The Common Core Standards had evoked an enormous wave of debates and discussions when they were presented and implemented. Opinions differed, and the standards themselves were seen either as a challenging, but eventually needed change or as a completely unnecessary edition. Here, I would like to discuss three quotes taken from authors who either supported or disapproved of the new standards.
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The first quote is the following: “The challenge is how to arrange for and implement this kind of professional work with any regularity in the school environment. It is not easy, but not insurmountable if there is leadership, persistence, and patience” (Roskos & Neuman, 2013, p. 473). Although it may seem like a solid idea at first that the new set of reading standards will improve students’ reading skills and learning progress, it does not focus on the teacher’s ability to implement these standards as efficiently as possible. First of all, are these standards actually that effective as they are assumed to be? Why bring additional challenges to classrooms, especially when many teachers and school staff pointed out the weaknesses of the program? On the one hand, this challenge could enrich the teacher’s ability to adapt to changes; moreover, it is also crucial for a teacher to understand how to adjust their students to a new curriculum. On the other hand, why fix something that did not need to be fixed? Strive for efficiency and improvement can lead to catastrophic results. I would not state, however, that the standards are completely unnecessary. Instead, I would argue that leadership and persistence do not always help in challenging situations because of their complexity.
The next quote is retrieved from an article that supports the changes provided in the reading standards: “Because people read more informational texts in college and the workplace, it’s important to become proficient with these texts” (Shanahan, 2013, p. 13). This quote made me realize that the standards might provide an extremely efficient change that has the potential to improve students’ reading skills and teach them how to analyze a text that does not fit in the “classics” category. Although I assume that these texts would bring an additional challenge to students due to their relative complexity, I also have to admit that getting familiar with informational texts at school would prepare me for non-fiction texts that are studied at college or university. However, it is not the only reason why informational texts need to be studied at school. Non-fiction is capable of providing the reader with information that changes your view of the world; your understanding of it cannot ever be complete, but it gets slightly better every time you decide to open a non-fiction book. Therefore, I believe that informational texts can be very valuable to students because despite their complexity they can make the world more comprehensive. Or maybe not always, but this complexity will be perceived as beauty if the right books are chosen.
The third quote was retrieved from the same source as the previous one: “In fact, many of the authorities who recommend informational text are doing so, at least in part, in response to children’s interests in such materials” (Shanahan, 2013, p. 14). This statement is something that critics of the standards often oversee. Furthermore, we tend to diminish students’ interests because we base our assumptions on something that we have studied or learned. However, if there is a demand for non-fiction books and more complicated texts, why should we refuse to acknowledge that it is a good idea to add these texts to curricula?
Not all students will support such an approach, which is fair. However, being familiar with informational texts is more practical than being familiar with fiction texts, simply because adult life often provides complex non-fiction texts that need to be understood. What is more, literary texts are not eliminated from curricula. Thus, students that are interested in fiction texts, and those who prefer non-fiction texts will eventually be satisfied.
Storytelling and Informational Texts
Storytelling is considered to be one of the first hobbies and activities that humans developed; its main point was to transfer information, but since humans did not yet know how to write, the language was the tool that passed information from the sender to the receiver. Newkirk (2012) states that we do not read raw information; instead, we read texts that have their specific dynamic and a plot. I do agree with the author that non-fiction books often do not contain explicitly raw information but rather revolve around a plot. I also believe that textbooks with their graphs and tables can be unsatisfying. Moreover, the narrative is indeed often overlooked as an important part of any story, both fiction and non-fiction. However, a problem of non-fiction texts with a plot is that some of the authors engage in it too deeply, forgetting to provide important details or go off-topic. While the narrative itself can be exciting, if it lacks detail and information, it is most likely that this non-fiction book is not that good.
Another problem with narratives is that they have the power to simplify the topic. It is hard to engage quantitative data into a narrative; that is why many popular non-fiction books are rarely scientific enough, and one cannot trust them fully.
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While the narrative itself is an underrated force, it should not be seen as a panacea. After all, sometimes raw data and lack of story can enrich one more than any excellent plot.
Common Core Standards
In my opinion, the Common Core Standards should be seen neither as a failed program nor as an efficient initiative. Instead, they should be approached like any other project that has its advantages and disadvantages. First, informational texts can positively influence students’ ability to analyze information, which they will need when entering college or university. Second, the general cultural development can also be boosted by these texts, which frequently leads to personal growth. Third, the language and cognitive skills of students will also improve if informational texts are presented correctly. Fourth, as it was already mentioned, some students might be interested in these types of texts more than in literary ones; it is possible to assume that their wish to improve reading skills will be supported by their interest in the topic.
However, there are serious disadvantages to the standards. For example, some of the statements that are supposed to guide teachers lack clarity and coherence. Citing textual evidence to support analysis in 7th grade seems logical; but in the 9th grade, students are expected to cite the best evidence that will support the analysis of the text (Common Core State Standards, 2010). Students may learn to find the best evidence in the 7th grade. Or are teachers supposed to teach them how to find any evidence? Applebee (2013) states that “nobody is going to wait until grade 9 to suggest that students select the best evidence to support their point” (p. 28). The grade-by-grade rubric was designed to provide specific instructions, but it only brings additional challenges.
Although these standards seem to be undeveloped and a little obscure, they have the potential to improve students’ performance and teachers’ ability to be a leader. In this aspect, the standards do fit my philosophy; after all, schools exist to teach and develop, and teachers are the leaders that can encourage this development. Nevertheless, I would approach new assessment models with little optimism. Instead of focusing on the content of the curricula (already changed by informational texts), teachers will have to pay much of their attention to assessment forms and models to ensure that students are capable of completing these new tests. Studying for the sake of good performance and statistics is usually inefficient and unreasonable; moreover, it does not bring much joy to students as well.
The standards, although approved by many, still seem to be too vague to follow; the assessment models present a danger to specialized knowledge that will be ignored by schools because preparations for tests will require time and effort. Thus, although at its core the standards aimed to improve the learning process at schools, they have created additional problems that are not easy to overcome.
Applebee, A. N. (2013). Common Core State Standards: The promise and the peril in a national palimpsest. English Journal, 103(1), p. 25-33.
Common Core State Standards. (2010). English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Web.
Newkirk, T. (2012). How we really comprehend nonfiction. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 29-32.
Roskos, K., & Neuman, S. B. (2013). Common Core, commonplaces, and community in teaching reading. The Reading Teacher, 66(6), 469-473.
Shanahan, T. (2013). You want me to read what?! Educational Leadership, 71(3), 10-15.