One of our first efforts to write about the Common Core State Standards involved looking closely at the research behind the author’s suggestion that students should spend their time in frustration-level texts. From analyzing the research a couple of years ago to speculating on the use of the term “frustration” more recently, the ongoing national conversation about the role (or lack thereof) of instructional level text in elementary instruction is of keen interest to us. There are a number of writers and/or bloggers we respect who offer us insight and perspective as we try to make sense of the array of challenges to sound literacy instruction. Among those is Russ Walsh, who offers thoughtful and balanced perspectives based on a keen understanding of the historical perspectives of both literacy instruction and the Common Core. Yesterday, in his guest post on Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post blog, “The Answer Sheet,” Russ wrote of recent and heated debates about the role of frustration level texts in classroom instruction. In his post, he refers to our analysis of the related research cited by Timothy Shanahan in support of eliminating instructional reading level texts. We are confident you will find the article of interest for its attention to both the nuts and bolts of the issue and the broader educational and political implications. We are interested in learning more about what this national conversation has people thinking about and invite you to share your experiences, insights, concerns, and questions in the comment section of today’s post.
When the Common Core State Standards were first introduced, the rollout was accompanied by six instructional shifts. The second shift, “knowledge in the disciplines, ” popularized the idea that all teachers–including music, art, and PE teachers–are responsible for contributing to a child’s growth and development in literacy. These six shifts have since been condensed to three; however, with language such as “reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from the text” and “building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction,” even these shifts allude to the role that special area teachers can play in developing children’s growth and development as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.
In spite of the fact that there is an expectation that all teachers contribute to students’ literacy, how to address aligning instruction with the Common Core in content areas such as music, art, and PE has not been widely discussed leaving many teachers in these disciplines wondering what to do. Many have been instructed to have students “closely and carefully” read short texts about art and music history or sports articles from the newspaper. As you can imagine, this causes great angst amongst special area teachers and students. For special area teachers, their time with students is already limited to one, sometimes two, forty minute periods and introducing close, careful readings feels like a new and extra layer that they don’t have time for. Students, on the other hand, generally embrace music, art, and PE because of the break it offers them from traditional classroom practices and when this coveted time begins to feel more like an extension of regular class time and less “special”, they feel resentful.
This conundrum illuminates the need to think carefully about how to preserve the best aspects of music, art, and PE while at the same time honoring both the spirit and letter of the Common Core Standards. To help shed some light on this, we offer you the following things to think about:
1. The Common Core Standards cast a wide net when defining text.
Reading anchor standard seven expects that students learn to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively.” In thinking about how this could apply to special areas like music, art, and PE, we believe that this standard makes room to closely and carefully read things like musical compositions, paintings, or videos of game winning plays of major sporting events.
2. There are six standards for speaking and listening.
Special areas offer students lots of different lenses for viewing the world, thereby providing ample opportunity for them to form new ideas and perspectives. These perspectives can and should be shared through rich conversations that allow students “build on other’s ideas” and “evaluate speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence.” Encouraging lots of turn and talk is as important in music, art, and PE as it is in the classroom.
3. There are six language standards in the Common Core.
While the first three language standards seem more related to writing, the last three are all about expanding children’s vocabulary. Music, art, and PE are rich with content-specific vocabulary like crescendo and texture and coordination which means that special area teachers can help students seize opportunities to “apply knowledge of language…in different contexts” and “acquire and use a range of general academic and domain specific words.” When it comes to aligning special area instruction with the Common Core standards, goals for developing word knowledge can and should be an instructional priority.
Last Thursday, on day nine of the new school year, Kim’s fifth-grade son, Nathan, came home from school crying. Within moments of reaching the safety of his mother’s presence, his distress escalated to sobs.
What could possibly make a fifth-grade boy, one who has always happily worked his hardest in school and amiably gotten along with others, this upset?
Bully on the playground?
Trouble with the teacher?
When Nathan finally had enough composure to communicate what was wrong, he uttered four letters (imagine gasp-y hiccups in place of hyphens): U-D-H-R.
UDHR? Kim was desperate to find out what UDHR was and what it had done to Nathan to reduce him to an inconsolable puddle!
As it turns out, UDHR stands for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is a document committed to protecting the fundamental human rights of people around the world. It was drafted by a team of international representatives at the United Nations in 1948. The UDHR is chocked full of period language–such as “whereas,” “shall,” “proclaimed,” and “asylum”–and long, complex legalese that, quantitatively speaking, puts it on a college reading level (based on online readability tests). Qualitatively speaking, one would need a great deal of background knowledge to truly understand the important ideals the authors of this complex text were trying to communicate.
Nathan’s class was reading the UDHR in its original form. (To see the source of Nathan’s angst, scroll to page 12 of this link).
In fact, on day nine of school, Nathan had been reading the UDHR for seven days and his class hadn’t gotten past the opening paragraph and article one. With 29 articles left to work through, Nathan just didn’t think he could take it anymore.
He cried, “I’m bored.”
He cried, “I hate school!”
He cried, ” I hate reading!”
And we, Jan and Kim, cry that there is something seriously wrong, here!
When the authors of the Common Core set in place their ideals for “college and career readiness,” they issued a call for students to read more complex text and more informational text, including more primary source documents. They also communicated that students should read these texts closely and carefully. This story stands as a cautionary tale, however, warning of the risk we are taking when we misinterpret and misunderstand what reading closely and carefully truly mean.
While surely the UDHR is complex reading for college students and lawyers and UN delegates, for fifth graders, it is simply too hard to understand. Reading several times for the purpose of decoding and then several times more (over days and days) deciphering a surface understanding of the text is NOT close reading, it is only rereading.
With close reading, the idea is to notice textual subtleties and nuances that went unnoticed during the first read. The idea with rereading that is productive is to emerge with a deeper understanding. If the first read yields little to no understanding, a reader is very unlikely to notice nuance and subtlety in second and third reads. While Nathan and his peers across New York State have been told that they are practicing reading closely, in fact, they have been misinformed. They have been engaged in unproductive rereading.
One key indicator that students are unproductively rereading versus reading closely is that you (the teacher) have to do almost all the work. If you are talking during a lot of the lesson, perhaps MOST of the lesson, then the text is probably too hard. If there are so many problems–whether decoding challenges, vocabulary challenges, or limitations with background knowledge–that students can read and reread without actually accessing more and more information with minimal support from you, then find another text!
In the frenzy to implement the Common Core State Standards, there has been an onslaught of materials created, most of which claim to simplify the implementation process. As educators evaluate these materials, it is important for us to relentlessly check them against the guide we have been given–that is, the thirty-six, actual standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. When directions for implementation defy both the standards themselves (in this case reading, standard ten, which calls for students to read grade level appropriate text independently and proficiently by the end of the school year, and standard one, which calls for reading closely and making inferences) AND common sense, listen to your gut and abandon the text!
We have been overwhelmed, touched even, by your warm responses to our Periodic Table of the Common Core. In the first 24 hours after we posted it we had almost 2000 visitors to the site, not to mention the 1200+ people who are signed up for our email updates and received it in their inbox! This is a record for us! Thank you for your interest, support, and encouragement!
Your response confirms our observations from working in schools, which led us to create the one-page, at-a-glance resource in the first place: while we all must have deep understandings of the complete standards, for practical purposes we also need some tools that simplify our Common Core implementation.
Some of you gave us feedback that you were concerned that our periodic table oversimplified the Common Core, and we certainly see your point! This tool was not designed to be used in isolation, it is part of our Illustrated Common Core and is meant to be used alongside that book’s other tools, which offer a more comprehensive exploration of the full standards. So, please don’t let our periodic table REPLACE all your other, deeper work understanding and aligning instruction to the standards! We have something that we hope can help you with this balance and we have burned the midnight oil to make it available to you sooner than later. 🙂
Earlier this year we released The Illustrated Common Core which we have revised and renamed The Common Core Toolkit. The new version includes a tool for deeply aligning lessons and curricula, image metaphors and full standards for the Foundational Skills, and our Periodic Table of the Common Core. From its original permutation, The Common Core Toolkit also has complete, illustrated grade-level standards for K-6 ELA, a series of articles about implementing the Common Core, the image metaphors and anchor standards in separate, one-page presentations for sharing with students, and directions/suggested uses for using all the tools.
Because the the back-to-school season is upon us and we know you are gathering resources, we’d like to make the more complete version of our Common Core Toolkit available so that you have the opportunity to use the whole kit rather than the periodic table in isolation. For the next few days, we are offering The Common Core Toolkit as a PDF (142 pages) you can purchase and download through our site at a greatly reduced rate. We know you will honor our copyright by not reproducing multiple copies, and we are eager to have it in your hands so that you can let us know how it supports your work and what we can do to make it better. If you need multiple copies to share with a team or faculty, contact us and we will work a bulk rate.
On another note, we are excited to report that we made serious progress on our book last week and are really close to finishing. Because our focused efforts seemed to make a difference, we are taking one more week off of blogging to concentrate on completing the manuscript. We promise to return to a regular schedule starting next week and will be featuring some back-to-school books with suggestions for Common Core aligned lessons to support you as you kick off the new school year.
In this post, Jan shares the books she is planning to read this summer.
In this post, we share some titles from Lerner Publishers that pair nicely to offer students a well rounded reading experience.
This post reviews a collection of informational books that explore visual art. Each book offers unique text to image connections and supports close reading of both the words and the visual art.
This post connects to our three-part series on textual connections and letting books scaffold students.