In Defense of Reading Fiction

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this essay belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of DCPS.

Amie_LittmanBy Amie Littman, Summer ’17 UELIP

Recently, there has been a dramatic shift in what students should be reading in the classroom, jeopardizing how much fiction students will read in ELA classrooms. The Common Core State Standards state, “in grades 6‒12, ELA programs shift the balance of texts and instructional time towards reading substantially more literary nonfiction…and other literary nonfiction that is built on informational text structures.”  While nonfiction reading is integral to learning, exposure to ample nonfiction in the ELA classroom would abolish most of students’ in-school exposure to fiction, which in turn may have adverse effects on their development.

For example, students glean empathetic tendencies as a result of reading fiction. When students come into contact with fictional characters, they are able to expand their experiences beyond what they happen to come into contact with in their daily lives. By exposing students to fiction they are able to break from their own personal bubbles and broaden their understandings of different cultures or life experiences. “[Researchers] argue that the use of images, metaphor and inner dialogue can lift people out of themselves so that they develop a sense of growing connectedness.”  From this, we see students gain profound aspects of development needed for social emotional learning from exposure to fiction, and are exposed to important professional skills by discovering how to connect to the world they live in.

This is not to say that nonfiction is not just as important for a full learning experience. There are valid arguments behind the desire for higher volume of nonfiction reading. Exposure to informational texts helps students understand concepts that will be prominent in their educational careers and beyond. Nonfiction allows students to enhance their content-area literacy, and without it students would be rid of strategies, information, and cognition that will help them further along in their lives. For instance, “reading nonfiction… allows for multiple modes of thinking, as well as smoother pathways to learning and self-efficacy, teaching students how to search out the information they are interested in learning.”

However,  nonfiction should not be the entirety of students’ reading. Currently, Common Core State Standards recommend that nonfiction texts should comprise 70 percent of students’ reading by the twelfth grade. If schools evenly distribute nonfiction reading across other core classes, such as science, social studies, and math, the 70 percent threshold would be easily met, which shows there is less of a need to make the bulk of reading in ELA classrooms consist of nonfiction readings, and ELA curriculum should allow for more flexibility.

While it is clear that Common Core’s primary goal is for students to be successful and enlightened young adults as a result of schools, the changes that have been articulated will not ultimately serve as a way to produce the finest students. The change in curriculum will inhibit students from the creative, analytic, and critical thinking they will need not only in their English classes, but their careers, too. Additionally, this change may greatly deter students from reading.

We cannot assume students read at home for leisure; their access to fiction texts in English classes requires them to exercise parts of their brains that no other class will stimulate. While nonfiction is definitely to be encouraged as a part of the curriculum, it should not be at the cost of students’ exposure to fiction.

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