Core reading will be a lot harder

Teachers will assign more complex, challenging reading — if they follow Common Core standards, concludes a Fordham analysis of what students are reading now.

Currently, many teachers try to assign books that match their students’ reading skills, especially at the elementary level. Common Core calls for assigning grade-level reading and giving students extra help to understand it.

In trying to improve reading comprehension, schools made a tragic mistake: they took time away from knowledge-building courses such as science and history to clear the decks for more time on reading skills and strategies. And the impact, particularly on our most disadvantaged students whose content and vocabulary gap is so great, has been devastating.

Teachers are assigning “relevant” and “easily digested books” in hopes of getting students to read, according to Common Core in the Schools.

. . . classic literature has, in many classrooms, been replaced by popular teen novels (often made into movies) such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. Indeed, the former, according to Renaissance Learning . . . became the most widely read book in grades 9-12 following its theatrical release in 2012. Yet it is pegged at a fifth-grade reading level.

The most-assigned books are Because of Winn-DixieAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird, the Fordham survey finds.  Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail also is assigned frequently.

“Across all grade levels…there was a tendency to err on the side of lower-level books,” says Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In fourth and fifth grade, students should read texts with a lexile range of 740 to 1100, according to Common Core. Four of the top 10 books are below that level, including Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Middle-schoolers should be reading texts in the 950 to 1185 range, according to Common Core. Seven of the 10 most popular books for this age group aren’t challenging enough. (Is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl really an elementary book?)

Ninth- and tenth-graders should be reading texts with a lexile range of 1050 to 1335, the new standards say.  Five of the 10 most popular books don’t meet that level of difficulty. (I guess To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn often are read in earlier grades. I took a “look inside” The Book Thief, which allegedly has a lexile rank too low for fourth graders. It’s not Dick, Jane and Sally.)

Fifty-one percent of teachers surveyed — all in states that have adopted Common Core standards — said they’d made little or no change to their teaching as a result of the new standards.

What’s your state’s book?

Here’s the Most Famous Book Set In Every State, according to Business Insider.
Most Famous Books Set In Every State_Larger

There’s plenty to argue about. Stephanie Myer’s Twilight is the most famous book set in Washington state? A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks is the North Carolina book, beating out Look Homeward Angel. I guess it depends on the definition of “famous.”

I grew up in Illinois (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) and live in California (John Steinbeck’s not-very-famous East of Eden).

Of course, a few are right on, such as Willa Cather’s My Antonia (one of my mother’s favorites) for Nebraska.

Old books in sexy, new covers

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Sexy book covers are luring Twilight teens to the classics, according to ABC News. Romeo “sports a white tank top and a three-day stubble” on the new Penguin edition of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

Publishers hope teens who bought the Hunger Games trilogy, the Twilight series and Harry Potter will give the classics a try, if they’re repackaged as teen romances.

Harper Teen’s new edition of  Wuthering Heights, which sports a red rose on the cover, features a Twilight endorsement. It’s “Bella & Edward’s favorite book.”

Via Instapundit.

High school in college

On Community College Spotlight:  Bright ideas, like “learning communities” and dual-enrollment classes, are making college feel like high school, writes a dean. Students don’t like it.

At a California community college, remedial students — organized in a learning community — are reading and writing about vampire lit, starting with the Twilight books and moving on to Dracula.

Brooding with Superman

He’s still super, but he’s not happy about it. DC Comics’ new Superman is a sullen, brooding and angst-ridden 20-year-old who prefers a hoodie to a cape. Also his eyes glow. A new 130-page graphic novel restarts the Superman story as the Youth of Steel graduates from Smallville Junior College and heads to a Metropolis to look for a job.

“(W)e needed to make him hip, moody and sexy in order to really appeal to who are really wanting to read novels with our characters,” (DC Comics co-publisher Dan) DiDio told the Associated Press.

The new “Dark Knight” Batman is the obvious model with an assist from the romantic vampires of the Twilight series.

The old motto — “Truth, Justice and the American Way” — is out.  The new Superman refuses to become “an instrument of politics or policy” of the United States, saying, “if I do what I can do just for the U.S., it’s going to destabilize the whole world. It could even lead to war.”

Don’t we have enough moody post-adolescents without creating more? Even the comic pal, Jimmy Olsen, is now a daredevil photographer known as Jim Olsen.

Parents push ‘big-kid books’

Sales of picture books are slipping, reports the New York Times. Ambitious parents are pushing children to switch to “big-kid books” at earlier ages. 

“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’ ” said Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

Picture books list for as much as $18, so parents may think they’re not getting enough words for the dollar.

As picture books lose shelf space, book stores are “expanding their booming young-adult sections, full of dystopic fiction, graphic novels and Twilight-inspired paranormal romances,” reports the Times.

Picture books are out, but graphic novels are in?

Confessions of a Twilight-loving teacher

In Confessions of a Twilight Addict, English teacher Jennifer Morrison compares the popular teen vampire series to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Like an 18th century novel of manners, Twilight criticizes social assumptions and regimented ideas of appropriate behavior. In an interesting twist, whereas Austen’s heroines single-mindedly protect their reputations and seek marriage, Bella must struggle against a 21st century taboo against teen marriage to wed and find happiness in Edward. Even so, social reputation and marriage are central to both stories.

Austenites Shirley and Wallis Kinney discuss the links in “The Jane Austen—Twilight Zone.”

Twilight operates on multiple levels, Morrison writes. The book entertains, provides social commentary, “offers universal themes about love and society” and “inspires a vision” of ideal romance.

For teen readers, Twilight is the book that makes classics relevant. While Twilight references Pride and Prejudice, its sequel New Moon draws parallels with Romeo and Juliet. Eclipse, the third book in the series, is littered with allusions to Wuthering Heights. For many of my students, the Twilight series has opened doors into much more difficult, classic texts. Because they know the story, students are more resilient in the face of complex language; they bring more background to their reading and they are able to engage with a strong point of reference.

My 28-year-old daughter, who once worked as a literary agents’ reader and a book publicist, says Twilight is badly written and infused with a 13-year-old virgin’s vision of sexual passion without actual sex. But it’s a page turner anyhow.

If sexy but chaste vampires aren’t your thing, try Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds.  The hardcover is here.