Booksellers Team With Educators, Publishers to Tackle Common Core Challenges

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Common Core panelists Kenny Brechner, Tegan Tigani, TuesD Chambers, and Kathy Faber form the letters "CC" as a nod to their work with Common Core initiatives.

The Winter Institute session “ABC Group Presents: Using Common Core to Develop Your Community Profile” delved into the expanding relationship between independent booksellers and local educators. Panelists Kenny Brechner of Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Tegan Tigani of Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, Washington; TuesD Chambers, librarian at McClure Middle School in Seattle; and Kathy Faber, vice president, director of sales, HarperCollins Children’s Books, provided insights and ideas for developing a plan for educators, independent booksellers, and publishers to embrace the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

“Schools are looking to adapt what they already have and bring what they have into compliance,” said Brechner, who works with several school districts and others in the Farmington community to help meet Common Core needs. As booksellers, he said, “Our job is to connect with those partners, to help them with what they’re doing, and to provide as much support as we possibly can to bring great trade books into the classroom and into the libraries.”

Initially, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity adopted the Common Core State Standards, though some states have delayed implementation. Common Core standards stipulate that students become involved in reading more texts, including both fiction and informational material, and that the texts be adequately complex, with the complexity of each title building on the previous title. Additionally, teachers in all subjects, not just English teachers, are involved in getting students to read more.

To get titles into classrooms, it is critical to connect with the proper people in the school districts, said Brechner, and to get them as interested in the titles as possible. “The big mandate in Common Core that all classrooms become reading classrooms ... is going to fall apart — it’s the Achilles' heel of Common Core — if teachers don’t buy into it. If teachers don’t love what they’re teaching, if they haven’t read the books, if they aren’t modeling good reading and engaged reading, this just isn’t going to work,” he said. To engage teachers and arrange time to discuss titles to use in their classrooms, Brechner suggested booksellers plan on attending Teacher In-Service training days, faculty reading groups, or summer reading groups.

Tigani, who developed a strong relationship with Chambers at McClure Middle School over several years of working together, echoed Brechner’s suggestion of getting in touch with the critical people at schools. By using her own knowledge about books, Tigani has helped Chambers bring appropriate Common Core-aligned titles into her library for teachers to use.

To identify books to suggest to Chambers, Tigani approaches all of her inventory with a Common Core mindset. As she meets with sales reps, Tigani will note in her catalog what would make a good Common Core pick, and she uses keywords in her store’s database to mark topics and reading levels. Keywords are logged in when new inventory is brought into the store or when something catches Tigani’s eye — even if it’s not an item Queen Anne can stock at that time, she will note it and order it when needed. Tigani also makes sure that this information is accessible at the store’s checkout counter so staff can easily reference it.

Customers can also provide valuable insights, said Tigani. By asking followers on Facebook or Twitter for a recommendation for a great second grade Civil Rights pick, for example, “you’re not just building your database and getting more information, but you’re also really connecting with your other customers, not just your teachers and librarians.” Tigani noted that this is also an easy way to discover more librarians or teachers in your customer base, and a good way to begin following them and other booksellers on Facebook and Twitter to catch any ideas they may have.

Tigani noted two services, Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell, that provide Common Core resources, including the all-important reading levels that educators will refer to when selecting books for their classrooms. The ABC Group at ABA has compiled the ABC Group Common Core Resource title list that details 900+ titles and includes information on title specifications, grade levels, Fountas & Pinnell reading levels, Lexile reading levels, Accelerated Reader points, school subjects, genres, plot elements, and keywords.  

To make searching for Common Core titles easier in his store, Brechner created a Learning Resources section to help educators, parents, and homeschoolers identify titles that meet their needs. Having titles in one section also makes it easier for his staff to help someone who comes in with questions, said Brechner.

The partnership between booksellers and educators on Common Core materials makes for a win-win situation, Tigani and Chambers have discovered. Tigani suggested sharing ARCs with educators and hosting teacher/librarian nights at the bookstore as a way to find out what materials they are looking for, though Chambers said that finding the appropriate person to work with in a school can be “a little like dating.”

“To make the most change as quickly as possible, you find the key players in your schools,” said Chambers, who offered the following suggestions for booksellers: find the people who are interested in discussing Common Core options and leave a card; offer ARCs; make an appointment to discuss ideas further; keep meetings brief; extend an invitation for teachers to bring students by the store to showcase their work or learn more about the titles on the shelves. And, she said, “Teachers love it if you show up to department meetings and you bring snacks.”

Because teachers now organize their curriculums 9 to12 months in advance to ensure they both align with Common Core standards and build from one grade to the next without overlapping content, there’s an opportunity for booksellers to help teachers source materials ahead of time, said Chambers. To aid in these efforts, she suggested that booksellers offer a teacher resource kit filled with ARCs or galleys, titles with discussion materials and questions, a few prizes (like bookmarks or other small items), a list of hot titles in the store, lists of titles by subject and theme, and information about store hours and when teachers would be welcome to visit.

Publishers are working to provide materials for booksellers and educators that meet Common Core requirements, said Faber. From the time of acquisition, HarperCollins is developing materials so books are Common Core ready from the start, and it has aligned many backlist titles with Common Core guidelines, she said. HarperCollins also produces a brochure that highlights titles that would make good Common Core picks. Faber encouraged booksellers to talk to their reps about anything that might help them work better with educators to provide Common Core-aligned materials.

“One of the most important things about Common Core is not to be afraid of it,” Tigani said. “We all are really interested in using books to add relevance and interest to our lives, and that’s what Common Core is meant to do in the curriculum... Feel confident because your critical thinking and your experience as a reader will really help your customers.”