Saturday, September 1, 2012

Common Core State Standards - video introduction series

The message is out in California: get ready for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). They're coming our way. At our staff development meeting this August, our literacy coach (the amazing Jamie Carlson) shared with us a video series from EngageNY introducing the CCSS and it was a very helpful.

New York Education Commissioner John King, David Coleman (one of the authors and vocal proponents of the CCSS) and Kate Gerson (a Senior Fellow with the Regents Research Fund) explain the key aspects of the Common Core standards in depth. Here's the introduction to the Language Arts series:

THE COMMON CORE IN LITERACY: Overview from EngageNY on Vimeo.

I am particularly interested in how our school library programs can support teachers as they engage in shifting their curriculum to meet these new standards and our administrators as they think about steering the whole school in these shifts. Here's a summary of the six main shifts that Coleman outlines:

  1. Reading more informational texts, of increasing complexity K-5
  2. Building subject-specific knowledge through reading and writing 6-12
  3. Staircase of complexity - increasing the level of text difficulty grade-to-grade
  4. Focus on text-based answers - carefully reading the text and drawing on it to support answers
  5. Writing from sources - increasing informational and persuasive writing
  6. Academic vocabulary - not necessarily domain-specific terms, but academic words like subsequent or hypothesis

Coleman sums them up as "reading like a detective, writing like an investigative reporter." I found his description of the balance and transitions between narrative and informational writing very interesting. He did not dismiss the importance of narrative writing for young children - it's crucial that they write about their own experiences. This teaches them to be able to write clearly, develop a strong voice, and understand sequencing of events. But we need to create opportunities for our elementary students to write more informational texts that are persuasive and based on their investigations.

Our library plays a key role in supporting teachers as they help create curriculum to address these new shifts. We are in a position to recommend and find compelling, accessible nonfiction text. One of my biggest concerns is how we help our students move from "browsing" nonfiction to reading longer, more complex narrative or descriptive nonfiction. How can we support our teachers as they explicitly focus on the text features of nonfiction? But more than that, how can we support students wanting to find engaging nonfiction.

I strongly believe that we need to encourage students to choose their own nonfiction to read. We will get more "buy in" if they are able to choose nonfiction on topics they've already developed an interest in. By reading in a comfort area, I hope that students will be able to develop more stamina for reading longer, more complex nonfiction.

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