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“Common Core Reading”

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Interesting four-part series on NPR. The Common Core State Standards gauge kids’ reading aptitude by how well they can read and understand designated materials. My question: if the readings assigned are beyond kids’ ability, how are they to sustain the interest to read, let alone find the main idea and arguments of a text. No kids are equal in their reading ability (learning ability in general) when they come to school. Some are more advanced if their parents have encouraged reading at home. I am an advocate for a guidance approach that teaches skills and strategies in reading, at least at the beginning. Through interaction with teacher, this approach would benefit the kids who are behind and keep them from being frustrated. The goal is to engage students by connecting what they are reading with their personal experiences.

Another issue is the difference in reading level within the same grade level. Teachers would use a technique called leveled instruction: an approach to literacy in which students spend the vast majority of their time in a text that is at their reading level, even if it’s below their grade level. What entails are textbooks that include multiple versions of the same text. But this new shift in Common Core Reading Standard calls for less leveled instruction, and for students to read more nonfiction.

This whole Common Core Reading debate is thrilling to me. I didn’t grow up in America and the first year of school I attended here was 9th grade. English is not my native language but had been the language of instruction in school back in Hong Kong—think of English immersion while you speak Chinese on a day-to-day basis. When I started 9th grade here, I’d always read above grade level, and people involved in the gifted programs sometimes try to figure out why, and my answer was always simple: I just read. Dickens, Salinger, Steinbeck, D.H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Ann Rynd… Notes I occasionally wrote down, but never kept a journal. I’m indebted to my English teacher who didn’t believe in formulaic book report that addresses set points, like note the setting and characters. My education in reading is complemented by free-form essays exploring themes and relation to contemporary artists. I think forcing kids to read all the same books and then, even worse, telling them what to make of it and how to interpret it sap reading of its joy. When reading becomes a bland chore, who would want to read?

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