Having established that argument is a big deal and worth much of our time and energy as teachers and students, let’s spend some time examining reading and writing today.
I am always tweaking the non-freaked out approach (as you’ll see by comparing this post’s diagram with that of my last post on Corwin Connect) because I want it to be as clear and user-friendly as possible. And so it is that I’ve redundantly labeled the center of the above diagram with the words “purposefully and often.”
I think we can sum up my thoughts on reading and writing across the content areas with the heading below.
Reading and writing — do those in greater quantity and with increasing quality.
For reading, we need to think hard about the number of age-appropriate texts we’re having kids read, especially (if we’re aiming at college and career readiness) the number of informational texts. English language arts (ELA) teachers need not throw things at me here. I’m speaking to content area teachers here.
We can’t just assign texts, either — we need to teach our kids how to read them through simple strategies like Schmoker’s authentic, redundant literacy template (found in Focus, which is the number one book I end up recommending in whole staff professional development situations because of how it treats K-12 environments and dedicates entire chapters to literacy instruction in math, science, and social studies).
The same thinking should be applied to writing — are we teaching the writing we’re assigning? Are we expecting students to produce a caliber of writing on pace for college and career readiness when they graduate?
These kinds of questions are what I mean when I say read and write purposefully.
Rather than spend days to pick apart texts through laborious close reading (a la the David Coleman approach picked apart masterfully in Smith, Wilhelm, and Applebee’s UnCommon Core), I think we need to follow Schmoker’s advice by setting quantifiable goals for how many texts students will read over the course of a year in each subject.
In English, how many short stories? novels? plays? articles? poems?
In science, how many textbook excerpts? articles? reports? procedure documents?
In social studies, how many primary source documents? articles? textbook excerpts? op-eds?
And the same questions ought to be applied to writing and speaking.
How many one-paragraph arguments will kids write per course? How about two-paragraph explanatory pieces? Etc.
Quality does, too.
At the same time, it’s not just about how much kids read and write — it’s about the level of sophistication and complexity required in each of these situations, too.
We’ve got to make sure 9th graders get ample chance to read texts that on-level 9th graders are reading. Interventions should be made for below-level readers, but every kid deserves to be taught how to read texts on pace for college and career-level complexity, even if he or she is drastically below grade-level. I disagree with those who say kids simply won’t read what they can’t because I think can’t is a highly flexible term that depends on much more than a kid’s Lexile level.
The same is true for writing and speaking. We need to provide kids with exemplar models of writing and speaking at a level appropriate to their age, and then we need to give them feedback that aims to be kind and honest, even when this means facing brutal gaps in their college and career readiness.
Reading to gain knowledge is huge as well.
Something I’ve not spent enough time exploring on Teaching the Core is the incredible importance of reading to gain knowledge. The Common Core mention the ability to build knowledge in the standards’ introductory matter, but it’s not emphasized nearly enough throughout the standards. Reading to know stuff is a big deal, both for college and careers.
I recently spoke to a group of professors at a local college and asked the professors what were some of the biggest skill deficits they see across the board. One professor in the nursing program said something to the tune that students are woefully unprepared to learn through reading, especially when that reading is assigned and especially when it’s a textbook. There were a lot of heads nodding as this professor spoke.
I think that’s a problem we in the content areas need to solve — we’re talking about giving students access to careers in nursing, in computer science, in business; we’re not talking about turning science class into reading class or math class into writing class.
These are big questions that, if pursued by many of us, will drastically increase the long-term flourishing of our students.