What’s Missing from the Common Core State Standards
This blog was originally run on June 14 of this year. Given the subject matter, we thought it deserved another read.
I just returned from Chicago where I spent four days attending the annual conference of the International Reading Association (IRA). The IRA conference is attended by teachers, administrators, literacy coaches, librarians, academics, and others who care about children’s literacy. This year’s conference theme was “Celebrate Teaching!” but it seemed all anyone wanted to talk about was the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The standards, which have been adopted by 45 states so far, demand this kind of attention. Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, authors of Pathways to the Common Core, open their book by discussing just what a big deal the standards are: “It is safe to say that across the entire history of American education, no single document will have played a more influential role over what is taught in our schools. The standards are already affecting what is published, mandated, and tested in schools—and also what is marginalized and neglected.” (Calkins et al., 2012)
Where’s the Reader in the Reading Standards?
Like many educators, the Program Development department at Developmental Studies Center (DSC) has been grappling with the standards for a while now. In January we embarked on a series of meetings to study the standards. As we went around the room at our first meeting, sharing our thoughts on the standards, my colleague Lisa articulated a point that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: something big is missing in the standards. With their emphasis on comprehension and textual analysis, the standards ignore students’ feelings about reading and their perception of themselves as readers. Nowhere are students asked to reflect on their reading life, make text-to-self connections, explore personal responses, or relate their reading to their own lives (Calkins et al., 2012). The standards completely ignore the important affective skills such as attitude, engagement, and motivation that we know to be essential for students to grow into strong readers.
An Attempt to Correct an Imbalance?
So why did the authors of CCSS leave these things out? At IRA standards consultant David Pearson hypothesized that it was in reaction to what he called “constructivism run amuck,” in which a discussion of a text digresses into an exchange of personal anecdotes and opinions that have no bearing on textual analysis. In another session, when asked why the CCSS make no mention of using schema, Pearson responded that “asking students not to use background knowledge is like trying to breathe without using oxygen,” the assumption being that students naturally apply their own experiences to what they read and don’t need to be taught to do so. In general Pearson’s point seemed to be that by insisting that textual analysis be limited to the “four corners of the text” standards authors were attempting to correct what they perceived as an over-emphasis in many classrooms on reader response.
Making Room for the Reading Life
Historically, DSC has valued reader response as an important element of reading comprehension. There is a reason every grade of Making Meaning begins with a unit called “The Reading Life.” We ask questions such as, “What are some books you’ve read or heard that you really love?” “Where is your favorite place to read?” and “What things do you love to read about?” to help students develop identities as readers. Research has shown that students’ perceptions of themselves as readers predict how successful they will be at reading. We have students make text-to-self connections because they are more likely to be engaged when they can relate what they are reading to their own lives. We ask them to use schema as a comprehension strategy, acknowledging that their personal experiences will shape their interpretations of what they read. We devote time to these things because we believe you cannot assume that all students will do them automatically. We know that many students, especially reluctant readers, will need help buying into reading. We also know that one of the best ways to “sell” students on reading, at least initially, is to make it about them.
There is little hope of accomplishing any of the lofty goals in the CCSS if students don’t first love to read. I hope that as DSC moves to align its programs with CCSS, we continue to acknowledge the importance of reader response and reserve some pages for the reading life.
Charlotte MacLennan is a materials developer for Developmental Studies Center.