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Professional Learning

Common Core: Seven Opportunities to Transform English Language Arts Curriculum

December 1, 2011

Brenda Overturf is a member of the International Reading Association's Board of Directors. You can reach her at boverturf[AT]reading[DOT]org.

This is part two of a three-part series that examines the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Part One introduced CCSS and provided context for those new to the standards. Part Two will review the key features that offer opportunities for educators to transform their teaching. In Part Three, we will take a look at how various states are starting to implement the standards.

As educators start to understand and implement the CCSS, many are forming professional learning communities and statewide development teams, as well as regional and national consortiums of state representatives. These efforts are intended to use the standards as the basis for a new curriculum situated within a framework of effective classroom instruction. It is helpful to start by developing an understanding of the following key features as ways in which these standards both challenge current practice and provide opportunities:

1) Interdisciplinary Learning

In the introduction to the CCSS, the authors write, "Part of the motivation behind the interdisciplinary approach to literacy promulgated by the Standards is extensive research establishing the need for college and career ready students to be proficient in reading complex informational text independently in a variety of content areas (p.4)." Throughout the standards, there is a strong emphasis on helping students to build strong content knowledge. The goal is to help students develop expertise not only across reading, writing, speaking and listening, but also in general knowledge and the various disciplines.

2) Argumentation

When writing and reading, persuasion and critical literacy are key factors in how students read and respond to text. Now, the CCSS focus on the concept of argumentation -- leading students to create effective arguments or a position, defend it, write and speak about their ideas, listen to others and ask questions. This includes being able to read a text and evaluate the argument in it, both for reasoning and the evidence provided. The concept is, "Learning to argue and arguing to learn."

3) Text Complexity

Standard 10 refers to the "range, quality and complexity of student reading," a concept which is often referred to as text complexity. Framed within a "grade by grade staircase" for increasing text complexity, the standards emphasize the need for students to be prepared to read and write more complex texts by graduation. The notion of text complexity applies to both the text students read independently and the increased complexity of the texts they learn to write.

4) Text Exemplars

Appendix B provides a list of text exemplars across the grade levels. The examples include stories, poetry, informational texts, read-alouds (K-3), drama (6-12), and informational texts in ELA, history/social studies, and science/mathematics/technical subjects (6-12). These exemplars are not mandated texts but instead are intended to provide insights into text complexity and quality to help educators select similar texts. A key goal is to extend beyond traditional narrative texts to encompass a broader range of text structures, particularly informational texts.

5) Close Reading of Text

Drawing on the text exemplars, students will engage in a "deep reading" of text, often involving re-reading with a goal toward understanding the author's message and making sense of the actual text. Further, the standards emphasize the use of multiple texts, encouraging students to draw connections across texts for interpretation and synthesis.

6) Technology

The use of technology and digital media is embedded throughout the Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening Standards. This aspect includes how to strategically search online and how to integrate that information with offline sources, along with learning uses of technology for communication. With technology quickly changing, this goal also includes the need for students (and likewise educators) to respond to these changes.

Once educators have a sense of these major shifts in expectations, they can start the planning process by developing modules or units for particular grade levels. This planning requires educators to consider these major shifts as they consider texts, writing experiences, content area connections and language goals. These standards provide a "staircase" across the grade levels, so it is important to observe how any particular module fits within a larger framework for what students learn prior to and after a specific time period.

In our next blog, we will share information on how various states are adopting, preparing, collaborating and moving forward on implementing the standards.

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