Monday, June 10, 2013

Teaching with the Common Core Standards- Book Club Post #1

Welcome friends, to the first post in a summer professional development blog book club! WOW! That was a really long title. 

If you are new, you can read more about what our goals are and such by clicking HERE. Regardless of how you came to be here, I hope you will read over the post and share your thought/ideas/counter-arguments in the comments section below. Also keep in mind that each host will present the information in the format that best fits their writing style. :)

Also, a reminder here, instead of at the end so I don't interrupt your thoughts after you have read and put your thoughts together for your response/discussion. Chapter 2 will be posted next Monday (6/17) over at Teaching to Inspire in 5th. 

Teaching to Inspire in 5th

Jennifer Findley will be the host for that discussion. 

Let's get started. I can't wait to "hear" what you have to say about this eye-opening, head-shaking chapter.

I can tell you that after the first few paragraphs, I felt like I was back in my master's classes reading those crazy textbooks. I was worried that I had selected a bummer book and everyone would hate it. I kept reading, and I was rewarded. Underneath the often 'academic' vocabulary, lies some real gems of insight and knowledge.

My format for this chapter will be:
-Give a brief summary (for those who don't have the book and to refresh the memory of those are are reading along)
-Quotes of Interest (quotes, thoughts, sentences, and paragraphs that stood out in my mind)
-Questions/Thoughts for discussion (If you will copy and paste the question in the comment section, then all the replies will be under that question/topic. OR, start a topic of your own and those making comments can use the "reply" link to keep ideas together. Hope that made sense)


In chapter 1, P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert give an overview of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). A history of how the standards came into existence is explained.

Next, they move on to explain the four major differences in the CCSS from other reforms/movements. 
These are:
1) Close and Critical Reading
2) Integration of Language Processes and Disciplinary Content
3) Media/Research Literacy
4) Text Complexity

Close and Critical Reading-
  • The phrase "close reading" has been around for a long time. One point that was made clear is that the outcomes of close reading are NOT appreciating the text structure and the author's craft. It is simply knowledge. 
  • Close reading is meant to occur both within and across texts.
  • Multicultural contributions and perspectives in literature are not diminished or eroded as a "cost" of implementing close reading.
    • We read closely to acquire knowledge, we gain knowledge, and we gain knowledge by connecting it to what we know, so we must know about something before we can "close read" to gain the knowledge. 
    • Two major points must be understood to help students gain knowledge and insight from reading:
      • 1) We as teachers need to help students set a purpose for reading and making connections in the reading that is done.
      • 2) Students must be taught and given the opportunity to review key ideas and themes from the literature they are reading.
  • Helping students WATCH their knowledge change and grow is the ultimate goal of close reading.

Integration of Language Processes and Disciplinary Content:
  • The CCSS clearly explain that language arts is no longer a stand alone subject. It should be taught across all disciplines.
  • It is problematic that each discipline has a variation of text structure making it very difficult for students to find consistency between disciplines. 
  • Science tends to lend it self best to cross-curricular instruction. There is much evidence to support this statement.
  • Social studies has had very little study done about cross-curricular instruction due to the fear of backlash about "whose values and whose history is being taught". 
    • A study was conducted using social studies instruction in low-income 2nd grade class. One class received social studies instruction plus comprehension strategy lessons. One class received the standard social studies curriculum, and one class received no social studies instruction.  The classroom that had the "plus" instruction performed as well as the social studies only group, however they scored higher in the reading comprehension component.
    •  For integration to take place changes must happen OUTSIDE the classroom. State departments, districts, and department/school level changes.These changes include:
      • Achieving clarity on major curricular themes
      • Literature/texts/tasks need to be selected with the major themes in mind
      • Starting with science due to the number of research reports and resources available to school. This will provide a model for other disciplines.

Research and Media:
  • Our digital-global age makes knowledge available in ways previous generations never dreamed of
  • Students need to be able to be good "consumers" of media (gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on print and nonprint media. 
  • A clear distinction between knowledge acquisition and knowledge communication is not clearly explained in the CCSS.
  • There are currently very limited resources to help educators teach/understand the goal of the CCSS in this area.
  • Project-Based learning is the hot-button issue that is being quoted as a solution in helping students achieve proficiency in this area of the CCSS.
    • Two suggested ways to support media and research proficiencies include:
      • Support students in using multiple resources to answer compelling questions
      • Teach students to organize information that is learned and to develop a way to share that information with others

Text Complexity:
  • Students are expected to read more complex texts that their past peers.
  • More rigorous reading standards have been implemented starting in 2nd grade in the hopes that in 5-6 years, high school seniors will be able to read college level texts.
  • The writers of the CCSS promised multiple ways to measure text complexity, yet only one source has been provided at this time- the Lexile framework.
  • The grade by grade staircase of expected proficiency set the CCSS apart from previous documents.
  • There are two major assumptions in the CCSS regarding text complexity and the research to support the ramp-up on reading levels. These are:
    • The reading ramp-up trajectory itself
    • expectations about struggling readers
      • Mainly, if they are having a hard time reading at the current levels, how will they ever keep up when asked to read ever harder texts
  • There are not many texts currently aligned to the new grade band reading requirements
  • Teachers need to work hard and find appropriate texts that fit in their new reading complexity reading band.
    • Guidelines for three groups are given:
      • State/District Level:
        • Reading Programs/Texts are generally chosen at this level. This choice will affect the ability of teachers to use those programs to effectively teach text complexity.
      • School Level:
        • Realize that the exemplar texts outlined in the CCSS are listed without reason as to why they are listed or what makes them fit the complexity criteria. Thus teachers must select texts that will provide anchor points during the year (quarter/semester) in the grade or grade band.
      • Classroom Level:
        • Help students understand and appreciate the vocabulary in fictional and information texts and how they differ.
        • Allow students to pursue topics that interest them
        • Ensure that students read more (volume) and longer (stamina)

The rest of this chapter was devoted to sharing the conundrums, dilemmas, and unanswered questions created by the CCSS.

-Upping the Ante on Text Complexity
  • The CCSS specifically wants higher reading levels for each grade starting in grade 2. However, how can we expect struggling readers to want to try harder just because we raise the standard.
    • Same problem happened in 1990 when standards movement came to be. It was believed that "if we make it harder, teachers, students, and schools will rise to meet the challenge".  It didn't work. A missing component had to be added, professional development for teachers, which came at a huge price tag.
  • Increased reading levels will not come with out teacher scaffolding and training in knowledge of text and language.

-We Already Do That!
  • A common response to change is to align the change to what we already do and then state that we "are already doing that". This is a dangerous attitude in regards the the CCSS. If a state lines up the CCSS with their current Language Arts curriculum, they will be tempted to say they are meeting most if not all the goals. States must study the "logic" of the CCSS. They will find an integration component that is present in few, if any, current curricula of any state.

-Bait and Switch
  • The CCSS recently published a "Publishers Criteria" which causing alarm among some. The criteria given to the publishers diminishes the "promised" freedom at the local level on what texts, etc. to use. This causes a promise of local control in the CCSS, and then takes it away in the Publishers Criteria.

  • The tests seem to end up being more important than the material they were designed to measure.
  • The fear that teaching to the test will continue or increase as the consequences for poor scores becomes more and more heightened. 
  • "Test score pollution"  (an increase or decrease in a student's score without any accompanying learning due to 'test prep') is a major concern.
  • Simple Multiple-choice tests will not be enough to measure the CCSS requirements. It will take constructed response and performance tasks to really show understanding and help eliminate "teaching to the test" mentality.


(p. 2) "...the CCSS are not intended to define all that can or should be taught; the standards are not intended to be a curriculum..."

(p. 3) "...the CCSS provide a core set of expectations and intentionally leave much to districts, schools, and teacher to figure out for themselves..."

(p. 7) "Despite its emphasis on disciplinary knowledge, the CCSS, have not necessarily done a better job of identifying the content of literature than previous documents or, for that matter, literature anthologies available in the marketplace. In emphasizing disciplinary knowledge, however, the CCSS ope the way for educators to attend to the critical content that is part of the disciplines, including the humanities"

(p. 9) "For most teachers, project-based learning will be a challenging venture."

(p.11) "Regarding the plight of struggling readers, what makes us think that the current population of struggling readers, for whom  the goal of grade-level texts is elusive, will suddenly master texts that far outstrip their reading level just because we have asked them to try harder?"

(p. 12) "Even the chance to select from among two or three texts can increase student' engagement as readers"

(p. 13) "The validity and efficacy of the CCSS, as with all previous standards efforts, will depend not so much on the goals they promote but on the degree to which they are implemented in a way that supports and defines excellence, so that they actually do promote more equitable achievement rather than just provide another opportunity for us to demonstrate to ourselves what we have known for all too long: that we, as a profession and a nation, are much better at advancing the achievement of those students least in heed of our help."

(p. 17) "We believe that it is the stakes that attached to a test, not its content or format, that propel the counterproductive teaching-to-the-test syndrome that we all complain about but continue to enact annually in our schools."


(Each of these has been posted as an individual comment. If/when you see a discussion point you would like to respond too, Or, to see the current dialogue taking place, click on the COMMENTS link at the bottom of the this post. I would love to have you join in the discussion, even if you didn't read the book/chapter!)
  • What is your reaction to the challenges surrounding text complexity, which seems to be the single biggest issue brought out in this chapter?
  • Do you agree with the authors that students are poor consumers of digital and print media? Why or why not? Examples?
  • What are your thoughts about how to strengthen students ability to better integrate print and nonprint sources of information.
  • Do you think that districts and schools will have a chance to really put their own "signature" (p. 3) on the CCSS in relation to their own needs?
  • What are your feelings about those struggling readers that now must read harder and more complex texts?
  • What are your thoughts about finding grade appropriate texts that match the new, more rigorous reading levels?
  • What is your understanding of your states view of the CCSS? Do they view them as the curriculum or simply a guide to help better teach the current content?
  • Did you learn anything new about the CCSS from this section?
  • Other thoughts/points/questions to discuss?
As you respond to these questions, please use the "reply" link so that all discussion around a particular point are grouped together. If you are addressing a particular comment/person, please use the "@" symbol and the persons name so they know you are responding to them, if needed. 

Also, please kindly remember that we are all professionals with different ideas, views, and opinions. Please be respectful in your discussions. It's okay to disagree, but it is not okay to use vulgar or disrespectful language. And now...


(Don't forget to use those social media buttons- let's get as many teacher voices as possible involved in this dialogue about best practices surrounding the Language Arts portion of the common core!)


  1. What is your reaction to the challenges surrounding text complexity, which seems to be the single biggest issue brought out in this chapter?

    1. I wonder what this means for Fountas and Pinnell guided reading. I read in my Close Reading book that CCSS was moving away from guided reading and more towards every student is expecting to encounter and struggle with grade level text. I had 12 kids last year that read on a 3rd grade level in 5th grade. I used texts at their level for guided reading last year. They showed growth but are still not on grade level. This happens every year. The kids grow, but never catch up. If I would have made them grapple with grade level text more would it have made a difference?

    2. @Jennifer F.
      I highly doubt it, and, I am pretty sure it would have dropped them further behind. I see it every year in my 6th grade classroom. Students are low readers, try to read bigger books like their classmates, and drop in their reading. They won't believe me when I tell them it will happen, they have to try it out for themselves.

      They finally decide that reading too hard of books makes no sense. So, they accept that they are reading at a lower level, and then their reading skills jump.

      I too worry about the F&P Guided reading, especially since my ENTIRE 5000 BOOK LIBRARY is based on it. Sigh...

    3. @Jennifer F.- Definitely don't drop your leveled reading groups. Last year I taught EIP, and those are the kiddos who are below grade level. I still used leveled texts that were on their instructional level, and I also pulled in texts that were grade level, which meant those texts were too hard for them. But while they read their leveled texts, I read the higher level text to them. They each had their own copy or I put it on our Activboard so they could follow along and have a reference for when they answered the questions I posed to them. I was amazed when they were able to give me great answers to the higher level text. But if I had made them try to read through it, they never would have been able to comprehend.

      I think that blending the two is very important: leveled texts and the "grade level" texts. I use their level text to teach/work on certain skills: cause & effect, main idea, etc. Yes, they certainly need to be exposed to the grade level text, especially when they will have to read it on the state tests, but at the same time, providing texts on their level will boost their confidence and helps them become better readers. I think that expecting ALL kids to be reading on grade level just isn't realistic when you have kids who come in 2,3, and sometimes 4 years below grade level. I was very pleased with how my kiddos did on our state tests this year after using both their level text and the harder text. You just have to give them more support with the harder text so they don't struggle and get discouraged.

      I think that as teachers, we have to figure out the balance in our classroom of leveled text vs. grade level text and then scaffold to help our students on the harder grade level text.

    4. @John and Heather, I will definitely keep meeting them were they are. And we always spent a day or two each week on a grade level text, but I like how you called it "blending." That sounds nice to me! And my kids showed huge growth on the state test in ELA this year and last year. I just feel so bad that even though they grow a year's worth of levels or more, they are still behind! I wish I could keep some of the kids for two or more years!

    5. @Jennifer- I know what you mean about wishing you could keep them longer! For me I think realistically I have to realize that a year's growth is what I will see out of them at a minimum, and of course anything beyond that is gravy. I agree, though, it is so frustrating when even sometimes a 3 year growth STILL isn't enough to get them on grade level! But imagine if every teacher was highly trained in reading and implements a blended model of instruction of guided/leveled reading texts and grade level close reading texts.....hmmmm....maybe I am on to something new! :) We will have to keep the date of this post. Ha ha ha! Love bouncing ideas back and forth with you all :)

    6. For me, text complexity seems to be one of the hardest issues to do. In our county, finances are tight. We do not have the money to purchase multiple novels per grade level for all of the schools. I have brought novels into my classroom and simply read them aloud to my students. I was the only person in the room with a copy of the novel, and I often times wondered how many students hung in there with me. When I am the one reading, it is difficult to constantly make sure everyone seems to be with-it. I definitely think we have to meet the students where they are, and help them progress. I am firm believer that anytime standards are adopted and implemented, the implementation process should begin in the lower grades and work to the upper grades year after year. Then, we are not expecting these students to completely change their thinking and educational foundation when they are in middle and high school. If we start with Kindergarten and implement each year, the students will have the background knowledge and skills they need.

      I have found that we generally adopt and/or change standards about every five years. Hopefully, with the Common Core, we can keep it around long enough to see it work.

  2. Do you agree with the authors that students are poor consumers of digital and print media? Why or why not? Examples?

    1. I think I have to agree. I think more emphasis has been put on reading comprehension of a single text, not connecting multiple texts on a higher thinking level, and not synthesizing information from a variety of resources. I think research projects are a good start, but often students will use a couple of resources to gather a list of facts, and then present those facts in some manner. We need to get our students to think about what they are reading, decide if it is from a reliable source, and how that information fits with other information they have gathered. It's moving kids away from copying facts to really putting it into their own words and thoughts. It is definitely going to be difficult!
      On a related note of students determining if a source is reliable, often times students think if it is on the Internet then it must be true! As adults we know this isn't the case. I took a poll of my 3rd graders to see if they thought information on the Internet was true, and of course they did. So I gave my 3rd graders a project to research the elusive tree octopus.....common sense had them saying there is no way an octopus can live in a tree, but after 10 minutes of reading the website, they were believers :) It was a great teaching moment.

    2. @Heather-
      Ha ha! I agree with you. I was working with my writing classes (grades 4-6) and we were talking about the internet. Many of my students also believed that if it was on-line it was true. I showed this clip: We laugh and then talk about what the internet is, how pages are made, and then ways to be good consumers of digital media.

      It is a skill that is NOT part of their way of thinking. That is the scary part of this digital generation- all play and very little thinking about content.

      I have a HUGE job ahead of me this year teaching digital media literacy!

  3. What are your thoughts about how to strengthen students ability to better integrate print and nonprint sources of information.

    1. I think that students just need to have LOTS of practice. I tend to find myself assuming that my students have more skills that then really do, simply because they are the "digital" generation.

      It is something that I am working on constantly and always looking for new ways to teach this concept. I have found the students want to just "do" without thinking about it.

    2. @Mr. Hughes. I agree that I make a lot of assumptions that the students know more than they actually do when it comes to print and nonprint sources of information. I am hoping that over the next couple of years, we can instill a better work ethic in our students. Over the past several years, I have seen a decline in the amount of effort the students are willing to put into their education. They tend to want you to just tell them how to do it, without having to think through the process.

  4. Do you think that districts and schools will have a chance to really put their own "signature" (p. 3) on the CCSS in relation to their own needs?

    1. This is a tricky one. I think that most districts and schools are still trying to grasp all that CCSS entails. I think the way the CCSS are structured, it is hard to find time to really add to the what is already required of the teachers and students right now. More emphasis definitely needs to be placed on writing with support for one's ideas. Citing evidence and text complexity are very big components of the CCSS. I think that it will be a while before districts and schools move in the direction of putting their own signature on the CCSS.

  5. What are your feelings about those struggling readers that now must read harder and more complex texts?

    1. One word...nervous! As a teacher, I feel very nervous introducing harder and more complex texts to my struggling students. I want them to succeed. Their progress takes time, but if we can build their confidence level up, then we can slowly introduce more complex texts to them. I just do not want them to become so overwhelmed that they completely shut down and are unable to make adequate progress.

    2. @Right Down the Middle- I couldn't agree more. I think about my students who were struggling, and even my on-level readers, that don't find reading "entertaining". This technology based generation is a interesting puzzle to solve. I still believe there is ONE book that will get kids hooked on reading. Hence the reason I keep on buying more and more books. You never know which one will be the one to get them hooked!

  6. What are your thoughts about finding grade appropriate texts that match the new, more rigorous reading levels?

    1. This is the one that concerns me the most. I have many, many books at the right "level", but the content of a majority of those books is NOT appropriate for 6th graders. Granted, in today's world, where many of my students are watching rated R movies and such, it wouldn't shock them too much, but I don't feel comfortable having them read books with strong language, etc. I hope publishers and authors will step up and help us have good quality reading materials that are a step up all the way around!

    2. @Mr. Hughes- I feel the same way! When I taught 3rd grade 2 years ago, I had students who were reading on a Fountas and PInnell level Z, which is middle school. I had a HUGE issue with finding books that were on their reading level but appropriate content for them. They needed that challenge, but there were so few books that I felt were OK for them to read.
      I agree in hoping that there will be more authors who begin to write more rigorous level texts at an appropriate level for younger kids.

    3. Yes, this one scares me, too. I read as many new books that come out as I can. I am always on the lookout for new, more complex texts that are age appropriate. This is a hard task.

  7. What is your understanding of your states view of the CCSS? Do they view them as the curriculum or simply a guide to help better teach the current content?

  8. Did you learn anything new about the CCSS from this section?

  9. Other thoughts/points/questions to discuss?

  10. What are your feelings about those struggling readers that now must read harder and more complex texts? As a first grade teacher knowing what will now be expected of 2nd graders is very troubling. Lesrning how to read is developmental and does not occur in cookie cutter shapes. Remember when you were in college and had to take child development classes? There are clinical reasons to how the brain acquires reading skills, knowledge and social skills. Just because ccss wants early elementary to be more "rigorous" doesn't mean its age or developmentally appropriate. For example, My son just turned 7 yesterday and will be going to 2nd grade. Many of his peers are a full 10 months older due to the cut off date for our district. This puts him at a disadvantage when being compared to his peers because many are actually more advanced simply because they are a year older.

    1. @Jessica-
      I 100% agree. These are the things that are making teaching nearly impossible...ha ha. We can't magically make a student that is not ready to be a reader, read. Developmentally designed curriculum is a thing of the past. Now it is a race to be the best, regardless of the cost. It will come back to haunt us sooner than later when every school is "failing" to create readers and writing. And since writing is a higher form of reading, both concepts will suffer.

  11. Hey Mr. Hughes!! This is Ted Edinger from Art With Mr. E! I saw you pinned my TREES from VBS. :) So I was checkin out your you got a lot of kids!! ha ha I guess I shouldn't stress over my 2! :) Looks like you are doing awesome stuff!! Keep up the great work man. Teaching is a calling...not just a job.

    1. Hey Mr. E-
      I LOVE those trees! THEY ROCK. Well, actually, so does your blog and art lessons. I am far from an artist, but I have found some fun and engaging activities on your blog that I tried with my 6th graders last year. They really enjoyed the projects.

      I agree about the calling vs. job! Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope we get to interact more in the future.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts...

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