The Jens

The Jens
jen b & Jen P

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blogging my way through the CCSS

From the CCSS Introduction, p.3

The Standards set requirements not only for English language arts (ELA) but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Just as students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields. It is important to note that the 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them. States may incorporate these standards into their standards for those subjects or adopt them as content area literacy standards.

As a natural outgrowth of meeting the charge to define college and career readiness, the Standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wide applicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally. They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short, students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.

My initial thoughts: Wow! This is an ambitious undertaking!  This vision of a literate person is far beyond where many people are now, beyond what currently passes for literate. What might society look like if we actually achieved a population that actively seeks the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews? How would our political debates change if everyone could reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence?

I love that college and career readiness are part of the name of the standards and that this is the ultimate goal, but boy, we sure have a lot to do to get all students to reach that goal. And I love the emphasis placed on using high quality literary and informational texts that build knowledge, and demonstrating cogent reasoning and the use of evidence. Thinking about how this changes my daily practice is a little daunting.

Okay, rather than get bogged down in the enormity of that, I’ll focus on the top paragraph…

What I particularly like is that the CCSS share the burden (opportunity?) of teaching literacy skills –it isn’t just the responsibility of English/Language Arts teachers. The CCSS explicitly state that social studies, science, and technical subjects all are required to help students learn to read and write.

I’m guessing that a few social studies and science teachers will grumble about how teaching reading and writing skills belongs in English and not their disciplines; others may feel unprepared to teach reading and writing. And I completely understand the complaint or question of “how will I get it all done?!” But I think that’s where the opportunity is – we now have a clear target of what students should be doing and we have (at least) three disciplines working together to make sure students can hit that target. Teachers from all three disciplines can work together to devise close reading strategies or writing templates. A common vocabulary can be used to describe both the writing process and elements of a particular type of writing. Having everyone focus on the same goals for reading and the same types of writing should make it easier for both teachers and students.

Communication and time to think/plan/implement/reflect together amongst the three disciplines will be crucial. I think it would be a real mistake to expect or encourage English teachers to take the lead in explaining the standards to social studies and science – all three disciplines should work through the standards together. I think it would be important to keep the three disciplines on the same page, rather than letting each group decide how to implement the standards:
·      After reading the standards and seeing how the ELA standards are connected to the literacy standards for social studies and science/technical subjects, where do our students need the most help? Close reading skills? Writing skills? That might be a starting point for implementation.
·      Setting a progression for the types of writing. Maybe English starts with inform-explain writing the first quarter and social studies and science pick it up the second quarter. Or everyone starts with inform-explain and then moves together to argument. Hey, how about a school-wide writing bootcamp!
·      Assessing writing together with a rubric shared by all three disciplines. Norming papers together would be fascinating and so helpful! I think this would be really eye-opening.
·      Determining a common vocabulary. Not that all teachers have to teach lock-step together, but it would be so helpful for students if we could all agree to the same terms so they wouldn’t have to call it a concession in one class and a counterargument in another, for example.

I’m excited by this opportunity for collaboration – much to learn, but not as daunting when I realize there will be many teachers working towards the same goal.
~Jen P

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