Core Standards start pre-reading debate

Common Core Standards have ignited a debate over pre-reading, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week. A guide for publishers discourages teachers from preparing students for what they’re about to read.

Teachers “should not pre-empt or replace the text by translating its contents for students or telling students what they are going to learn in advance of reading the text,” says David Coleman, one of the writers.

While some teachers believe students need background information to understand what they read, others say teachers are going overboard.

“There is some really bad prereading going on out there,” says Tim Shanahan, an University of Illinois at Chicago education professor who served on a Common Core Standards panel.

As part of his current research, Mr. Shanahan has been viewing scores of videotaped K-3 reading lessons, and a startling portion of them are “atrocious,” he said. In one kindergarten example, the teacher spends 20 minutes preparing children for a six-minute reading.

By the time they actually read the book, “there wasn’t a single shred of an idea in there that the kids didn’t already know,” he said. “What they were learning was that reading [the text] wasn’t really necessary.”

Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, has been trying “embedded nonfiction” as a middle-school literacy coach at Uncommon Schools. In essence, teachers use mid-reading.

Recently, when reading Lily’s Crossing, a novel set in World War II-era New York City, students stopped after a couple of chapters to read an article on the rationing of supplies during that time, he said. They gained additional perspective on events in the novel with other such articles as they went through it.

“Now, the novel makes more sense because you understand about rationing, and the nonfiction article has meaning because you have come to care about Lily and seen it through her experience,” Mr. Lemov said.

Common Core’s controversial publishers’ guide has been revised. Some sections — but not all — are less specific. Critics, who think the standards writers strayed too far into telling teachers how to teach, aren’t likely to be appeased.

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  1. Sometimes pre-reading actiivies are indeed ridiculous (e.g., looking at the picture on the cover and using it to predict what the book will be about–and then making a connection to a movie and to studnts’ personal lives, and on and on,,,

    Cerain kinds of background information can be helpfuil and not in the least distracting. For instance, when teaching The Glass Menagerie, I have given students some informaton on th Great Depression. Of course th play transcends this context, but the context still helps.

    Sometimes it’s necessary. Recently, when teaching Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich, I explained Russian names, especially patronymics. The students would have been confused without this–and this information may help them in the future as well.

    What ever happened to the idea of using good judgment?