Over 45 states in the country have adopted the Common Core Standards. These standards are multi-faceted and cover everything from teacher performance to all academic domains and standards. The focus of this essay will be the shift in how literacy will be taught in classrooms across the country.
The Common Core Standards:
- Are committed to make sure that students are college and career ready. The goals are to start narrowing the gap between what students are leaving high school with and what they need to learn to go on.
- Have to be based on evidence.
- Honest about time. Telling students and teachers what they should be spending their energy and resources on.
This first shift in literacy will be in grades Kindergarten through grade 5. Schools will begin moving away from having children read stories to focusing more on what is called informational text (text they read to get information from). All schools currently have a devoted time to literacy block. However, over 80% of what children read during this literacy block can be described as stories. This has come at the expense of subjects like science and social studies. The Common Core seeks to have a 50-50 a balance of literature and informational text. Students will spend more time during literacy blocks reading for information about science, social studies and the world around them.
Grades 6 through 12 will be required to implement more literacy education. This shift will focus on the skill of reading critically and writing about what you read. The standards are not asking students to read novels in science but short pieces of text that they can read closely. There are also standards in History and Social Studies, Science and technical subjects that are intended for teachers in those subject areas. For example, how you read a primary source document in history is an important skill that should not be left solely up to the English Language Arts teacher.
The third shift explains how students should be reading appropriate complex text. When looking at the text complexity (word structure, vocabulary) we know what they are reading in high school is very different in complexity than the level of college text and technical text. This also will require schools to implement appropriate strategies so that all reading levels will have access to more complex text. This will take work and commitment since some children are not reading on grade level. Expect students to read material that is challenging. Since students will be expected to read at this level of complexity in high school then the complexity level of each grade will be shifted.
The fourth change concerns text dependent questions. When asking students questions about what they read, the questions should be based upon on what they actually did read, as opposed to getting it from classroom lecture. For example, say you are going to the movies with a friend. Your friend tells you all the details of the movie before it starts. Here is what I want you to look out for and here is what is going to happen. Then your friend stops the movie every 5 minutes and asks you did you notice this? This is a parallel of what may have occurred in English classes of the past. The new guidelines believe the author is the one to tell the stories without interference. Students must be able to read the text to answer the questions.
The 5th shift explains when students write they should be writing to inform and make an argument by always using evidence. For example, an assignment asking students to read Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and asking them to write about a time when they have experienced conflict in their life. You don’t have to read the text to answer the question. That is also not a college and career ready skill. When students are asked to write they should be writing to argue, inform, and use evidence from the text. Everything the student needs to know comes from the text. That way such assignments are more equitable across socioeconomic regions. Everything the student needs to know about the questions would come right from the text. It would not matter what you read before, what your life experiences have been, or if you’re from a single parent household.
The last shift seeks to increase academic vocabulary. This includes words that may be found in a history or science class. The bank of words that children have who are underperforming is limited compared to the students who are at grade level or above. Teaching more complex words is believed to unlock more difficult text.