COMMON CORE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS (CCSS-ELA), GRADES 2-5: PRACTICAL STRATEGIES
FOR DISTRICTS, SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS
By Dan Rocchio, Ed. D., Professor Emeritus
Adjunct Faculty, Maryville University
Where Should a School District or School Begin?
When deciding where to begin your implementation of the CCSS-ELA, Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman (2012) suggest that each school or district begin by identifying its strengths and then build upon those strengths systemically throughout the school or district. For example, if a district has done a good job of implementing the narrative writing process, and the data indicate that most students are writing at a proficient level, then the district might want to focus initial literacy goals upon the gap between the district writing curriculum and the writing standards of the CCSS (e.g., the focus on opinion/argument and or informative/explanatory writing). There are six key instructional shifts embedded within the CCSS-ELA at the elementary level that districts should consider as they develop an action plan.
- increase the student’s ability to read and write about informational text ( i.e., 50 % literature and 50 % informational) along with an increase in the types of informational texts, including digital texts
- increase student’s ability to read and write about content area texts in science and social studies; the emphasis is twofold; learning how to read history and science, but also learning new content information
- all students ( i.e., including struggling readers) should be given the opportunity and the instruction necessary to critically read texts at the high end of the respective grade level band with appropriate teacher scaffolding; this includes the idea of “close reading” of complex texts
- increase students’ ability to answer-text based questions with evidence from the text
- increase students’ ability to write opinion pieces supported by logical reasoning, facts and details; an increase in this type of writing will produce a greater balance among the three types of writing: narrative, informational, and opinion-oriented
- increase the direct teaching of general academic vocabulary and the technical vocabulary necessary to understand texts in literature, social studies and science
What Literacy Framework Will Help Children of All Reading Levels to Achieve the CCSS-ELA at the Elementary Level?
There are several research-based principles of literacy achievement that each district, school and teacher should consider as they make decisions about a literacy framework that will optimize each student’s achievement of CCSS-ELA.
1. Students learn to read well and write well by having lots of guided opportunities to read and write in school and outside of school. Teachers need lots of authentic texts at a wide range of reading levels and genres, and they need access to them in all content areas. The texts should be related to essential questions and content within units of study (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). These multi-genre and multi-leveled materials can then be used by teachers for read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. Allington (2012) suggests that each district set a volume reading standard of 90 minutes of in-school reading daily, and a volume writing standard of 30-45 minutes of in-school writing daily. These time standards do not include reading or writing activities such as mini-lessons, pre-reading, pre-writing, or conferences. Pearson and Heibert (2012) recommend that teachers help students set and achieve stamina goals in addition to these volume standards.
2. Students need to have the opportunity to make informed choices related to reading and writing. Fisher, Frey, & Lapp (2012) have identified six teaching practices that impact motivation positively. Five of these teaching practices are supported by Guthrie and Humenick (2004) and Guthrie et al. (2009) as noted in Fisher, Frey, and Lapp ( 2012):
· choice in reading materials and activities
· using reading materials that are interesting and relevant to students’ real world problems
· providing texts at the students’ instructional reading level
· collaboration among students in a variety of social interactions including partnerships and small group discussions of readings
· thematic units that teach children key content and strategies
· goal setting and monitoring by students with appropriate modeling and scaffolding by teachers
3. Explicit instruction in reading comprehension, that is modeled and scaffolded appropriately by expert teachers, leads to the improved comprehension of text and to a student’s independent ability to comprehend narrative and informational text. Shanahan et. al (2010) have summarized the research and best practice on this principle in a user-friendly guide published by the Department of Education.
The reading workshop, writing workshop and content area workshop are three instructional frameworks that are consistent with these three basic principles, and thus provide an opportunity for students of all ability levels to achieve the CCSS-ELA. There are several teacher-friendly resources that can help districts and teachers develop and or revise units of study that incorporate these workshop models:
- Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman (2012) have written an excellent source for a book study related to CCSS-ELA at the elementary level
- Units of Study for reading and writing (Calkins, 2010) are available from Heinemann
- Many of the resources in the Units of Study (Calkins) are available free of charge at http://readingandwritingproject.com
What is the Most Challenging and Contentious Instructional Shift that Districts and Teachers Face?
· The close reading of complex texts has engendered controversy among literacy experts writing about CCSS-ELA. The question remains: how do we teach all children to read complex grade-level texts (i.e. literature, science, and social studies) with critical understanding that leads to an increase in a student’s content knowledge and an ability to read grade level texts independently and with proficiency? There are at least two models in the current literature.
o David Coleman (2011), one of the authors of the CCSS, has proposed one model of instruction with his demonstration video using Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail. “ This whole class lesson includes the following steps:
- a cold read by students of the first section of the text without a teacher-developed purpose for reading or pre-reading strategies; the rationale for this lack of pre-reading scaffolding is to determine what students can understand without scaffolding and to develop a culture of students who can tackle close reading without lots of teacher-provided information
- an oral rereading of the first section of the text by the teacher with an emphasis on fluency
- a second reading of the first section by the students and teacher with a teacher-developed set of text dependent questions so that students must use text evidence
- the reading and rereading of each section of the text to determine the major arguments proposed by M.L. King and finally a critique of the content and craft embedded in the letter.
- Coleman finishes the video by noting that this kind of close and slow reading might take 6-8 days of instruction.
o Additional written/and video lessons on close reading that follow this model include
o Most of these sample lessons do not include pre-reading strategies, the teacher modeling of reading strategies, or the gradual release of responsibility framework that would eventually help students to read these complex texts independently and proficiently.
o Coleman and the sources noted above provide no quasi-experimental, classroom-based research studies to support this lesson model
o An alternative model is presented by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2012) in their new book, related articles and videos (Principal Leadership, 2012a and 2012 b). This model is consistent with the research on the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies (Fisher and Frey 2012a) and the prudent use of pre-reading strategies as discussed by Fisher and Frey (2012b) and Shanahan (2012). We need to develop more sample lessons and videos like those published by Fisher and Frey–especially lessons for struggling readers.
o The model proposed by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2012) includes the following steps and is accompanied by the suggestion that teachers use short passages for the teaching of close reading:
- the teacher establishes a brief purpose for reading the text but does not provide a summary of the text nor background information that might take away from the student’s struggle to make sense of the text; in some cases brief background information may be necessary for students to be successful with the an initial reading of the text
- students read the text independently and note words they figured out on their own and ideas that confused them; the teacher carefully observes the difficulties students encounter
- first discussion led by the teacher might include the students sharing what amazed and/or confused them
- using what was learned from the initial discussion, the teacher leads a read aloud and think aloud of the text that models how the teacher figured out main ideas or key vocabulary
- teacher leads another discussion using text dependent questions that focus on the literal, inferential and critical understanding of the text
- teacher asks each student to write about the understandings garnered in the prior discussion
- similar to the Coleman model this lesson involves a lot of rereading and may take several days
o Shanahan (personal communication, June 16, 2012) indicated that Coleman has changed his opinion regarding the lack of pre-reading during the teaching of the close reading lessons with complex text. In his original video-recorded lesson, Coleman does mention that his model lesson is only one way to teach close reading. But given the videos at other sources noted in the references below, it appears that some “experts” have offered Coleman’s lesson as the “preferred model.”
What Practical Steps Can Districts and Teachers Take to Help with Close Reading?
· The teaching of close reading is dependent upon finding text selections (i.e., literature and informational) that teachers can use in developing lessons. Included below is one recommendation for districts, literacy coaches, and teachers :
- Experiment with complex texts using the rubrics in Text Complexity; Raising Rigor in Reading by Fisher, Frey, and Lapp (2012). Teams of teachers need time to read and discuss these texts. As teachers prepare the close reading of these texts, they must consider the quantitative and qualitative factors related to text difficulty in addition to the match between the reader, the task and the text. So teachers need to ask questions such as:
- Do the readers have the background information necessary to makes sense of the text?
- Is the text of interest to the readers so that students will stay engaged and remember the key information?
- What reading strategies can be modeled given the purpose of the reading task and the students’ prior cognitive strategies?
The teaching of these lessons along with appropriate feedback by literacy coaches, and the data analysis of student work samples can eventually lead to the development of model video-recorded lessons that can be shared among teaches in a district. As these lessons are developed and refined, it is crucial that teachers identify the context for these lessons. Model lessons can only be used effectively when the developers carefully explain the conditions surrounding the lesson; these would include the key characteristics of the students, the purpose of the lesson in the context of the unit of study, and the social dynamics of the group.
· Districts and teachers can use the resources of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to inform their work on the close reading of complex texts or other action plans. Missouri is a member of this organization that is developing the assessment package that will be used to assess CCSS.
o Item/task specifications for ELA at all grade levels can be found on this website; these specifications include
- sample items for each standard
- sample passages, the designated grade level band of passages, and how this grade band was determined
- rubrics for writing related standards
As we work together to tackle the challenges presented by the CCSS-ELA, it is important that we keep a sharp focus on the end goal: to help children read, write and talk critically so that they can take part in civil discourse related to key issues (e.g., the development of mental and physical health, a peaceful school, the sustainability of our environment, friendship, equity, preparing oneself for work). Along with parents, it is also our responsibility to help children develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to work and play as responsible citizens in our democracy. I welcome responses on this blog, or please contact me at email@example.com if you wish further information related to this article.
Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Calkins, L. , Ehrenworth M., & Lehman C. (2012). Pathways to the common core: Accelerating achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Coleman, D. (2011). Middle school ELA curriculum video: Close reading of a text: MLK “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Retrieved July 27 from engageny.org/resource/common-core-video-series Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012a). Text complexity. Principal Leadership. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from http://www.nassp.org/tabid/3788/default.aspx?topic=Instructional_Leader_0112
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012b). The perils of preteaching. Retrieved July 27, 2012 from http://www.nassp.org/tabid/3788/default.aspx?topic=Instructional_Leader_0512
Fisher, D, Frey, N. & Lapp, D. (2012). Text complexity: Raising rigor in reading. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.
Fisher, D., Frey, N. & Nelson, J. (2012). Literacy development through sustained professional development. The Reading Teacher. 65. 551-563.
Guthrie, J.T., & Humenick, N.M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle &V. Chhabra (Eds.), The voice of evidence in reading research (pp. 329–354). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Guthrie, J. T., McRae, A., Coddington, C. S., Klauda, S. L., Wigfield, A., & Barbosa, P. (2009). Impacts of comprehensive reading instruction on diverse outcomes of low-achieving and high-achieving readers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 195-214.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010a). Common core state standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved May 26, 2012, from www.corestandards.org/assets/ CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf.
Pearson, P. D. & Heibert, E. (2012). Understanding the common core state standards. In L. Morrow, T. Shanahan, & K. Wixson (Eds). Teaching for the common core standards in the English language arts. Article to be published in this book by Guilford Press.
Shanahan, T. (2012). Practical guidance on pre-reading lessons. Retrieved July 27, 2012 From http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/2012/03/part-2-practical-guidance-on-pre.html.
Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., & Torgesen, J. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from whatworks.ed.gov/publications/practice guides.
Item/Task specifications. Retrieved July 27, 2012 at http://www.smarterbalanced.org/smarter-balanced-assessments/
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Expanded second edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.