Hacking a Trail to Common Core Reading–Part 1

Pathways to the Common Core

Authors:  Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman

This was a book I needed to read, though not because any boss-type person required it of me.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are, in some ways, an instructional game-changer, and while I’ve read them and began implementing them last year, I felt like I wasn’t really getting pieces.  Pathways to the Common Core helped me think through some of the shifts in priorities and start to imagine what my instruction should look and sound like.

The big shift everyone is talking about in elementary is a more balanced approach in reading between literary and informational text.  The idea that my students’ reading time should be split 50/50 is a bit intimidating, mainly because I have a much smaller, narrower selection of informational text in my classroom library.  Still, I had to make a plan, and right now I have three initial steps in mind.  The first I began this week–sorting through my non-fiction books, leveling them, and making a list of priorities for purchasing.  This is taking a lot of time, but is really opening my eyes (LOTS of animal books, almost no sports books).  My second step is to utilize the school library more–I’m planning to require that my students check out two books per week, and one needs to be nonfiction.  The school library also needs some work on building better nonfiction, but we started that last year and hopefully will continue this year.  My third step is to start buying more informational text within my grade levels, and this will involve both books and magazines.  This will be a slow process, but it helps that I agree with the push for more work with informational text as an important component to college and career readiness.

One nice thing about how Calkins, Ehrenworth and Lehman interpret the CCSS for reading is the emphasis they put on what they call “eyes-on-print” or protected reading time of at least 45 minutes per day.  Protected reading time as a major catalyst toward growth in reading has been proven time and again.  When useful assessment and strategic instruction and coaching are combined with a priority on independent reading, good things result for kids.  My district has, knowingly or maybe not knowingly, pushed for more and more instructional time in ELA (additional fluency instruction and RtI for all students, etc.), and I’ve really struggled with this approach.  I’m hoping we as a teaching/learning community will embrace something that Pathways states on p. 29: “The Common Core’s emphasis on high-level comprehension skills calls for a reversal of NCLB’s focus on decoding and low-level literacy skills.”

The shifts in instruction come down to creating proficient readers who are able to give “academic, text-based response” to what they read.  I feel like this is a shift, but not too tremendous for me.  I’ve always put an emphasis on grounding ideas about text with the text itself.  When I taught fifth grade, I spent a fair amount of time leading students away from “text-self” connections that tended to stray from more valuable text work, and the CCSS seem to back me up in this.  In broad terms, this shift moves me from asking the question “What makes you say that?” to asking the question “What in the text makes you say that?”  This feels like a course correction that may look small, but takes students in a trajectory that ends up being quite a bit different than my previous approach.

I have a lot more thinking to do about the CCSS, but Pathways to the Common Core has helped me to structure that thinking and begin to take more deliberate steps in my instructional transitions.  I’m looking forward to more conversations with colleagues both in my own district and out in the world (like this goodreads forum) about this book and the CCSS.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Brian Ausland
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 22:30:55

    Enjoyed your reflections on shifts occurring in reading domains of CCSS. In CA, our ELA standards and frameworks since 1996 have had almost a 50% split between informational reading and reading for literary analysis and our own state high school exit exam tests both equally…yet our schools have largely focused on literary reading in their English departments in grades 7-12. Therefore, CCSS does not present a huge shift in this capacity for our schools in terms of instructional frameworks, but in terms of operational practice, it could make some waves if English teachers regard the CCSS with more reverence than they afforded our exiting standards.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: