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.