In his speech, Bringing the Common Core to Life, David Coleman quipped, “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but
before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” With this comment, Coleman appears to take a pot-shot at traditional, narrative-centric writing instruction. Coleman speaks directly to the Common Core authors’ position that writing to convey experience should represent much less of the instructional pie. To be precise, in the Common Core one third of the writing instruction at the elementary level is dedicated to narrative, with equal portions for informational and argumentative. The instructional slice for narrative writing decreases significantly by the time students reach high school.
For many educators, this table of recommendations represents something vastly different from what is currently happening in their classrooms. When we realize that there is a discrepancy between current practices and new instructional requirements, our tendency is to adjust by focusing on what is currently underrepresented. This logical strategy, however, can create prime conditions for over-correction.
We’ve seen this over-correction happen with non-fiction reading at the elementary level. Some schools have halted all purchases of new fiction and are directing their teachers to dole out non-fiction as if stories don’t exist. We expect that educators might read this table presenting genres across the writing standards and move decidedly away from narrative. This may usher in a new generation of units on feature articles, essay, op-ed, and the like. Such units can strengthen particular writing muscles, muscles which are currently underused in elementary schools.
We caution you, however. Writing in the narrative genre exercises critical muscles that persuasion and explanation draw upon. This week we ask, “Why narrative?”