Breaking Down A Common Core English Lesson
If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably heard a lot about the new Common Core standards recently implemented in our public schools.
If you live in England, some of the guidelines sound similar to what Michael Gove is doing in regards to cutting American literature.
Anyway, we’ve talked about the Common Core on here before, but I’ve never truly understood what it means in terms of books, literature and English. Most of what you see out there are some kooky math problems, but nothing about English requirements.
That is until the NPR released this fascinating piece about English requirements in Common Core.
The article walks you through the 3 main points in Common Core’s reading requirements. 1) They need to be complex enough for incoming freshman. 2) They need to fit somewhere within the canon. More recent is good too. And 3) The literature selections need to be diverse.
The NPR piece then goes on to describe what a typical lesson might look like:
First the teacher reads an excerpt of the story aloud. “There is an orientation aspect,” says Gerson. “We’re going to do this new thing” — understand vocabulary in context, cite textual evidence — “and we’re going to get smarter at it as the year goes on.”
Then, students turn to individual close reading. They are told to reread sections and draw boxes around unfamiliar words. They write the definition of new words on Post-It notes. Forty percent of the class time — the biggest chunk of the lesson — is spent this way. This is crucial, Gerson says: “The biggest change [with the Core] is that we as teachers must get smarter about how to construct learning experiences where students are doing more work than we are.”
Speaking from her own experience as an English teacher, she said, the tendency all too often has been to instead spend class time “performing” literature — spelling out the subtext, defining tough words before students have a chance to puzzle over them, and advertising key plot points like the voiceover on a Bravo reality show.
Introducing the standards will ideally refocus English class. “The goal has moved from getting the salient points in the narrative to getting better at reading,” says Gerson.
The NPR piece also discusses the “Hermione Granger Syndrome”–that being the tendency of teachers to discuss a book with only 3 or 4 of the more outspoken students in the class.
The problem for English high school teachers, though, is that reading levels are all over the place. As NPR reports, a recent survey of 20,000 teachers showed that 73% of teachers have students whose reading levels spanned four or more grades. That’s tough. Are you bringing down high-performing students by catering more to the under-performing students?
Tough questions. I’m glad I’m not the administrators who have to answer them.
If you care about Common Core at all, I’d encourage you to read this article and share your thoughts.