Many teachers I work with don’t know how to read for deeper analysis and meaning in text, an important skill we all need to learn. This is worrisome, in part, because it means that students who learned under the old standards missed out on reading exercises that were challenging and are currently not where they need to be. It also means that many teachers are struggling to learn effective ways to teach to the new standards.
How Do We Get There?
Toward the end of this school year, I observed a guest teacher as she led my students in a reading of one of my favorite books by Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.”
As she taught, I was hard at work developing a lesson which included key elements of the new Common Core standards that seek to bring alive the text for kids. I thought of how much higher the expectations are now for my students compared to those in the past.
But teachers may not always know how to teach to these raised expectations, as my student teacher showed.
The teacher, a recent graduate, asked the kids to draw some pictures of the places they want to go. Some of my students said Walmart, one mentioned the water park, others commented on visiting family in Mexico and elsewhere. After drawing, they shared their plans, yet very little discussion took place about the relevance of Seuss’ book to my students’ lives.
Let the Standards Be Your Guide
The great thing about Common Core is that it won’t allow such an omission to take place.
Although this teacher did not guide students to read the text deeply or critically, Common Core provides tremendous guidance that supports teachers as they share deceptively simple kids’ books and turn them into fertile ground for thoughtful discussions pertinent to students’ lives.
Under the previous standards, it would have been adequate for students to do a simple retelling of the book and answer a few basic, shallow questions to confirm they had read and paid attention to the text. In fact, students could have read Seuss’ book without ever stopping to consider the deeper meaning he sought to convey. It’s no wonder many students lack both an appreciation and a collection of quality books, when past works have not been worth their time.
But the new standards make close and careful reading of rich texts and student-led conversations about meaning paramount.
Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. On and on you will hike.
Higher standards means kids will have to work harder in school. Dr. Seuss stressed the value of perseverance, of never giving up when the going gets tough. I want my kids to embrace such thinking.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.
More than ever, we need to ditch bubble tests and memorizing lists of facts. Kids should be flexible in their thinking and able to solve problems that will not always be familiar to them. Seuss’ characters often found themselves in strange situations, but figured out how to overcome the challenges they faced and to move forward with renewed confidence.
Can You Imagine?
The beauty of the new standards is that they expect students to read in a more sophisticated way, thus uncovering greater depth and meaning in what they have read. Dr. Seuss is a wonderful example of a children’s author who makes reading joyful and profound. The ability of students to read critically, coupled with the fun of exploring and discussing words and the ideas, helps develop both a love of reading and the language arts skills that are critical to success on the path to whatever place a student seeks to go.
Much of the criticism of the Common Core’s language arts standards suggests that teachers face a false choice: focus on literature or critical thinking. We don’t have to pick. We owe to our students to do both.
It is not enough to say we want higher standards and better education for our students. We owe it to them and to ourselves to take action and to ensure that action leads to the desired results. We have to be good readers, too.
We can transform our classrooms by encouraging kids to dig into great books. We as teachers must also take the initiative to learn alongside our students, using rich and relevant texts and asking worthwhile questions.
If we do that, just imagine all of the places they can go.