As we move into state testing season, I think we should take a step back and examine why this is an exciting time in our education system. Six years ago, a state-led effort was launched to build a set of consistent, real-world learning goals for students that would prepare them for college, career, and life. This set of standards is what we know today as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and whether you think they are great or the worst thing ever, they have changed how we look at standards and education in this country, particularly in English language arts (ELA) education.
Having taught English at the high school and college level, I am always interested when new standards are created or new ways of engaging students are introduced, especially anything that will prepare students for college or future career success. Now that implementation of the CCSS is well underway, I am excited to see what we can do to help students achieve these new and challenging goals. As we at Edmentum have worked on products over the last few years to meet the new standards, the key shifts in the CCSS for ELA have had a big impact on how we think about and build curriculum. Below are my thoughts on each key shift and how it has impacted students and the curriculum we offer.
Key Shifts in the CCSS for English Language Arts
1. Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language
- What does this mean? - The goal is to increase students’ reading comprehension so that they can gain more from their reading. From my perspective, this means that we want students to be able to dissect a text and really dig into what it is saying in order to understand all of the intricacies of a piece of literature or nonfiction. We also want students to understand the language being used in each text and appreciate the importance of vocabulary and language.
- Student impact - No longer can students simply read a text and provide a summary of what happened in that text. Reading comprehension at the summary level is a necessary foundation, but it is not sufficient as a stopping point to teach students critical-thinking skills. Students need to be critical thinkers to be successful in the 21st century. The practice of reading complex texts and growing their vocabularies is one specific way to expand their critical-thinking skills.
- Edmentum impact - As we have built new curriculum to align with the CCSS, we have spent more time designing and selecting appropriate texts that will allow students not only to think critically but also to enjoy what they are reading. Our curriculum has been specifically designed to offer grade-level appropriate texts that include a mix of literary works and nonfiction texts from around the world and across centuries. We've also worked to make sure that students will have a choice in what they read because enjoyment will help engage students better in any reading task. In our new curriculum, every unit and every lesson include relevant reading selections and a "Focus on Language" section that develops academic language and addresses the ELA CCSS.
2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational
- What does this mean? - Students not only need to read and comprehend complex texts but also need to be able to talk and write about complex texts, tying back their viewpoints to specific examples, interactions, and language in the text. The shift here is having students provide text-based evidence to drive their discussions and writings.
- Student impact - In order to form an argument or persuade a peer to see a certain viewpoint about a text, students must understand the text at a very detailed level. Students also need to understand how to prove their viewpoints with specific examples and back up their opinions with solid evidence from the reading selection.
- Edmentum impact - Students have to be better readers and writers to meet this challenge. In previous courses, we included a few writing activities in each unit. Our new courses have carefully selected writing activities for every lesson that help students work through writing using evidence from the text. We have also included multiple activities on speaking, especially around group discussions, which allow students to demonstrate how to speak of what they know and understand about a text. Group discussions and speaking activities were a very limited part of previous courses, and now they appear in multiple lessons and course activities specifically dedicated to these skills. We even offer custom videos that model what a good group discussion looks like.
3. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
- What does this mean? - Students will read and understand how to acquire knowledge through relevant works of nonfiction. Students should be reading as much nonfiction in their English classes as fiction.
- Student impact - Nonfiction becomes a very important part of what is being read in English language arts classes, and students will learn to read, analyze, and critique nonfiction just as they would a piece of fiction. Many students are used to reading short informational pieces or how-to instructions. With more emphasis on nonfiction, students will have the opportunity to read historical documents, like the Bill of Rights, and dive into what was going on when the document was written and evaluate whether the arguments made in the document were effective or not.
- Edmentum impact - As we designed our new high school English courses, we recognized that a considerable number of the reading selections needed to be nonfiction in order to meet this shift in the standards. Our new courses give students the opportunity to read a wide array of literary nonfiction, including personal essays, speeches, opinion pieces, essays about art or literature, biographies/autobiographies, memoirs, journals and newspaper articles, and historical, scientific, technical, or economics pieces written for a wide variety of audiences.
The CCSS for English language arts will be challenging for students as implementations expand and mature, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction as we prepare students to be 21st century critical thinkers. I'm eager to see how these key shifts will produce students ready for college and careers.
Want to learn more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide built-to-standards ELA solutions? Check out this resource on our ELA and math courses in Plato Courseware.