Monday, July 9, 2012

What Rest in Our Hands

From here.
The Chatter

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how teacher, administrator, board member, professor, consultant and publisher interpret the CCSS is particularly important.  I am already hearing statements and directives like these:
  1. The way for our kids to be CCSS-ready is to fill the classroom with informational text. That's our priority: Buy books.
  2. I told my teachers, 'No pre-reading. It's a waste of time. No one cares how you feel.'
  3. Let's based our curriculum on products. The Board has determined that there will be no curriculum writing until after we've purchased CCSS-aligned materials. Teachers are to teach these materials.
  4. Our students need to practice writing arguments. I don't want to see any narrative writing hanging up.
  5. Argumentative writing is the same thing as persuasive writing. I don't see what the big deal is.
  6. The only way for our students to be CCSS-ready is for us to make sure we have them read only grade-appropriate books. Nothing easy.
  7. We're not sure what text complexity means, so we're only using the text exemplars for what we teach.
  8. No feeling questions. Just text-dependent questions. 
  9. We're getting a jump on the CCSS by making sure we are emphasizing information books. No story books.
  10. Teachers are not allowed to read aloud to students. We need to stop doing their work.
  11. The 5 W's are text dependent questions: Who, What, Where, When and Why.
  12. Our kids must read like detectives and write like investigative reporters. That's our curriculum and our approach.
  13. All lesson plans will be reviewed to see that only close reading is being done. 
  14. We need to get kids ready for the test so they will take a CCSS exam every x weeks (insert: 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10).
  15. Stop asking students what they think.  It's not about their thinking. It's about the evidence in the text.
  16. I teach only academic vocabulary. That's what is most important.
  17. It's what the text says that is important.  We need to focus on that. What does the text say? Can you point to it?
  18. This CCSS is a fad.  I try not to get too worked up when something 'new' comes along. I just close my door and teach.
  19. Why are we following the ideas of someone who has never taught?
  20. We allow students to only read challenging books.
  21. These kids can't pass the old state test.  This new test will just put them further behind.
  22. Close reading will hurt children. We need to stop this.
  23. Kids need to have better vocabularies.  We need to buy vocabulary workbooks.  That's how I learned.
  24. I didn't read the CCSS, but I did skim it and I think...
  25. CCSS is just a way for publishers to make money. Nothing in it is any good.
  26. Where's the evidence? If I have to do CCSS-based teaching I want to know where is the evidence that supports these approaches?
As I listened to these statements and directives being uttered, I wondered if the focus on reading method and writing products which have garnered so much attention doesn't oddly limit learner potential--not because CCSS is 'good or bad", but more so because such talk signals an absence of agency and will.  Across the 30 years I've taught--matters of method and product have occupied large portions of debate--often obfuscating personal and professional responsibilities by substituting choosing sides for exercising one's agency and responsibility.

We are what we do.

We can't forget that as discussions about CCSS occur.  What is it that we do each day in our respective work?  How does what we repeatedly do matter?  To whom?

Getting Beneath Method

From here.
In the CCSS, close reading is a method referred to when reading narrative and informational texts. Garnering evidence from the text is clearly privileged in the CCSS and most likely in the testing that will accompany the CCSS (PARCC and  Smarter Balance). Close reading is a term most associated with New Criticism--an Anglo-American literary theory from the last century that emphasized the belief that meaning exists on the page. For such a stance, it is the reading of the text that must be privileged, with less emphasis on the author and the reader's experience. Close reading locates the text as self-sufficient and meaning is made through careful attention to language and text structure. Garnering evidence by reading and rereading a text so as to notice textual details, language, patterns, and structure represents important ways of coming to understand.

To make meaning, attention to a text is important, and so too is attention to author and reader.  The biographical, historical, ideological, and sociocultural contexts in which a work was penned and is read inform the meaning that is made. It is the reader who makes sense of a text's language and structure and it is his/her experiences, schema, knowledge of textual strategies and the context in which the reading occurs that will each inform the meaning that is made. It is not one of these: text, author, and reader which is most important, but rather complex readings occur when reader intention is purposeful and knowledgeable. There is no escaping one's prior knowledge, regardless of ideology.  Our prior knowledge informs the understandings we construct for simple and complex texts.  Reading and rereading the text is not sufficient for making rich understandings when the requisite prior knowledge is poor. No matter how many times one rereads, the absence of relevant prior knowledge will limit meaning and/or help the reader produce misreadings.

What Do We Need to Ask Regardless of Method & Product?

Out Walking (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
Learning how to read well and with authority is not simply a matter of knowing reading methods and processes, just as writing arguments is not simply a matter of knowing form. For many learners, sensitive and responsive teaching is necessary.  We may need to see/hear/sense how.  We may need to be coached.  We may need to find our own methods. We may need to try and refine our attempts.  We may need to cooperate with others.  Alongside these actions an attentive teacher can be essential.

How attentive are we?  To what are we attentive? In what ways are we knowledgeable?  No amount of described learner outcomes can substitute for what we attend to and how we understand. That rests in our hands.

Some questions to consider (generated in a random manner and hardly complete):
  1. How do we actively theorize based on what we perceive learners know, misunderstand and fail to know when engaged in making meaning and when we observe and evaluate learners' expressions of that meaning? 
  2. How often are learners' opinions sought when designing lessons, programs and policies?
  3. In the places where we work, who are producers? Curators? Receivers? Are we inclusive?
  4. What do we do when we are confronted with not understanding how, what or why learners' are progressing and/or failing to progress? 
  5. Is saying we don't know allowable where we work?
  6. How do we understand the complexity inherent in the acquisition of reading/writing processes and problem framing/solving strategies?
  7. Are we published and/or is our work exhibited?  Do we make anything? Do we apply this knowledge to our work?
  8. Do we participate in active learning beyond our workplace?
  9. Which of our assumptions about knowing, teaching, learning and doing do we question?  What does that look like and lead to?
  10. What is our commitment to learning? 
  11. What is our commitment to learning with developed and emerging technologies? 
  12. When we don't understand a teaching/learning procedure or practice, do we seek to understand what or why rather than acceding to just getting x done?
  13. Do our decisions and practices telegraph that getting done is more important than understanding?
  14. Are learners' achievement a shared responsibility?
  15. How often do we write?  
  16. How often do we read/reread?
  17. How often do we fail?
  18. How do we understand the complexity inherent in the critical application and evaluation of literacy processes and strategies?  
  19. When a learner's close reading of a text is misinformed, how do we fashion a response that will forward not only the meaning(s) that learner is making from that text, but also that learner's independence? 
  20. How do we create occasions where learners make literal, interpretive and critical understandings of text? How do we scaffold learners engaged in such work?
  21. What foundational skills are necessary for literal, interpretive, and critical understandings of text and how do we measure the presence and absence of such skills? How do we provide learners with methods to develop these skills, especially those who struggle to make meaning of simple and/or complex texts?
  22. What practices and policies do we adhere to when teaching learners who are experiencing difficulty learning?
  23. What role does vocabulary knowledge play in making meaning of text(s) and how do we provide explicit and implicit ways to grow such knowledge?
  24. What is curriculum? How is it determined?
  25. What is our personal responsibility to deepen and complicate our pedagogical and content knowledge? How are we supported?
  26. How do our budgets, practices, and policies support and/or limit learning? 
  27. Whose voice is mostly missing from the education conversations you participate in? Why?
  28. Whose voices is overly privileged in education conversations you participate in? Why?
These are a sampling of questions and ones that cannot be soothed by only attending to method.  If the CCSS represent a road map (potential or otherwise), we must also remember that we make that road by how and where we walk.

Your thoughts? Responses?


  1. We have to teach our learners. We need to think deeply about who each learner is and what their questions are. Then we need to bring them through broad, responsive processes that help them to deepen understanding and concept while strengthening skill so that they are facile, flexible, creative, critical learners who are able to navigate a future world we cannot even imagine. The CCSS will provide one of many parallel paths of learning that will occur simultaneously in the classroom--there is not one path to a world we do not even know.

  2. Love your closing line. Agree. I think we also need to question our own understandings of learners, what we know, fail to know. It is in community that I grow in ways I simply cannot do ion my own. Thank you for prompting my thinking.