David Coleman and Susan Pimentel received considerable criticism with the original version of their recommendations to publishers who are trying to create materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards. In particular, the following idea about text-based questions, which remains in the revised version of the Publisher’s Criteria, has generated much discussion:
The Common Core State Standards place a high priority on the close, sustained reading of complex text, beginning with Reading Standards 1. Such reading focuses on what lies within the four corners of the text. (Revised Publisher’s Criteria, p. 4).
The document goes on to explain:
Text-dependent questions do not require information or evidence from outside the text or texts; they establish what follows and what does not follow from the text itself. Eighty to ninety percent of the Reading Standards in each grade require text-dependent analysis; accordingly, aligned curriculum materials should have a similar percentage of text dependent questions. When examining a complex text in depth, tasks should require careful scrutiny of the text and specific references to evidence from the text itself to support responses. (Original Publisher’s Criteria, p. 6)
This and other comments have led to misunderstandings of the term text-based. Once again, however, the vernacular of the Common Core State Standards leads us to believe we are comparing apples and oranges when we are actually comparing two different oranges. There is little use in arguing over things when they aren’t as they appear in the first place.If we are really going to understand the discussion, it will help if we can remain aware of two, underlying issues.
First, the lead authors of the Common Core have not had traditional training in education. They are not, nor have they been, classroom teachers in elementary, middle or high school. This brings with it a host of problems and some benefits (Yes, benefits!), which are a matter for another day’s musings. The lack of training or experience in the field of education, particularly elementary literacy, means that they don’t speak our language. They tend to say one thing when they think they are saying another.
Secondly, the Common Core were developed from the top down, i.e. from high school down to kindergarten. So the instructional vocabulary of elementary teachers was redefined, but elementary teachers weren’t really given the new glossary. So some Common Core ideas, which may work when read from a high school perspective, may sound ridiculous when interpreted from an elementary perspective.
Consider these two language issues as you read the following excerpt from the Revised Publisher’s Criteria. Notice the ways the revised language clarifies the terminology surrounding the label “text-based.”
Questions and tasks cultivate students’ abilities to ask and answer questions based on the text. Materials that accompany texts should ask students to think about what they have read or heard and then ask them to draw evidence from the text in support of their ideas about the reading. The standards strongly focus on students gathering evidence and knowledge from what they read and therefore require that a majority of questions and tasks that children ask and respond to be based on the text under consideration. (This is equally true for read-alouds students listen to as for material students read for themselves.)
Student background knowledge and experiences can illuminate the reading but should not replace attention to the text itself. Questions and tasks should require thinking about the text carefully and finding evidence in the text itself to support the response. Discussion tasks, activities, questions, and writings following readings should draw on a full range of insights and knowledge contained in the text in terms of both content and language. Instructional support materials should focus on posing questions and writing tasks that help students become interested in the text and cultivate student mastery of the specific details and ideas of the text. (p. 6)
All along the authors of the Common Core have simply been trying to move us away from questions that students can answer with little or no attention to the text. Such questions are the equivalent of reading Where the Wild Things Are and asking children to describe the wild things they have done. Have you ever had a wild rumpus? What was it like?
The “text-based” recommendation does not mean that we need to limit our questioning to text-exclusive questions, i.e. questions with answers explicitly in the text, as many have interpreted the original “four corners of the text” statement to imply. Rather, in the spirit of complex text, which by definition is bulging with implied meaning, the understanding of which by definition requires a marriage of background knowledge and textual understanding, we need to predominantly ask students (vs. exclusively ask) questions that support students in assimilating these two sources of insight. While the text carries the most weight, answering text-based questions actually involves thinking within and beyond the four corners of the text. How did Max change from the beginning to the end of the story? is a text-dependent question, bound by the four corners of the text. The subsequent question, How do you know?, is text-based and much more challenging because it reaches beyond the four corners of the text to interpret that which is bound by the text.