What Common Core ELA Instruction Might Look Like by Mike Schmoker and Carol Jago

What Common Core ELA Instruction Might Look Like

In this thoughtful article in Kappa Delta Pi Record, consultant/authors Mike Schmoker and Carol Jago say, “Done right, the ELA Common Core has the potential to right the ship of literacy, to facilitate, at long last, the creation of coherent curriculum in every course, and to rescue us from the fads and pseudo-literacies of recent decades.” They believe the CCSS appendices and ancillary documents are the “true strength” of the document, providing resources for students “to engage in close reading of large amounts of high-quality, complex text, combined with opportunities to engage in discussion and writing grounded in text.” 

The best approach, say Schmoker and Jago, is not getting bogged down in the “bewildering array” of grade-by-grade Common Core ELA standards but starting with three “instructional shifts” embedded in the new standards:

  • Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts;
  • Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text;
  • Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary.

“Make no mistake,” they say, “these basic shifts – implemented across the curriculum – represent a radical return to genuine literacy. If they are even reasonably well implemented, they will change the face of education.” 

Building on these three insights, teachers should choose from the lists of books, plays, and novels in Appendix B of the Common Core and assemble “a good balance of high-quality, adequately complex texts that can be reasonably taught within a 9-month, 36-week school year,” say Schmoker and Jago. These, not the skills, should be the “soul of your curriculum.” Students are immersed each semester in close reading, embedded vocabulary instruction of words straight from the texts, plenty of class discussion, informal writing, one extended interpretive essay or a short research paper, and an oral presentation. There’s also time to work with speeches, articles, poems, and short works of fiction. What students would not be doing is watching movies, filling out skills worksheets, or making book jackets. 

The “straw that stirs the drink,” say Schmoker and Drago, is high-quality questions and prompts that get students reading, writing, and discussing with purpose. Teacher teams can generate questions such as, What evidence do you find that the main character grows or matures from chapter to chapter? What evidence in the text best supports the side you will take in your argument? “Well-designed questions will promote close reading and ensure interesting, successful discussions and writing assignments, grounded in careful analysis of text,” they say. “Because these are so critical, it would be wise to have a system in place for sharing the most successful questions, as well as compelling texts, with other schools in the district or region.”

Here is what Schmoker and Jago would like to see in a 35-day quarter of ELA instruction in a sixth-grade class, with vocabulary taught before and during readings:

• 10-15 days: Novel: Tom Sawyer (Twain) with daily discussions and short or longer writing assignments

• 10-15 days: Nonfiction book: Jim Thorpe: Original All-American (Buchac) with daily discussions and short or longer writing assignments

• 3 days: Two news/magazine articles, pro and con: “Children and Video Games: Playing with Violence (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2011) and “Video Games Don’t Cause Children to Be Violent” (M.D. Gallagher, 2010)

• 3 days: One or two speeches, e.g., “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” (Churchill)

• 4 days: Several poems: author studies, informal interpretive writings; oral interpretation, e.g., “The Road Not Taken” (Frost), “If” (Kipling)

  • Rubric focus: Write arguments to support claims and interpretations with clear reasons and relevant evidence, organize reasons and evidence logically (from the Common Core)

• Formal papers: 3-5 page literary analysis of any text(s) read this quarter and a 3-5 argumentative/research paper on any nonfiction text(s) read this quarter, graded using a rubric.

Schmoker and Jago believe instruction in content-area subjects should follow a similar pattern, with carefully selected textbook pages for each weekly topic, content-rich texts aligned with the curriculum, essential questions, discussion, and plenty of writing (with labs and performances added in science and the arts). To spend high-quality time on texts, they say, it’s necessary to cut down the number of standards covered and focus on those that are essential. 

“Simplifying the ELA Common Core; Demystifying Curriculum” by Mike Schmoker and Carol Jago in Kappa Delta Pi Record, April-June 2013 (Vol. 49, #2, p. 59-63), 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00228958.2013.786589#.UZ...; Schmoker can be reached at Schmoker@futureone.com.

From the Marshall Memo #486

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