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Teaching Tips: What Should Be Common in the Common Core State Standards?

by Janet Allen
April 24, 2012
Rigor. Text complexity. College and career readiness. Range of reading. These are words that swirl in and around our professional discussions no matter where we are. Professional journals are filled with articles related to these words and curriculum materials are being produced each day that claim they are “aligned with the Common Core State Standards.” The Common Core State Standards define and set expectations for what students should be able to do, so I have been giving a great deal of thought to what the common ground should be in this decade of common standards.

What the Standards Don’t Do

While the debate is on about what the CCSS do and don’t do, one thing is clear to me. The CCSS do not give teachers instructional strategies to help students meet these standards. From my point of view, this is the common ground that needs our continued focus.

For many years, we have had the gift of rich research and solid classroom examples of instruction that lead to increased academic achievement for all students. We can see practical and effective instructional strategies by watching Kelly Gallagher help his high school students do a close reading of text, or we can watch Cris Tovani help students develop independent strategies for cracking the code of complex informational text. We have professional books and journals, online resources, and empirical studies to provide us with significant research to support our work.

So, my first teaching tip is for all of us to find common ground in our districts, schools, and classrooms by investing our time in becoming more expert at the instructional strategies we employ to help students achieve the kind of academic progress they need to be ready for the choices they will make for post-secondary education and work. In the words of John Wooden, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

We know how to do it right and now is the time to do it.

Choosing What Matters

CCSS states that the standards “do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations.” I certainly want all students to be competent and confident in choosing to read and being able to read increasingly complex texts. But, I think we can all acknowledge that we have thousands of students in this country who are reading well-below grade level, and thousands more who can read, but choose not to read.

For the past several years, discussions at curriculum meetings often centered around instructional strategies and curriculum materials that would increase students’ reading and writing engagement and proficiency. Today, as I sit in meetings, the conversations are often predominantly about the texts used as examples to illustrate the “complexity, quality, and range” of student reading in CCSS. Much time is spent debating which grade level might now read LITTLE WOMEN (Alcott, 1869) or “The Raven” (Poe, 1845). I am in no way denigrating these traditional texts but I think most of us can acknowledge that many of the examples noted in CCSS are not texts that will help struggling readers and writers increase the volume and diversity of their reading.

In addition, spending several days deconstructing and doing a close reading of these or any texts, if it occurs at the expense of students’ independent reading, may not be the most beneficial use of our time with our most-struggling readers and writers.

So, my second teaching tip is to maintain our focus on choosing what matters for all learners in our care. A decade ago, Richard Allington challenged us to imagine how we might meet the needs of our most struggling students:

“Imagine that we could design schools where 100% of the students were involved in instruction appropriate to their needs and development 100% of the day. Imagine how different the achievement patterns of struggling readers might be. I will suggest that the 100/100 goal is, perhaps, the real solution for developing schools that better serve struggling readers” (2001, 23).
As a new wave of educational reform sweeps across our nation, I believe we have to ensure that we don’t lose the progress we have made in helping all students become more engaged, and more proficient, readers and writers.

Finding and Cultivating the Common Ground

I believe that content literacy is the common ground in the CCSS. We now have a working document that will help us move forward in continuing professional conversations, developing instructional strategies, and choosing curriculum materials that demonstrate our understanding that literacy is everyone’s job. This document can provide rich ground for us to meet as colleagues to develop strategies to help our students read, write, talk about, and present learning from literature and informational texts.

Barber and Mourshed remind us that "the quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers" (2007, 8). For those of us who are fortunate enough to attend IRA’s Annual Convention, we are here because we believe those words.

I hope you will join me on Wednesday afternoon to continue this conversation as I share instructional strategies and engaging texts that can be used by all teachers to improve literacy and learning for our students.

References

Allington, R. (2001). What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs. New York: Longman.

Barber, M. & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top. London: McKinsey & Co.

Janet Allen is a former reading teacher, researcher, author, and literacy consultant. She taught English and reading in Maine prior to teaching at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She has written numerous professional books and articles. She is the author of PLUGGED-IN TO READING and PLUGGED-IN TO NONFICTION, as well as a senior program consultant for Holt McDougal Literature.

© 2012 Janet Allen. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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1 Comment

  1. 1 Jacquelyn Burkett 18 Nov
    First of all, I want to say I am grateful for the support I get as a 6th grade teacher of reading, from IRA. YIKES! My heart jumps when I read about the expectations of CCSS and I feel better knowing I can get research based, clear, open and direct guidance from respected authors such as Janet Allen. My concern is for my readers who struggle with basic comprehension strategies-that they will be left behind as we increase rigor and text complexity. And also, I fear I will be inadequate-I ask myself, "Can I do this?" I feel a great responsibility to successfully implement CCSS along with effective strategies to support student success. I have read much about the importance of professional development to support teachers with CCSS-I also wonder, "Can my district handle this?"  Again, I am grateful for IRA!

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