The development of the Common Core Standards for English, Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Sciences, and Technical Subjects has spurred renewed interest in teaching students to navigate challenging texts. The focus of the standards is on college and career readiness, to aid American students in being successful in earning a degree and in having the skills to be successful in the 21st Century workplace.
I attended training this summer by Doug Buehl (publications) on the development of literacy skills and reading comprehension in the content areas. The Common Core Standards are unique in their development as they were created from grade 12 down, rather that kindergarten up as most standards are developed. Creating them from a completely new perspective will hopefully address the gaps that students have that are preventing them from success in tackling college level texts. The presenter shared several strategies and left us with a copy of his book that contains more strategies for creating scaffolding to enable students to learn to read more challenging materials and really work “with” and “at” a text in one of the content areas.
Every individual has certain types of reading that he/she can be more successful at navigating than others. While elementary teachers train students in the types of skills that all readers use, as in the case of phonetic awareness and sight vocabulary, secondary teachers play a whole different role. We present our students with the reading materials of our discipline and teach them to extrapolate information. We can only do this if they develop strategies, with our help, to activate their prior knowledge and talk through the possible meaning of various components in the text.
Improving reading comprehension
My task over the next school year will be to both learn and also to incorporate more strategies for teaching my students how to comprehend challenging text. Lexile score ranges for the various grades have been ratcheted up to reflect the more rigorous reading required at the college level and in the workforce. More materials are becoming available at the new levels that will allow my students more opportunities to work with and decipher the texts of history and psychology in my classroom.
One interesting activity the presenter used to prepare us to share out with the whole group would work wonderfully with some of the diagnostic manual work my psychology students participate in. The presenter had us read the text with a purpose in mind, and then share with a neighbor the portions we believed we truly understood. This was followed by the full group sharing. The instructor felt that this gave the students the opportunity to rehearse appropriate answers as well as gave the instructor an indication of which students understood which components of the texts, as he circulated around the room listening in on our pair discussions.
Future implications of the common core literacy standards
The full extent to which the new standards will inform and change our practices remains to be seen. If nothing else, we have shifted our perspective to focusing on the needs of the older students as we prepare them for college and career readiness. With this shift, we see a greater responsibility for literacy on the part of the non-English Language Arts specialists in our secondary classrooms. Scaffolding our students as they begin to tackle challenging disciplinary texts and then tapering that support as students experience success must continually drive our instruction if we are to see any real improvement in student learning and literacy.