Last week I dinged that video for claiming that close reading is a teaching technique (it's an approach to reading). I was critical of the idea that close reading helps students “conquer complex text,” if that includes language complexity as measured by Lexiles. I didn’t like the idea of reading the book to the kids; I’m a fan of reading texts to kids (see recent NewYork Times article on this), but not the texts the kids are supposed to be reading. Finally, I didn’t like how rereading was being approached. Here is the rest of my thinking about this lesson. Hope it’s useful to you.
One notion of academic language was that it was any text language (formal book language versus informal oral language). A second conception also separates oral language and text language, but it also sets aside the specialized terminology that belongs to particular disciplines. In that view, words like rhombus and mytosis would be too specialized to deserve much instructional attention. A third conception is that academic vocabulary are the words used to teach and assess, and a fourth is the language that labels the essential content of the various disciplines.
I’ve been receiving queries about the CCSS from teachers, principals, and consultants trying to figure out the standards. They don’t always like my responses—in fact, some have argued back that I must be wrong. I’m not (he said, modestly).
"Close reading" is a colloquial term used by scholars in several fields of study. Prior to its re-emergence as a big idea since Common Core has lionized it, Cyndie Shanahan and I did a study with mathematicians, historians, and chemists. Several of these disciplinary experts mentioned close reading, though they clearly didn't all mean the same thing. Only in literature or, more exactly, literary criticism, is close reading used as a term of art.
It seems the test is automatically biased towards wealthier schools with more technology, technology teachers, and parents that buy technology for the children as "toys". How can we be sure that PARCC is assessing their reading and math, not their technology skills? Also, how can we help prepare our students for the types of technology skills they will be required to perform with PARCC?
It seems that there is a lot of conflicting information coming out about accuracy and complex text. In the April edition of The Reading Teacher, Richard Allington wrote an article pertaining to struggling readers. In this article he says that there are studies showing the benefits to teaching children using text where their accuracy is high. Our district just raised the running record accuracy rate expectation to 95-98% accuracy based on the current research. Yet, your blog postings pull in the opposite direction. How do teachers know what is right and what is wrong? After all, teachers want to do what is best and most effective towards student learning.
This question came in from a reader asking specifically about some units proposed by the Education Department in Louisiana. I'm sharing my response with everyone because I think the confusion in Louisiana is general across the nation.
Deb Gardner's insight:
Spot on, Dr. Shanahan!
My biggest take-aways:
Fewer standards will give you greater purchase on the entire set.
While I don’t think it makes sense to try to instantiate each of the 10 comprehension items every time students read, it might make sense to instantiate at least one standard from each category during a close reading
Which standards to address will vary from text-to-text. But this variation should not be linked to some pacing guide or curriculum guidance. It should be linked to the specific texts or tasks students are engaged with. Individual standards will match better with some texts or reading circumstances.
Common Core advocates make a big deal out of the idea that questions should be text dependent. This means you shouldn’t be able to answer a question without reading the text. By all means ask questions that require reading.
However, this is a very low standard. Many text dependent questions simply aren’t worth asking.
Not surprisingly my entry about the PARCC decision to read the reading test to some students received a big response from readers. Some notes from parents of special education students were wonderfully supportive (though they struggled to be because they are torn by the issue--both wanting their kids to forego these tests and wanting them to experience full inclusion including taking these tests). Those letters were not posted to my site and given their personal nature I'm not putting them up here either.
Teachers, who otherwise are supportive of the common core, often ask me if I think it is fair that they be evaluated on the basis of test scores from tests they have never seen and on content that they are just starting to teach--often without a lot of supporting materials or professional development.
In fact, that most recently happened on Friday when I was in Franklin, TN.
I always give pretty much the same answer. I don't believe the test-based teacher evaluation schemes are ready for prime time, if it were my choice, we wouldn't make this many big changes at the same time, etc.
Today the New York Times issued an editorial along the same lines that you might find helpful.
Indiana is the first state to withdraw from the common core state standards. Previously, there were four states that had not adopted the standards, but of those that had done so, Indiana is the first to back down. Technically, they have only “suspended” their CCSS efforts for further study so it is possible that this will just be a delay and not an actual withdrawal, but the politics around this in Indiana suggest that this may be the beginning of the end of CCSS there.
Deb Gardner's insight:
This Hoosier, agrees with Tim Shanahan's comments "That makes this concern more of a political wedge issue than an education concern. "
Where does the author fit in common core text interpretations? Should students think about authors or is this verboten?
Deb Gardner's insight:
At the end of the day Tim Shanahan asserts: The author’s words need to be central to our focus on the text, but not to the point of being either dismissive of the intentions of the author or foolish about what we can validly conclude about a text. A little common sense is going to be needed with this aspect of the common core.
Yes, we should teach reading comprehension strategies, even to good readers. But we should do so in an environment that emphasizes the value of knowledge and understanding, and that requires students to confront genuine intellectual challenges. Those disciplinary literacy strategies touted in my last entry seem to have motivation built in: trying to connect the graphics and the prose in science to figure out how a process works; or judging the veracity of multiple documents in history; or determining which protagonist an author is most sympathetic to in literature tend to be more purposeful and intellectually engaging than turning headers into questions or summarizing the author’s message.
The Daily Five establishes a very low standard for teaching by emphasizing activities over outcomes, and by not specifying quality or difficulty levels for student performances. Teachers can successfully fulfill the Daily Five specifications without necessarily reaching, or even addressing, the standards.
Perhaps, teachers could animate the Daily Five framework with goals and proficiency standards from the common core. I think any of the activities could be stretched or shaped to somehow address the core standards. And, yet, I wonder if it’s worth the extra time this represents. What does it add?
The reason why I challenged close reading with young children is because of the lack of depth of appropriate texts for them to read. Close reading requires a deep or analytical reading that considers not just what a text says, but how it works as a text (e.g., examining layers of meaning, recognizing the effectiveness of literary devices, interpreting symbolism). Beginning reading texts simply lack this depth of meaning (or are usually too hard for kids to read).
Lexiles and other readability measures are criticized these days about as much as Congress. But unlike Congress they don’t deserve it. Everyone knows Grapes of Wrath is harder to read than predicted. But for every book with a hinky readability score many others are placed just right. These formulas certainly are not perfect, but they are easy to use and they make more accurate guesses than we can without them. So what’s the problem?
We're now in the implementation season, and things have heated up a bit, but the main arguments against the standards are more about issues like federalism, test policy, President Obama's education preferences, data mining, and so on (Strauss, 2013). Such complaints do not say much about whether these standards are any good.
But there has been one kind of criticism leveled against the new mandates—and it targets informational text. The new standards have asked for big increases in rigor and the level of instruction in reading, added prominence to a literary canon, proposed a shift from an emphasis on personal writing to one on academic writing, expanded literacy teaching into the disciplines of history and science, promoted deeper analysis of the ideas and arguments in texts, and placed a new emphasis on inquiry and 21st century research tools (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices [NGA] & Council of Chief State Schools Officers [CCSSO], 2010). Despite all those momentous changes, the major grumbles have been aimed at the fact that the standards encourage more reading of informational text at school.
Recently, School Achievement Partners, the nonprofit created by the authors of the Common Core standards (CCSS), featured a set of “model” close-reading lessons focused on the Gettysburg Address that were initially published in 2011.
The backlash against the approach to close reading outlined in the Gettysburg lesson was fast and furious. Are these the kinds of lessons that should be touchstones in American classrooms? Or are they more what you try to ward off by wearing garlic around your neck?
I first heard of the lessons not from an educator but from a Lincoln scholar. (We take Mr. Lincoln seriously here in Illinois). This colleague sent me a link to a recent post published on Valerie Strauss’s The Answer Sheet blogwith a note that said, simply: “I hope the linked story from the Washington Post is inaccurate.”
Strauss’s post focused mainly on the fact that the Gettysburg Address lesson encouraged teachers to read the speech “cold,” without giving students historical context and without engaging in pre-reading. The post suggested that such an approach was “odd” and “baffling.”
Of course, like most things in education and in the increasingly politicized debate over the Common Core, the reality is far more complicated.
These lessons raise at least two important issues about reading instruction and the Common Core. First, whether there is—or should be—a difference between close reading in literature and history; second, what role—if any—pre-reading should play in Common Core–aligned reading instruction.
Deb Gardner's insight:
Tim Shanahan always seems to mete out the key issues at hand without all of the drama. #nodrama #thanksTim
My colleagues have been debating the use of thematic units in the Common Core. Several of them argue that this practice does not fit a "standards based curriculum." They argue that essential questions and enduring understandings need to be specific to the ELA standards. The other side on this debate argues that there must be a purpose and sense of relevancy for the units.
What is your take? How do we ensure that the Common Core standards are rigorous but also relevant?
Deb Gardner's insight:
Helpful explanantion by Tim Shanahan. Gives the "whys" and "why nots"
This has been a very busy summer with lots of projects, research analysis, article writing, and, of course, many presentations around the country. These talks have focused on the shifts or changes required by Common Core, the foundational skills preserved by CCSS in the primary grades, disciplinary literacy, challenging text, and close reading. The Powerpoints from those presentations are all now available at this site.
Because some students suffer from disabilities it is important to provide them with tests that are accessible. No one in their right mind would want blind students tested with traditional print; Braille text is both necessary and appropriate. Similarly, students with severe reading disabilities might be able to perform well on a math test, but only if someone read the directions to them. In other cases, magnification or extended testing times might be needed.
However, there is a long line of research and theory demonstrating important differences in reading and listening. Most studies have found that for children, reading skills are rarely as well developed as listening skills. By eighth grade, the reading skills of proficient readers can usually match their listening skills. However, half the kids who take PARCC won’t have reached eighth grade, and not everyone who is tested will be proficient at reading. Being able to decode and comprehend at the same time is a big issue in reading development.
I have no problem with PARCC transforming their accountability measures into a diagnostic battery—including reading comprehension tests, along with measures of decoding and oral language. But if the point is to find out how well students read, then you have to have them read.
We don’t have to worry about implementing the common core because the states are dropping out?
Actually, no states have dropped out, but a few have talked about it and one (Indiana) has put it on pause to study whether to drop out. Also, Alabama has decided not to be part of either testing consortium. However, these “second thoughts” don’t have anything to do with pedagogical judgments (can we teach these effectively?), kids’ educational needs (are these appropriate for what we want for our own children?), or even the economic needs of our society (how well do students need to read, write or do math to grow our economy?). The disagreements have been about states rights and politics—this isn’t really an issue of deep political concern, but clearly some politicians hope that it will be.
Deb Gardner's insight:
Comments and answers also on the following:
Aren’t non-fiction and informational text the same thing?
Isn’t close reading just highly accurate reading?
My school uses Gates Foundation Units. That means that they are aligned with the Common Core, right?
My correspondent was upset. She was writing because her teaching evaluation had not gone well. She was teaching what was supposed to be a "close reading" lesson and her evaluator thought she had done a terrible job.
The reason she was writing me was because she had modeled her lesson off of my close reading presentation. The supervisor was concerned that she asked too many "right there" questions and not enough higher order ones. The observer was obviously offended that this teacher had not focused heavily enough on issues of craft and structure and critical evaluation. Clearly, somebody was wrong.
Deb Gardner's insight:
Good to start the day's reading with Tim Shanahan. This morning he offers a wake-up call on close reading and pretty much calls it like he sees it. #nomollycoddling
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