Let me begin this post by saying that I like the new Common Core standards and think that they can have a profound impact – for the better – on how reading is taught in this country. I am a firm believer that lifting the expectations for student performance and helping students be better readers and writers is a very good thing. Based on what I hear from teachers across the country, I have to say though, that there seems to be a lot of misinformation about what teaching reading will look like as we move to the Common Core. I have even heard high school teachers say that we will now ask kids to read really hard and complex text and if they can’t do it, “oh well….it’s what the standards require.” While the standards do require students, particularly from 4th grade up to “stretch” to read more complex text at higher lexile levels, we will still need to structure our lessons around what we know is effective reading practice. The standards are very clear that while they have set the “bar” high for the outcome of learning, the HOW of instruction is still left to the teacher.
We have never known more about good reading instruction so we must not “miss the boat” when it comes to using what we know works to build strong readers. Beginning readers still need strong phonemic awareness and systematic phonics instruction to become effective decoders during their beginning years. Intermediate readers will still need to practice and practice their reading skills until they are fluent readers. Middle and high school readers must learn to have not only basic comprehension when they read a text but they must also learn to process at the higher levels of comprehension including questioning the content and comparing to multiple perspectives. None of this has changed.
The Common Core standards will require us to use all that we know from research to provide that solid foundation and then build on that to reach even higher levels of performance. That is a tall order all by itself so we must not abandon what we have learned about effective reading instruction over the years. Instead, we must create solid weaves beneath our students so we can take them higher and deeper.