Rowayton Elementary learned the news on the first day of school. “My teacher said we’re not going to be reading much fiction this year. I was really disappointed because it’s my favorite type of book,” says Lauren, who is nine years old. “I love how the stories can go in any direction. They can take me to another world.”
That world is shifting, though, now that schools in Rowayton, Darien, New Canaan and elsewhere in the state are aligning their curricula with national Common Core standards. The standards call for reading more “informational texts” in grades kindergarten through five, so that by the later grades, kids will be able to “evaluate intricate arguments…because the vast majority of reading in college and workforce training programs will be sophisticated nonfiction,” according to the Common Core standards.
Does it really matter what a fourth-grader reads, so long as she’s reading something? Yes, it does, says Dr. Mary Elizabeth Wilson, assistant superintendent in New Canaan. Starting in kindergarten, teachers in that town give kids strategies to navigate nonfiction. It’s all part of the national and state movement to reform education. “We’re readying their minds to engage in that work,” says Dr. Wilson. “When students approach a text, they should be asking themselves, ‘What’s the important point to be teased out?’ That’s a life skill.” That may work in theory, but in practice kids like Lauren are skeptical. “If my classmates have to read nonfiction, I think they’ll put the book down or go sharpen their pencils,” she says.
In Darien, the thinking seems to be more aligned with Lauren’s. Dr. Judith Pandolfo, assistant superintendent for elementary education, says that while she and her colleagues “always try to align with the standards,” they’re in no hurry to make major changes in the curriculum. “We try to develop the children as readers and writers from a very young age,” she says. “It’s a process that continually develops, and children have some self-selection according to their reading interests.”