My Common Core Education

I am in the midst of revising the website I built for my picture book “One Bright Ring.” The new version will include information on how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) can be used with my book.

A quick digression: What do I think about CCSS? I’m leery of standardized tests in general and am sure that No Child Left Behind has left most American students behind at least to some extent, because it has made it difficult for all public school teachers to teach. That said, the Common Core Standards are this moment’s reality, so I decided to learn about them.

That has meant studying the CCSS site ( I didn’t intend to have to do that, but I quickly found that CCSS doesn’t reward glancing attention. In the end, I believe the site’s careful organization is positive (and not as tedious as I first thought).

Can CCSS help teaching? I think the answer is, perhaps, yes.

For this post, I want to show you excerpts from how I intend to use the Core on my website.

One page on my site will be dedicated to which Core Standards relate to “One Bright Ring.” For example, I tell visitors that these are the standards pertinent to first graders who read my book:

English Language Arts: Reading: Literature: Grade 1:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.1: Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.2: Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.3: Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.4: Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.7: Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.9: Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.

In a different section of my site, I’ll explain what I offer in the way of school visits. I describe visits for preschool up to grade 3. For each grade level, I articulate for teachers the kinds of questions I will ask after reading “One Bright Ring.” I say up front that many of my questions do not have one right answer but that I hope most will inspire thinking and discussion. Also, although I’m including answers for readers of this post (see below), on my website I will provide them only in a PDF for teachers. I intend to offer this PDF in case a teacher is interested in teaching my book without me present or would like to understand why I pose a question.

I would not answer my own questions during a school visit. That’s for the kids to do! Here are some examples of the questions I might ask first graders:

Q: Why does the girl in my story try to catch the ring? (Literature Common Core Standard RL.1.2 and RL.1.3)

A: I think she catches it because it comes to her. Do you agree? Does she hope to return it after that? Would you try as hard as the girl in the story to return the ring? 

Q: Why does the girl put the ring in her purse? (Literature Common Core Standard RL.1.2 and RL.K.7)

A: I think she wants to keep the ring safe. Do you agree? Would you have done something like that? Where would you have put the ring?

Q: What are some differences between the man’s experiences in the story and the girl’s? (Literature Common Core Standard RL.1.9)

A: There are many answers to this question. The big answers for me are that the man begins the story feeling happy and hopeful. He has a ring in his pocket (he thinks), buys flowers, and walks to the park. The girl begins the story worried. She watches the man’s ring fall, catches it, then does everything she can to return it. They switch moods in the park. The man realizes he lost the ring, and the girl realizes she can return it. At the end, both are happy.

For kindergarteners, I can ask math questions prompted by CCSS (because “One Bright Ring” is a counting book).

On the other hand, I can ask second graders a question about numbers like this:

Q: You’re older than counting-book age, but do you think the numbers in the story supply a useful beat? (Literature Common Core Standard RL.2.4: Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.)

A: Counting books create a feeling of expectation. You read “three” on one page and expect “four” on the next. Because it’s satisfying to encounter each number in a series, numbers end up being read with a special emphasis or beat. 

My favorite part of trying to use the Common Core Standards for “One Bright Ring” has been to learn that they can be used for texts not explicitly educational. I don’t pretend that my picture book is literature, but the Common Core Standards suggest ways teachers can use story, as opposed to non-fiction, for teaching. I like that.

6 thoughts on “My Common Core Education”

  1. Catherine Linka says:

    Gretchen–thanks for this very illuminating post on how to take advantage of Common Core!

    1. Gretchen Geser says:

      Catherine, Thank you liking my post! I’ve become obsessed with understanding the Common Core. I think we authors will benefit from taking the bull by the horns on this one.

  2. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

    This is very useful, Gretchen! I’ve bookmarked it for when I put together my teacher’s guide for Rogue. I’m also looking to update my guide for Gringolandia for the new standards, but I didn’t see Common Core Standards for high school Global Studies. I know schools are trying to use literature across the curriculum, though, so maybe they’ll include guidelines for social studies and science as well.

    1. Gretchen Geser says:

      Thank you, Lyn. I just visited your site and was impressed by the ideas/materials you’ve already made available to teachers. And I’ve been hearing a lot about ROGUE; I’ve been meaning to read it.

      I see what you mean about lack of standards for Global Studies. How about the “Stories” category on this page: But I don’t know… I haven’t read your books, so I’m probably missing the mark.

      1. Lyn Miller-Lachmann says:

        Thank you, Gretchen! I’m thrilled that word is getting out on ROGUE. The link you gave me is exactly what I need, because GRINGOLANDIA is a work of historical fiction, set in Chile and the U.S. in the 1980s.

  3. S L J says:

    Maybe it’s part of a larger school system problem, but I look at these questions and see an interesting book being made … less interesting by being turned into a series of didactic, less interesting questions to be answered, and I worry even young children will see it.

    This isn’t a new problem with books in the classroom at all, but while questions like that may encourage school visits … will they make children love the book?

    Of course if there’s no school visit fewer kids get the chance to live the book, so the answers aren’t straightforward. But I hate how our education system persistently and increasingly teaches that books aren’t fun or exciting, but merely a series of tedious questions to be answered, and would love to see writers somehow be an antidote to this rather than part of the problem.

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