English Dutch French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish


The Common Core and Literacy in History

Share This Page

Published on Tue, 03/06/2012

The Common Core approaches the content areas (Social Studies and the Sciences) with a particular emphasis on literacy. This has several implications. First, note that literacy in the Common Core means listening and speaking as well as reading and writing. Audio files from the Library of Congress, for example, have an important role to play. Further, English Language Arts components of the standards incorporate numerical data, audio-visual, and digital information. Census and economic data, historic films, and survey data–all gain importance in the classroom. Second, the standards greatly increase the emphasis on informational text at all grades. For instance, the Common Core document itself lists selected “literary nonfiction” in its guide to grade-appropriate complexity levels of primary sources. And assessment designers explicitly recommend a 50-50 split between fiction and informational texts, from Kindergarten up. (Most elementary classrooms today, especially in the primary grades, strongly favor literature over nonfiction.) In order to understand these informational texts, students must have adequate background in subject-specific facts, concepts, and vocabulary. In addition to reading complex texts, the Common Core emphasizes effective, advanced narrative writing about content, as well as writing for and presentation of research. Early grades already emphasize narrative-writing about informational as well as literary topics. Through the grades, students increasingly shift to writing explanation, argument, and analysis. Students’ capacity to source, organize, analyze, cite, discuss, and write about primary and secondary sources is paramount. Bottom line, the standards call for all students to be able to write History research papers and persuasive essays by 12th grade. They will need a lot of scaffolding to get there. Finally, Common Core assessment designers recognize that:

  • “All fields of study demand analysis of complex texts and strong oral and written communications skills using discipline-specific discourse. Because each discipline requires, develops and shares knowledge in distinct ways, educators in each field must take ownership of building robust instruction around discipline-specific literacy skills.” (PARCC, 2011. p. 11).

If literacy in historical thinking is to take a central–and welcome–role in schools, history teachers clearly need to step up, not only in their own classrooms, but in collaboration with colleagues across all grade levels and subjects. Emerging America features concrete strategies for students (and teachers) to learn and apply historical thinking skills. We welcome the opportunity to advance historical thinking and to help convene the discussion across disciplines. Find the full Common Core standards and explanation of them for History teachers here on PARCC Model Content Frameworks for ELA/Literacy. Nov. 2011. PARCC is one of two Federally funded initiatives to develop assessments for the Common Core.

Rich Cairn

Civics and Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, Collaborative for Educational Services
Rich Cairn founded Emerging America in 2006, which features the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program at the Collaborative for Educational Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History program, "Forge of Innovation: The Springfield Armory and the Genesis of American Industry." The Accessing Inquiry clearinghouse, supported by the Library of Congress TPS program promotes full inclusion of students with disabilities and English Learners in civics and social studies education.