“The way my principal explained it is that we aren’t going to ‘do science and social studies.’ We’re going to read more about topics in science and social studies,” a teacher friend recently told me. Now, I’m wondering how many teachers are planning to jettison their hands-on, walkabout, experiential, model-building activities with kids for the sake of putting more rigorous text at the center of the lesson or returning to the basics. How many principals are requiring they do so?
The tools for Common Core implementation published by The Achievement Partners very clearly point toward the literacy skills of reading and writing, speaking and listening with increasing depth and sophistication in every class at every grade level. Their rubrics for teacher reflection about pedagogy also very clearly describe a classroom rich in literacy habits and complex text. However, narrow definitions of “text” will thwart the Common Core promise of readiness for college and career.
Print text is not the only source of an informed voice for our classrooms. Students practice the same meaning-making and literacy skills with video and images, spoken word, models, labs, realia, and creative play as they do with print text. All are excellent sources of information and spark the kind of curiosity that leads to wonder, inquiry, and further encounters with text. Additionally, enhanced experiences in the community from field trips and extra-curricular activities help build the kind of robust inner life that students truly need to become college and career ready.
Robert Marzano has compiled a remarkable amount of research on the necessity of background knowledge for academic achievement. In short, directly experiencing academic situations by visiting real museums, taking part in performances, visiting labs, etc. is the most powerful way to build background knowledge. In other words, field trips and fine arts performances, travelling, and taking care of live animals supports the Literacy standards because they build student background knowledge, and BK is a direct pathway to learning.
One of the text exemplars in Appendix A of the CCSS is an excerpt from The Grapes of Wrath in which “the text is relatively simple, explicit, and conventional in form” (Appendix A, 13-14). However, this simple excerpt is rich in context and subtext such that only students with empathy beyond book knowledge of humility and dignity will be able to grapple with its implications. I submit that our work in the Common Core must be about supporting our students in their development of an inner life as a means to supporting their skill with increasingly complex text, and an inner life begins with experience.
Learners at every level need meaningful relationships, insights about the institutions that make society flow, and awareness of the intricate communities in which they live. Surely, the Common Core was not intended to exchange the essence of our world for a pile of books. Surely, experience complements complexity like nothing else can.