Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Six Major Shifts in the Common Core

           Recently I attended the annual MRA (Massachusetts Reading Association) Conference in Sturbridge, and the theme was “Comprehension—Imagine That!”  This two-day event reaffirmed my thinking on many topics (non-fiction and informational texts are good—imagine that!), but it also pushed my understanding of the New Frameworks further.

The keynote speakers were really spectacular.  Tim Rasinski, Shane Templeton, Jeffrey Wilhelm, Thomas Newkirk, and Lori DiGisi all gave me a lot to consider: the importance of songs in classrooms, spelling and etymology as a ticket to vocabulary instruction, wisdom as the goal of teaching, the payoff of slow reading, and how to tackle the CCSS were all great topics.  The talks provided me with so many good books to read over the spring and summer!

One of the other presentations included this handout from the New York State Education Department that really spoke to me in its simplicity.  It narrowed down the whole Common Core discussion to six “shifts.” 


Shift #1: balancing informational and literary texts


Usually, English teachers like teaching literature—novels, short stories, drama, and poetry.  Now, teachers are required to work with their colleagues to ensure that students are more prepared to read non-fiction and informational texts—speeches, essays, textbooks, brochures, advertisements, memoir, etc.  The Common Core does NOT mean that literature is dead.  Literature is alive and well!  We do, however, need to expand our vision of what it means to be “literate.”


Shift #2: knowledge in the disciplines


While students spend their early years learning to read, they need to spend their later years reading to learn.  Content area teachers need to assign more reading in the disciplines and hold students accountable for the content of what they’ve read.  The Common Core reminds us that we are ALL reading teachers first and content teachers second. 


Shift #3: staircase of complexity


In the age of leveled readers, many students built their abilities with increasingly challenging texts, but many were left behind because they were reading texts below grade level.  College texts have stayed the same level of difficulty, while middle and high school texts have become less rigorous.  The Common Core pushes us to keep text complexity high so students are better prepared for college and career literacy.


Shift #4: text-based answers


Simply put, students must be able to point to the text to support their arguments. 


Shift #5: writing from sources


In the Common Core, argument becomes more prevalent than narrative as students get older.  To have a good argument, students must be able to synthesize what they read, pulling together information from multiple sources to supplement their own ideas.


Shift #6: academic vocabulary


Vocabulary: It’s not just for English class anymore.  The stronger their grasp on language commonly found in academic work, the better prepared students will be for higher education.  Teachers should focus on the most important terms in their discipline and help students master them.

This list of six really helped me to focus on some of the key points of the new standards.  These six ideas, along with close study of the green book (it’s not so scary!), can help teachers understand the changes and their implications for improving education.


“Common Core Instructional Shifts.”  engageny.org. New York State Education Department, 01

Aug. 2011.  Web.  17 Apr. 2012.


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