COMMON CORE, REALLY? A Plea for More Disorderliness ... or How Common Core tries to ruin Amelia Bedlia

The first time I ever attended an International Reading Association (IRA) annual conference, Learning magazine sent me to report on the goings-on in Chicago. I worked hard at taking in as much as possible, and the result was, if I do say so myself, a funny and devastating cover story. My main complaint then was there were no children's books in evidence at the conference, not in the presentations, not in the exhibit hall. It confirmed my theory that it would be easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a noted professorial consultant to enter the kingdom of children's literature.

Amelia versus Rahm.Then, some years later at another IRA get-together -- this time in Toronto -- I discovered that things had changed. Presenters talked about books; books filled the exhibit hall. So with all the children's literature filling the convention, how come I was so glum? Users held up books as their fix.

Nobody said, "Kids should read this book because it will knock their socks off."

Nobody said, "Kids should read this book because it will make them want to read another book."

No, the publishing conglomerates with their attending professors spewed forth the same old promises about the multitudinous skill acquisition that can be dredged from children's books. And too many teachers were lining up to become fellow travelers on this skill acquisition train. In session after session, in brochure after brochure, I found the claims that as a result of reading this or that award-winning book, the student will:

*Learn vocabulary in context;

*Understand adjectives;

*Recognize cause and effect relationships;

*Draw conclusions;

*Learn techniques for applying cooperative learning.

And so on.

I'm not against cooperative learning, cause and effect, or even adjectives, I suppose. But teacher users who see children's books--fiction or nonfiction-- as delivery systems for their skills fix are not only missing the point; they may be ruining wonderful books for kids forever.

Take Amelia Bedelia. Jennifer introduced me to the wonders this book holds for beginning readers when I transferred from 7th to third grade. These children, grouped together as the worst readers in third grade, suffered from a lot of physical, emotional, and developmental problems.

The learning disabilities specialist told me they were a "unique group." She'd never seen so many "problems" clumped together. So it was no surprise when these kids assured me every day that they "hated reading." Every day I put a selection of books on a table in front of the room and every day I insisted that every day a kid must take one of those books and read for five minutes. No bathroom passes, no visits to the nurse unless I saw blood. Sit with a book and keep your mouth shut.

Jennifer discovered Amelia in December. By that time the children's period of independent silent reading had extended from the initial torturous time of five minutes to a fairly willing forty minutes. Yes, the first thing every morning we all read our individual books for forty minutes. My principal learned he could not stop by for a chat during this sacred time.

I knew the instant Jennifer discovered something startling in Amelia Bedelia. Her eyes opened wide; she turned back a page and read it again, mouthing each word. Then she giggled and looked up at me. I nodded and winked. She grinned an nudged Sophie, showing her the page. Then David demanded to see what was so funny, and before he realized what was happening, David, the boy who whined the loudest every single morning, "I hate reading!" was enjoying a book. Before long, 20 rotten readers were scrambling to get their names on a waiting list for, of all things, a book. Then Jesse discovered that there were more Amelias in the library, and we had an Amelia celebration. It was a celebration of reading. We didn't use the book as an excuse to do something else. I didn't interrogate them about main idea; they didn't make puppets. Each book was an inspiration to read another book. I don't recall ever asking a single question about an Amelia book. What is the need for questions when the children's pleasure is so evident? I was appalled a few years later to discover Amelia in a basal. The accompanying teacher's manual carefully listed the objectives to be taught with the story, including: decode words based on the spelling pattern generalization that a vowel letter followed by a consonant and final e represents a glided (or long) vowel sound. Never mind that research shows that the final e rule holds true no more htan 53% of the time. Even if the rule were 99 and 44/100% pure, a who child can enjoy Amelia Bedelia has no need to practice the final e rule.

Here are some pre-Common Core ways Users mined Amelia: *Comprehension Questions: "Amelia Bedelia ____colored balls on the tree. a) Bounced b) threw) c) tied

*Spelling Demons from the story: "laughed: the has an f sound here."

*Problem Solving Skills: "Pretend you were Mrs. Rogers. What would you have done when you came home and found the towels ruined?"

*Higher Order Thinking Skills: "Write a new ending for the story."

*Projects: "Make puppets and put on a play."

*Eating: "Make a cake with a surprise (such as gumdrops) in it."

Now, in the name of Common Core rigor, Amelia Bedelia's First Field Trip is moved to the fourth week of kindergarten, where they spend three days in a close reading of the story. The teacher reads the story aloud and then asks 27 questions. Twenty-seven questions. Next comes the Culminating Assignment: Read, Think, Discuss, Write 1.Think about the story, Amelia Bedelia. Turn to your partner and tell something new that you learned. Now turn to your partner and tell your favorite part of the story. *Discuss the things that Amelia's class experienced in order. (Use the powerpoint as a source of information if necessary.) *Have each student to draw a picture of their favorite part. Encourage the students to write about their favorite part of the story. 2. Compare and Contrast Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip and Amelia Bedelia's First Field Trip:

* Name of Story, Transportation, Setting, Characters, Activities During Field Trip. *Additional Activities 1. Ask a student to volunteer to be traced on brown butcher paper. This will now be Amelia Bedelia. In groups make clothes for Amelia Bedelia. Retell the story to Amelia Bedelia. 2. Have each student identify something new they learned. Draw a picture of this new knowledge.

For one dollar ($1), one can buy a Common Core Character Map for Amelia Bedelia. This PDF file is a character map that allows students to demonstrate the characteristics of Amelia Bedelia and practice using quotation marks in their writing. This activity focuses on Common Core Standard RL 3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring to the explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. This can be used as individual assessment or at a literacy work station to accompany the book Amelia Bedelia.

In Read Write Think NCTE and IRA jump on the Common Core Amelia bandwagon, bringing teachers Amelia Bedelia Up Close! Closely Reading a Classic Story NCTE/IRA OVERVIEW: With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and its emphasis on complex texts, students need opportunities to read closely and engage in deep thinking. After reading Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, students discuss text-dependent questions to promote an understanding of the story’s character. Through subsequent readings, they construct and support arguments concerning the character traits of Amelia Bedelia and use the text to determine how Amelia Bedelia and the Rogers can have different reactions to the same events. After these discussions, students demonstrate their understanding of character by completing a trading card for Amelia Bedelia. FEATURED RESOURCES Trading Card Creator: When using this resource, students answer questions about a character in their text, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding of how the character develops throughout the story. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish: Amelia Bedelia is the focus text for this close reading due to its qualitative complexity, which is the result of its use of words with multiple meanings, requiring students to use their prior knowledge to understand the content. FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE Fisher, D., Frey, L., & Lapp, D. (2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Texts can be deemed complex based on three measures: qualitative, quantitative, or the characteristics of the reader and purpose of the task. Students should be provided with the opportunity to struggle with and succeed in reading complex texts. As students gain experience with the close reading of complex texts, the materials they are able to read independently will also increase in complexity. Text-dependent questions help students return to and focus on the text, making inferences and forming arguments concerning the author's purpose. Fisher, D., & Frey, L. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools.The Reading Teacher, 66(3), 179-188. Through repeated reading, students are able to think critically about text. Students need to know the purpose for reading, but the material and content should not be frontloaded, taking away the necessity to read. For primary students, text can be read aloud during a close reading.

Teacher Vision offers a free lesson:

Summarizing: Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia.

This lesson, which focuses on summarizing, assumes that students are already familiar with basic story elements including character, plot, and setting. Summarizing also requires students to be familiar with sequencing events and determining importance. If students are unfamiliar with these concepts, you will need to take some time introducing them.

Perfection Learning sells Skills Support for Amelia Bedelia, a teacher resource.

Skills support for best-selling children's books.

Lesson Planet offers a CCSS lesson plan using Amelia Bedelia:

Figurative language is the focus in the book Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia. After reading Peggy Parish's book, class members dramatize idioms from the text, using dramatic strategies such as characterization, exaggeration, and improvisation. They then write and act out their own idioms.

They also offer Amelia Bedelia Word Search and Timeline: In this Amelia Bedelia worksheet, students complete sentences and a word search of Amelia Bedelia words and create a time line of her jobs. Students search for 10 words and create a time line with 7 jobs.

And on and on and on.

There's unlimited crap to draw children away from the joys of reading and into what hucksters are now calling close reading of the text.

Just one more: Success for All: RL.3.10. By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2–3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

•Prompt-and-reinforce lessons:

Too Many Tamales; The Three Little Pigs;Good Work; Amelia Bedelia; My Grandma, Major League Slugger; Freckle Juice; I Don't Like Different;

Merlin and the Dragons; Merlin's Pupil;

Shoeshine Girl; and Chang's Paper Pon

May D - - - d C - - - - - n rot in hell.

Maybe the good news is that Amelia's right where she's always been--in the middle of literature children love. The bad news is that, just as always, she's used by teachers who have neither faith in children or books to deliver skills. Maybe this is why teachers aren't particularly upset by the Common Core: They figure they can "use" literature just as they always have,just labeling it somewhat differently in the lesson plan.

In times past, before I scared people, I was considered "safe" enough to provide inspirational talks to teachers, and I would tell teachers that by February my third grade rotten readers were moaning and groaning when I called a halt to sustained silent reading at the end of one hour. Those teachers were amazed, shocked, and mystified. "When did you find time for skills?" they'd ask. It was always the first question.

And I'd always answer The skills are in the books. After all, the writers do use adjectives, words that obey the silent e rule. They even use apostrophes, quotation marks, and so on. And when children encounter these things over and over and over in the many books they read for pleasure, the skills sink in. But to rigorously plum the books for discrete skills--and for the big skills trumpeted by the Common Core-ists--is to miss the point of reading. If we're going to mine wonderful literature for the skills we anticipate will be on the tests, then what have the children gained?

I insist that they have lost a love of reading.

If we are going to invite our students to read Charlotte's Web so we can milk it for every "sequencing activity,""summarizing main idea," "understanding vocabulary in context," and so forth--across the curriculum, mind you--then for all the wonder the kids will get from the book, E. B. White might have done better to spend his time feeding the chickens. A well-meaning teacher sent me a list of 64 projects kids can do on Sarah, Plain and Tall. If this doesn't make one weep, what would it take?

Leaving a child alone to savor a book, to get from it what he will, and then holding one's tongue when that child closes the book, requires a tremendous act of faith--faith in children and faith in books. Sad to say, school systems are not designed to easily accommodate acts of faith. they demand records: competency checklists and adherence to scope and sequence, and fealty to all the other things that are mandated by the Common Core.

Trusting children and books is a revolutionary act. Books are, after all, dangerous stuff. Leave a child alone with a book and you don't know what might happen. But to the teacher who feels she must be in control--of the skills, the books, and the children, I commend Arnold Lobel's lovely little fable, "The Crocodile in the Bedroom" (in Fables):

A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the wallpaper in his bedroom was coaxed outside in the garden by his wife, who invited him to smell the roses andthe lilies of the valley.

"Great heavens!" cried the crocodile. "The flowers and leaves in this garden are growing in a terrible tangle! They are all scattered!They are messy and entwined!" Whereupon he went back to his room, seldom laving his bed.

He stared at the neat and tidy rows of flowers on the wallpaper and "he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green."

I entreat teachers to remember that Lobel's moral, Without a doubt,there is such a thing as too much order, applies as much to school curriculum as it does to wallpaper.


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