Is the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction reading justified?

Perhaps the biggest change the Common Core is bringing to public school reading in the US is its emphasis on reading more nonfiction and less fiction. The reasoning behind this change is to prepare students better for the reading they need to do in their math, science and social studies classes and in their future careers, especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Is the change really necessary? Let’s compare fiction reading and nonfiction reading for students who are beyond the picture book stage.

chart comparing fiction reading skills with nonfiction reading skills

(Adapted from State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Governor’s Literacy Education and Reading Network Source)

As you can see, reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction. It often requires more parent or teacher involvement prior to the reading to make connections to what the student already knows; during the reading to explain vocabulary and concepts; and after the reading to restate the main ideas and important details or to explain complicated concepts.

Fiction, too, can be better understood with teacher involvement, but usually fiction can be appreciated (if to a lesser degree) by the student reading alone so long as the student’s reading level matches the reading selection.

If you hope your child will have a great career someday as a doctor or environmentalist or physics teacher, you can appreciate why an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading is important even in first grade. You may question the Common Core, but its emphasis on more nonfiction reading can only help our kids.

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