• Joanne Jacobs

How Core kids learn reading, writing

Fordham’s Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools looks at how teaching has changed in the Common Core era.

Middle and high school teachers report students are better at citing evidence from the text, a Core priority, the report finds. However, teachers are “more likely to assign texts based on students’ current reading levels—as opposed to their grade levels—contrary to the intent of the standards.”

In addition teachers are assigning fewer classic works of literature — but more nonfiction. Students continue to do more creative rather than evidence-based writing: They struggle to “construct a coherent argument.” Finally, students lack content knowledge.

Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan is not impressed.

Sure, there are more teachers teaching reading with expository text and narrative non-fiction. There has also been an increase in the teaching of vocabulary. And more teachers are asking kids to support their answers with evidence from the texts. (Thank you, CCSS.)

But that was the easy part, he writes.

Are teachers more focused on content writing (that is, having kids write about historical, social, and scientific ideas), or are they having kids write about personal stuff and what they already know? According to the report, teachers have doubled down on the personal at the expense of academic writing. How about reading classical literature (the so-called “literary canon,” whatever that is these days)? Less, not more, according to the survey. How about teaching kids to negotiate the complexity of grade level texts? Even more emphasis, according to the report, on teaching students with relatively easy texts that shouldn’t require much teaching. (Forty-two percent of the teachers were concerned that if you exposed kids to grade level texts, they’d just be discouraged.)

The standards are high, writes Shanahan. But they haven’t been “matched that wisdom with an equal commitment of the energy and resources needed to implement them well.”

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