The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts place an emphasis on close reading, integration of complex texts, and a deep engagement with text. Students should “read less…more closely. Take opportunities to slow down and reread.” As I sit with a group of English teachers and district leaders to discuss the implications of Six Shifts in English Language Arts, it is interesting to hear their conclusions:
“It’s not about covering material; it is about digging deeply into a text.”
“Not only is this going to be a paradigm shift for teachers but for students.”
“We have over-scaffolded for students and basically handed them everything they need to read a text.”
“We, as teachers, are going to have to spend much more time diving deeper into a text prior to teaching.”
What an exciting time for ELA teachers! As a former English teacher, I remember delving deeply into Literature and passages in order to gain an understanding of why what we were reading mattered. Reading a text because of its beauty, its meaning, its connections to ourselves and our world — these are the reasons we became English teachers! We have all seen Robin Williams’ portrayal of Mr. John Keating in the film Dead Poets Society. Keating did not rush through Shakespeare, Whitman, or Thoreau; he embraced these texts, labored over them, and he made reading complex texts an enlightening, meaningful, almost spiritual experience. So, why are we so afraid to embrace the practice that drove many of us straight into the English classroom?
We experience trepidation because standardized testing has moved us so far from this model of teaching that our students are going to be reluctant to rereading, digging, and grappling with a text. So, as the paradigm shifts, teachers are fighting against the urge to do what has worked for us in the recent past as we have prepared students for EOCs and EOGs. Change is difficult, and the current reality that the new age of assessments will model the expectation that students can read and engage with a complex text and make meaning of something unfamiliar and difficult is a monumental change from bubbling A, B, C, or D.
One thing we have to help students understand is that it is OK to be confused. We reread for greater understanding, not because we have done something wrong or that we are not good enough. Teachers will have to model what we do as proficient readers when we engage in a complex text.
In the article “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?” Mark Bauerlein addresses how 21st century technology can often distract students and teachers from the need for the uninterrupted focus into a text. Although technology an innovation certainly play a large role in student preparation for college and careers, Bauerlein makes the argument that sustained reading and studying of complex texts should be a focal point in ELA classrooms.
So, what can we do to arm our English teachers, and our science, social studies, and technical subjects teachers for that matter, to prepare students to engage with complex texts? There is a great deal of reading out there. Digging into the Common Core State Standards and the Appendices are a great place to start. Engage NY and The Hunt Institute have some excellent video selections on all six shifts as well. However, the place I see the real shift in classroom instruction becoming a reality is through high-functioning PLCs centered around teacher exploration of texts, discussion of implications on instruction, and individual strengths and areas for further improvement.
As more information becomes available regarding text complexity, I will be sure to pass it along. For now, you can check out my ELA Content Support wiki page. I will be posting more information regarding text complexity tomorrow (November 15, 2011).