Monday, February 18, 2013

On close reading and CCSS: Reading Anchor Standard #10

Todd Finley accurately states that close reading is only one pathway to understanding. He's referring to the Gettysburg Address and the emphasis David Coleman and others have placed on this particular text. Mr. Finley also notes that close reading reclaims a very old strategy for reading; one that had been proven and, apparently, discarded for a newer strategy.

Finley also notes
In a training session last summer, I observed 20 veteran teachers struggle to comprehend Lincoln's speech. Likewise, many students will initially need help comprehending literary nonfiction before they can pick up a text cold and successfully analyze it. Dave Stuart, Jr., a NYC teacher, in a blog about this perennial challenge asks, "How do I avoid over-teaching and under-teaching the complex texts we read in class?" Based on his interpretation of Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12, Stuart offers abundant support. "But there's got to come a point in each text where, in order to avoid enabling helplessness, I need to gradually release my students into independently grappling with the complex text in front of them." This approach is known as the gradual release of responsibility model. 
If I may, the purpose of teaching students a process for close reading is precisely so they can analyze and manage tasks related to a new text when confronted with something they've never seen before. As in, perhaps, a standardized test situation.

While there has been some sniffing about the "I do/we do/you do" gradual release model, there is, I believe, a time and place for this kind of instruction depending on the learning objectives and the capabilities of their students, which assumes, however dangerously, that teachers don't randomly select strategies and try them without thinking about learning objectives and the capabilities of their students. For another view of this model you might go here for a video titled "Improving Practice with Sarah Brown Wessling."

As a literature professor, what I like about the close reading approach is that it forces students to re-read a text and quite likely forces them to slow down a bit in the process of reading. I would not want to implement the close reading process the same way for every class period, but I can see its value in providing a structure for students (and teachers) and, ultimately, helping students develop and refine skills to be independent and proficient readers.

Good teachers make instructional choices based on their learning objectives for their students and their knowledge of their students' capabilities. Really good teachers know that it's important to challenge their students, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. And excellent teachers know that scaffolding is only temporary and the overall objective is, as indicated in Reading Anchor Standard #10, to enable our students to "read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently."

If the occasional close reading of any text helps students develop and refine skills to achieve that standard, then I think it makes sense to implement close reading strategies. With or without the Gettysburg Address.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Common Core Misinformation

I met with some teachers recently who asked the inevitable question about non-fiction. This is one of the many greatest areas of misinformation and misunderstanding about Common Core.

Hear me, people: THE TARGET FOR INCREASED NON-FICTION IS NOT FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS CLASSES ONLY. THE TARGET INCLUDES TEXTS READ IN ANY AND ALL OTHER CONTENT CLASSES.

The middle school music teacher who was trying to figure out how he was going to increase non-fiction text in his classes heaved a sigh of relief.

Another misunderstanding is that literacy belongs only in English Language Arts/English classes. Wrong. Literacy is the ability to read and write. Math teachers have responsibilities for math literacy; science teachers have responsibility for science literacy. They've always known that and they've always tried to teach their students to be fluent in their respective content area languages: the language of math and the language of science. And this applies to every other content area.

Hear me, people: EVERY TEACHER IS A LITERACY TEACHER BECAUSE EVERY TEACHER IS RESPONSIBLE TO HELP STUDENTS BE ABLE TO READ AND WRITE IN THEIR CLASSES.

So folks like Michelle Malkin who write misinformed dreck about Common Core simply add fuel to the fire. But the fact that people pay attention to her reinforces the problem.  Malkin writes
Under Common Core, classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” are of no more academic value than the pages of the Federal Register or the Federal Reserve archives — or apro-Obamacare opinion essay in The New Yorker. Audio and video transcripts, along with “alternative literacies” that are more “relevant” to today’s students (pop song lyrics, for example), are on par with Shakespeare.
Wrong. Too bad she didn't actually do some research and read the actual standards and then she'd know this isn't true. Hmm. This is a wonderful example of a text that is not evidence-based; I'll have to keep that in mind.

Malkin also writes

English professor Mary Grabar describes Common Core training exercises that tell teachers “to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all ‘texts’ to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA’s Recommended Levels of Insulation.” Indeed, in my own research, I found one Common Core “exemplar” on teaching the Gettysburg Address that instructs educators to “refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset.”
Well, sort of. Soooo much out of context.

What these folks are ignoring is this: classroom teachers are professionals. They use these resources as resources. They use the Gettysburg address resource (the correct link is here) as a resource.

What Common Core really does is reinforce and reinvigorate the professionalism of the profession. It reminds teachers that they are perfectly capable of making decisions about how best to teach their students. Common Core encourages teachers, as professionals, not to depend on the "see and say" of the teacher's edition.

The vision of Common Core is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching or learning.

The potential of Common Core is that we are falling short of where we need to be to make sure our kids are ready for the work place or for college and maybe, just maybe, by encouraging teachers to be the creative, smart, innovative, capable, professionals they are that we'll be able to improve learning in remarkable and unexpected ways.