Now that the school year is under way, teachers have no doubt already been talking about the Common Core Learning Standards in ELA. What are they? How are they different? How are we supposed to implement them? And what about these “six shifts” I keep hearing about?
Full implementation is overwhelming, especially when we are not just juggling CCLS, but new APPR and SLO’s as well. The good news is, all of these new initiatives actually do work together. It may be difficult to see now, but they really all do focus on one thing: raising the rigor of our instruction to better prepare our students for life after high school.
With the new standards has come these “six shifts” that the authors of the CCLS often refer to. These six shifts are true shifts in ideology and practice. They are large in scale, and really do require us to be reflective practitioners in order to make such a shift. There really is no “I already do this.” If that were true, as David Coleman, one of the co-authors of the CCLS, states, “that better be wrong, because if we don’t have a shift, we are not going to change a wall that’s been standing for 40 years.”
The six shifts are:
- Increase the amount of informational text used in ELA
- Make literacy a priority in the content areas
- Be use you are using more grade-level complex text
- Increase the amount and rigor of your questions by using text-dependent questions
- Require more evidence-based writing, in all three text types
- Pay more instructional attention to academic vocabulary
Sound like a lot? Well, the best place to jump right in is to look at text complexity. The shift requires us to use more complex text, which is grade-level text that should be used to do close readings, analysis, and encourage deep discussion. Why? Here are just a few reasons:
- the complexity of texts used in both college and the work place has increased over the past 50 years
- the complexity of texts used in high school has remained the same or decreased over the past 50 years
- the difference between a high school and college/work place text is the same as a jump from a fourth to an eighth grade reading level
- the number of students in remedial ELA classes in both 2- and 4-year institutions falls between 40-50%
Clearly we need to be sure that every student is at least exposed to text that is complex in order to be better prepared for life after high school.
Before we even think about instructional strategies to use when teaching with complex text, we first have to figure out exactly what makes a text complex. Appendix A of the CCLS describes the three-part model to determining complexity, which includes quantitative measures, qualitative measures, and reader and task considerations. There are many resources available, but Engageny.org has rubrics for both literature and informational text that are both user-friendly and of high quality (which are being promoted in this region). Also, Appendix B of the CCLS contains lists of texts that are considered complex at every grade level or band, in many genres. I have found that both Appendix B and the rubrics are very helpful jumping off points for teachers when analyzing the texts they already use for complexity.
Still unsure about what makes a text complex? Look at the video on Engageny.org regarding complex text to get a sense of why we need to shift and how it might look in the classroom. Read the description in Appendix A for a better sense of why we are even paying attention to the complexity of texts. Look over the lists of texts in Appendix B for some instructional ideas. Finally, consult your local BOCES for professional development around these six shifts.