If the Common Core could be defined by a series of statements, it would be what Mike Schmoker calls Deep Reading, Deep Writing, Deep Speaking, and Deep Thinking. As with all standards based documents, they can be dangerously misused and molded into test prep curriculums or isolated standards based instructional approaches. Computer programs, textbooks, and districts are proving this yet again. Yet, they can be used and molded to drive the four basic tenets above profoundly. As Lucy Calkins states, if they are anything, they are about “text-based discussion.” Therefore, it could be conceived that the problem with standards based education is not with the standards but what standardized tests and districts do to standards.
Looking at the Common Core Anchor standards, you get a clear picture of what reading and writing could look like in the classroom. It is based on making meaning and elaborating on that meaning in text. Looking at Reading in particular, Standard 1 (Citing textual evidence of inferences or explicit ideas in text) and Standard 10 (reading at the grade level complexity) they literally serve as the pillars to deep reading. The standards in between present themselves in different parts and types of texts as they spiral consistently. The idea is not to hit every standard in every text nor is it to hit specific standards in texts that do not lend themselves to that standard. It certainly isn’t it always about addressing the entire standard in a text. Instead, the act of reading should determine what standards are presented. The text becomes the primary vehicle for learning. The standards become a lens and a guide, not a forced activity. Sometimes we want to step outside the standards and make some text to self connections and think about reading in deeply personal and connected ways. When approached consciously and liberally, teachers begin to see these standards (which are basically skills that we want good readers to have) present themselves everywhere in the text and can be used to deepen understanding of it. Teachers now are “consciously competent and “intentionally competent ” Standards become a part of practice with deep reading, writing, speaking, and thinking at the center.
The act of deep reading drastically slows the classroom instruction down. It forces students to read and then reread text, it requires students to cite evidence of their understanding in the text and making meaning. It leads to critically evaluating the text and much much more. Yet, even here teachers must be careful not to tear apart and dissect the text to where it takes away from meaning. The right balance of text annotation, text discussion, and structured and unstructured thinking before, during, and after the act of reading are critical to student success.
Finally, the notion of deep reading through a common set of standards applied in authentic ways cannot rest in the hands of one department of teachers. Schools have the opportunity to embrace this notion in all content areas. Students reading and writing about Social Studies, Math, Art, Speech, Business and Science classes strengthen not only content knowledge but also a student’s ability to apply literacy in all areas of their lives rather than something done only in school or in English class.
With this new set of standards (most will see they are not all new) we have the awesome opportunity to abandon practices in the past that have not worked with standards and embrace more promising practices. We must be brave enough to drop some beliefs that some have so passionately held and begin to look at reading, writing, speaking and listening as life skills that can be applied readily for students when they enter college and or career. Are we brave enough?