In this podcast, Franki Sibberson chats with Georgia Heard about the surprising connections between the Common Core and poetry. Georgia is a poet and teaching consultant. Her latest books are A Place for Wonder and Falling Down the Page. You can follow Georgia’s work at her website:http://georgiaheard.com/
A full transcript is available below the player.
Franki Sibberson: Georgia, can you talk a little bit about your work with the Common Core standards? How did you get interested in these, and what have you been working on?
Georgia Heard: Well, at first I was skeptical about the Common Core. I’d heard lots of different things, they weren’t written by teachers, and just the word “standards” just made me panic a little bit. I knew that there was a lot of reading poetry in the Common Core, so I started to become curious about what they would say about reading poetry. I began to read them and, actually, they made a lot of sense to me in terms of reading poetry. I have a lot to say about it. It’s not inclusive, but they really touched on some things that I think are important when you read poetry.
Then with my work with nonfiction reading and writing, the same thing. I know that there’s a heavy emphasis on informational text nonfiction reading and writing in the core, and so I just was curious what they would suggest as standards. Again, I went and read through, and they made a lot of sense to me, so I began to think well, this isn’t bad at all. These are kind of guideposts for us, or they can be. So, I began to do more work with them. I’m actually writing a book –
Franki Sibberson: That’s a great way to approach that. Oh, go ahead. What did you say?
Georgia Heard: I’m writing a book for Scholastic on teaching poetry in the Common Core standards.
Franki Sibberson: Great. So what do you see as the benefits of the Common Core?
Georgia Heard: Well, as long as the teachers have the freedom to implement the standards in ways that match their pedagogy, and that the Common Core is not taken over by prescriptive lesson plans or there’s not an over-emphasis on assessment, I think there are a lot of benefits. One of them is that they present what I believe is really important in teaching literacy and that is the integrated model of literacy, where there’s a connection between reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They are connected, and so often they’re seen as separate. I know, just as a writer, that with reading and writing you can’t be a writer without reading, and that connection is crucial. The other thing that I love is the shared responsibility for students’ literacy development. It’s not just the job of the language arts teacher or English teacher to teach literacy, but it’s also the history teacher and the social studies and the math teacher, that literacy happens in all content areas.
So I think those two things are really beneficial, and I think they’ll benefit kids. Then I think the more specific standards within each segment, the reading and the writing, that they can serve as guideposts for teachers, and that the structure makes sense to me, and that they can be toolboxes. I look at them as toolboxes to help us guide our teaching.
Franki Sibberson: I just love your approach to this, like to really look at them hard with eyes to see okay, what makes sense. Really helpful, especially for those of us who haven’t spent as much time with them. So what do you think the big things are for teachers who are just starting to look at Common Core or for districts who are just starting to take a look at those? As teachers, what do we need to know about the Common Core nonfiction reading and writing? What are the big . . .
Georgia Heard: For nonfiction? Well, first of all, I think it’s important to understand that the structure of the Common Core – and I’m sure you know this, but that the reading and the writing remains the same, no matter what genre it is. So if you look at, for instance, the reading, there are four different toolboxes – it’s structured in four different ways. The first one is the key ideas and details, right? So when you read, you’re trying to understand what’s the big picture here, and what are the details that are giving me the big picture?
So the second is the craft and structure, and that’s basically how is this information put together? How is information integrated into the writing? Then the third is the integration of knowledge, which is very specific, I think, to nonfiction, which is basically, if you understand something deeply and you’ve integrated it, then you can compare and contrast with another text, you can analyze it, you can talk about it, you can write about it, but you have to have that integration. I love that that’s the third toolbox in the reading standards.
Then the fourth anchor standard is the range of reading, so that texts get more and more sophisticated and complex as you go up through the grades. So understanding the big picture for reading, and then for writing it’s similar for anchor standards. But it’s the same for every genre, so knowing that and then going into some of the details of what specifically are the standards for nonfiction, for poetry, for story, then I think it becomes easier to understand, and it makes a lot more sense.
Franki Sibberson: So do you think the standards are really about reading deeply, or do you think you see them –
Georgia Heard: No.
Franki Sibberson: No?
Georgia Heard: No, I don’t. I think that they’re not inclusive of many things that we still need to talk about in the classroom. One thing is, it doesn’t talk about heart or passion or wonder. It doesn’t talk about living your life as a writer or creating a culture of readers or writers. None of those things.
That’s something that is really part of the community and the culture of the classroom. The one area that I think it does help with reading more deeply is with some of the talk about figurative language and nuance words because there is, especially in poetry but it happens in all kinds of writing, two different levels: there’s the literal level and then there’s the deeper level. So, if you don’t understand figurative language, it’s very hard to understand, then, a text beyond the literal level. So in that way, I think it does help us read a little bit more deeply, but I think in terms of understanding the craft and structure of a piece, does help you understand a text more deeply.
Franki Sibberson: Okay, I love that word “inclusive,” like they’re good but they’re not everything. That makes a lot of sense as a teacher, too.
Georgia Heard: Good. I think that that’s important that we can’t – I wish they did have a piece that mentioned creating a culture of being a reader and a writer, but I think that that’s something that we, as educators, know that we have to do, and it’s not part of the Common Core so, yeah, it doesn’t do everything, it doesn’t touch on everything.
Franki Sibberson: And what about poetry? With the Common Core, what do you see as the big things that are specific to poetry that you’re happy with, or you said you liked . . .
Georgia Heard: Well, I think that there are, number one, just the fact that they included poetry, which I think is wonderful, and I think it’s because it’s such a big part of our literature. Some of the parts of either they mention – one is, as I mentioned before, figurative language, and how important that is with simile and metaphor. Then there are very specific tools that they mention that are just specific to – well, I guess they’re mainly specific to poetry. So things like some of the musical tools like alliteration and rhyme and rhythm and repetition, which you have in prose as well, but for kids to be able to identify those and know that that’s part of how you build a poem.
So they talk about some of the fundamentals of craft in poetry, and then they also talk about some of the more meaning tools like metaphor, simile, hyperbole, so it’s really giving kids a toolbox for how do you read a poem. Because if you don’t understand symbolism or hyperbole, for certain poems it’s going to be impossible to comprehend them. So I love that connection. I guess in terms of understanding craft and structure, that it does help you read a little bit more deeply. It doesn’t mention writing poetry, so it’s just reading. Then poetry also is mentioned in part of also fluency, so they want kids to read poetry orally with accuracy and expression, so that’s also mentioned, which I think is interesting. So to be able to say a poem in a way that has meaning.
Franki Sibberson: That makes sense. So for teachers who are just starting to look at the Common Core and just focus on those in our own learning, what makes sense for us to do first, like what makes sense to dig into or to think about? I said Georgia, I’m just learning about Common Core, how do you suggest I – like what do I do to support me as a learner and teacher to get my arms around this and move forward with Common Core?
Georgia Heard: Well, I guess the first thing that I would do is, as I mentioned before, is to look at the big picture, to look at how it’s organized. In the very beginning of the Common Core there’s a section, I think it’s called the key design considerations, and it kind of talks about in general the concept behind the Common Core. So one of them is focused on results rather than means, an integrated model of literacy, the shared responsibility. So just look at that, I think. Then after that, then understand the different anchor standards for writing and reading, and then for listening as well.
Then from there, I think, I believe that you don’t have to change. If you’re involved in writing workshop and you’re involved in genre study, that’s a perfect framework to still use that, but then to go through the standards. Let’s say you’re talking about reading poety, have a genre study on reading poetry, and go through the standards and look and see just what are some of the key standards for reading poetry, for instance, or what are the key standards if you’re just having kids go into nonfiction reading and writing. Then just take it by genre. But I think to go standard by standard, one at a time, I think that’s not the way that we teach, and that’s not the way kids actually learn to read and write. So to keep your same framework but then just look and see, where can these standards sharpen some of the craft tools that I need to teach kids?