+ New Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy

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In the ASCD publication Educational Leadership, Sandra Alberti explains the shifts that arrive with the Common Core State Standards.

The English Language Arts and Literacy Standards involve expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening.  These apply in English language arts as well as in science, social studies, and technical subjects.  Students must be ready for college and career by the end of high school, so it’s not enough to simply address literacy skills.  The new standards consider texts to which students must apply these skills.

There are three key shifts in these standards.

1.Building Knowledge Through Content-Rich Nonfiction

Later reading growth and achievement means that students in elementary school need to read content-rich  nonfiction in history, social studies, science, and the arts.  They must be grounded in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they will need to become successful readers. Nonfiction reading builds students’ content knowledge.

Currently, fewer than 10% of elementary English arts texts are nonfiction.

Shifting to building knowledge from content-rich nonfiction does not mean disregarding literature.  The standards celebrate the role literature plays in building knowledge and creativity.  Teachers must include rich literature as well as content-rich nonfiction in elementary school.

In later grades, history, social studies, and science teachers will equip students with skills needed to to read and gain information from from content specific  nonfiction texts.  Such texts are a powerful vehicle  for learning content. Students build skills in the careful reading of a variety of texts such as the primary documents in a social studies class or descriptions of scientific observations in a science class.

2. Reading and Writing Grounded in Evidence

The new standards emphasize the use of evidence from texts to present careful analyses, clear information and well-defended claims.  The standards prioritize questionsing that requires students to read texts with care, rather than asking them to respond to questions that they can only answer from prior knowledge  or experience.  Unlike low-level “search and find” questions, quality text-based questions require close reading and a deep understanding of the text.

The standards also require narrative writing all through the grades.  Such writing enables students to develop a command of sequence and detail that is essential in later grades, when the emphasis is on argumentative and informative writing.  This focus, on evidence-based writing and speaking in the service of information and persuasion, is a significant shift.  Currently, the most popular form of writing in K-12 draws from student experience and opinion; this method alone does not prepare students for the demands of college and career.

3. Regular Practice with Complex Texts and Academic Language

These new standards focus on text complexity.  The ability to comprehend complex texts is the most significant factor differentiating college-ready from non-college-ready readers.  The standards include a staircase of assigned texts that increase in complexity.

Text complexity is determined by a number of factors.  Two of those factors are syntax and vocabulary.  In order to understand complex materials, students need support in developing the key academic vocabulary common to those texts.  These are words that commonly appear across genres and content areas essential for understanding most informational text — words such as ignite, commit, dedicate.  The shift toward complex text means teachers must provide practice; they must support students through deliberate close reading.

Source: Sandra Alberti’s article in Educational Leadership, a publication of ASCD, December 2012.  Alberti is director of State and District Partnerships and Professional Development for Student Achievement Partners.

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