New standards will help kids read, understand

Nobody loves standards (and that’s O.K.), writes Robert Pondiscio. But teachers could come to appreciate Common Core State Standards (CCSS) approach to “turning children into readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers.”

“A student never thanked me for teaching the main idea,” a teacher wrote to me recently. “But many thanked me for teaching them about animal migrations.” CCSS remind us to engage children not just with rote literacy skills work and process writing, but also, and especially, with real content—rich, deep, broad knowledge about the world in which they live. The conventional wisdom has become that CCSS “add nonfiction to the curriculum,” but that’s not right. Common Core restores art, music, history, and literature to the curriculum.

Why did they ever leave? Reading is “domain specific.” You already have to know at least a little bit about the subject—and sometimes a lot about the subject—to understand a text. The same thing is also true about creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. Indeed, nearly all of our most cherished and ambitious goals for schooling are knowledge-dependent. Yet how many times have we heard it said that we need to de-emphasize teaching “mere facts” and focus on skills like critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving? CCSS rescue knowledge from those who would trivialize it, or who simply don’t understand its fundamental role in human cognition.

CCSS calls for “the systematic teaching of explicit phonics skills” and “building knowledge systematically” by choosing texts “around topics or themes that systematically develop the knowledge base of students.”

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  1. There are some (many?) who find thinking so onerous that they’ll do anything to avoid it.  It isn’t nice to push them too hard; in the words of the old joke, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.