text (tĕkst) n. the word or words of something written or printed; something, such as a literary work or other cultural product, regarded as an object of critical analysis
The word text appears 399 times in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subject. If you include the related words, texts, text’s, and textual, the occurrences rise to 596 out of 3,145 unique words. This makes text the most frequently occurring, tier two word in the ELA standards. The words that occur more frequently are the tier one words you would expect: and (2578), the (1556), of (1224), a (1006), to (943), in (799), and or (771). The word standards takes second place in the word frequency rankings.
Including high-frequency words, the word text (including textual, texts, etc.) represents 19% of the total words in the Common Core State standards. By comparison, if you round up, text and its siblings represents 1% of the words in the pre-CCSS standards in Jan’s home state, Georgia (0.008%), and in the pre-CCSS standards in Kim’s home state, New York (0.0059%).
You may be asking, “So what? This is little more than trivia.” But we think this quantitative detail represents the heart of the Common Core, and even more poetically, it is a metaphor.
Everything about the Common Core implicitly and explicitly promotes text as the most important element of any education. Are you college or career focused? Either way, read some text. Are you in kindergarten or graduating high school? It doesn’t matter, you must learn from text. Are you reading for information or entertainment? In both cases you must let the text decide what strategies to employ rather than look for texts that engage particular strategies. Questioning? Make it text-based. Planning? Read the text with colleagues and talk about its subtleties. Basically, all six of the shifts of the Common Core are text-based shifts:
Shift #1 (Balance): Balance literary and informational TEXTS.
Shift #2 ( Reading in the disciplines): Students learn through domain-specific TEXTS.
Shift #3 (Complexity): All students read the central, grade appropriate TEXT around
which instruction is centered.
Shift #4 (Text-based answers): Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common TEXT.
Shift #5 (Writing to sources): students develop skills through written arguments that respond to the ideas, events, facts, and arguments presented in the TEXTS they read.
Shift #6 (Academic Vocabulary): Students constantly build the vocabulary they need to access grade level complex TEXTS.
We wrote to Meredith Liben, who was involved with the development of the Common Core and who is currently involved in supporting CCSS implementations. She referred to the frequency of the word text in the CCSS as “beefy,” remarking that it was no accident that text should sit at the heart of the standards, although they didn’t intentionally shoot for a “text” quota in terms of word count. Instead, Meredith talked about the passion of returning children to reading and text as the center of classrooms. Meredith explained,
So there was momentum that led straight toward making reading and the ability to collect and present evidence the central pillars – reading standards 1 and 10, and writing 9,10… Everything else grew out from holding tight to that. Everything else that crept in or out was negotiable if the writing team could keep those pillars inviolate. (M. Liben, personal communication, May 16, 2012)
All along, we have found this centrality of text and the potential ways it can influence instruction the most compelling point of the standards. Much like yesterday’s Babar references, for us the “charm” of the Common Core’s focus on text offsets other concerns, some of which stem from exaggerated or misguided interpretations of the standards and many of which educators can compensate for with thoughtful implementations of “potent and organic instruction” (M. Liben, personal communication, May 16, 2012).
This centrality of text in the Common Core gives us hope and arouses a lot of questions. Is this emphasis on text the difference between opinion and argument? What magic can a shift to following text initiate? To what degree can interacting with wonderful texts bring more satisfaction, agency, and joy into classrooms, both for teachers and for students? And how does more joy in classrooms impact the world at large? Will children just read more and learn more? Is it lunacy to think that our society in general could one day find that going to school teaches them how to be happier?
Raise your hand if you would like more happy in your life, and then go connect with a text that makes you think. Notice what the learning experience does for your brain, heart, and mood. Now imagine a world where children have the tools they need to habituate helping themselves to the endorphins that come from learning, from text and otherwise. Don’t we all have mission/vision statements that say we want students to become “lifelong learners”? Imagine that future. Who doesn’t it affect?