing!

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