Director's Corner: On Common Core Literacy Standards and Reading Comprehension

Even though The Magnolia School does not seek to closely adhere to whatever set of standards the Florida public schools adopt, we always try to be aware of these standards to ensure that our curriculum addresses the big ideas high schools expect our students to have been exposed to by the time they graduate. This is why you often see references to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in our Theme News column when it comes to Science. Since Florida has adopted the Common Core standards for Literacy and Math, we are in the process of reviewing them and examining how they mesh with or can inspire our own curriculum.

The Common Core Literacy standards are conceived as an integrated model of literacy according to which students regularly engage in reading to gain knowledge and understanding in all domains of the curriculum; discuss their understanding with peers to deepen it; compare the knowledge gained from reading to prior knowledge or information gained from other media or experiences; and write about their learning.

This is a vision we are very comfortable with, since our curriculum does integrate literacy throughout the day, even during math since we chose math curricula that are heavy in word problems and constantly ask students to explain their reasoning to each other in words and to write down the strategies they choose.

During Explorations, students also read and write about the topic they are studying, including maintaining a science notebook if the topic is a scientific one, and they often engage in collaborative work during which they discuss their understanding of the topic at hand. Even when gardening our middle schoolers maintain a gardening notebook.

Common Core reading standards are overall more demanding than previous reading standards. Students will be expected to read and comprehend a larger quantity of more complex texts; they will be expected to expand their academic vocabulary, and to write more about what they read and learned to demonstrate understanding.

So the key to satisfying the ambitious Common Core literacy standards is going to be reading comprehension, whereby students actively read (work the text) to create meaning. And the key to helping all students achieve higher reading standards will be to adopt good instructional practices for teaching reading comprehension. Comprehension is not achieved when readers simply decode the words on the page. According to Buehl, Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning, 2013, proficient readers attain comprehension after engaging in seven reading behaviors:

  • they make connections to prior knowledge (possibly the most important step of the whole process)
  • they carry an inner conversation with the author and engage in self-questioning
  • they use visual, auditory or other sensory connections to imagine the situation they are reading about (they "make the movie")
  • they read between the lines and infer implicit meanings
  • they prioritize to avoid information overload
  • they synthesize (from all of the above) and draw conclusions
  • they re-read or adopt other strategies to insure understanding

This exercise is inspiring us to critically review the instructional techniques we are presently using for teaching reading comprehension and determine if we need to adopt new ones. We will also examine other Common Core standards in future Director’s Corners.