The typical K-12 classroom is the United States has an extremely heterogeneous population.  That is, the skill levels of the students in any given classroom vary dramatically.  The average teacher faces reading levels several grades levels below and at least a few above the target for the class.  I have worked with 8th grade core teachers who point out students in the same class reading at the 2nd grade level and other ones reading at the 11th grade level.  How does a teacher target instruction during his lesson planning to include all students and, specifically, to leave no student behind.  Too many teachers solve this dilemma by aiming for the bottom third, or even lower, of the ability level of their diverse student populations.  This does not serve the needs of the upper half and is one of the chief reasons some top students disengage from school as early as the upper grades.  They are simply bored most of the day in school.

One alternative to miss-targeting instruction is to aim for the top third of the class and to allow catch-up time to back-fill for any students left temporarily behind. But what does a teacher do with students who finish tasks early and have nothing to do until the backfill is complete?  One popular method for solving this problem is to introduce an anchor activity, a default project early finishers turn to whenever they find themselves ahead of the class.
In light of the ACT research which culminated in new high national standards, I would like to make the case for anchor texts, whenever possible, instead of anchor activities.  The key finding of the ACT research is that students have not independently consumed nearly enough complex text before graduating from high school.  Thus they find themselves largely unprepared for either college or career reading demands.  Simply recruiting better teachers and training them to perform at a higher level, merely watching test scores rise, even weeding out under-performing teachers and holding the line on class-sizes, will not produce a more college or career-ready graduating cohort.  The new Common Core Standards demand more student involvement in their learning via independent mastery of vast amounts of increasingly complex text.

I argue that the best way to support students in achieving this goal is to introduce anchor texts into all core classes.  In such a classroom a student who completed his work early would automatically open his anchor text for the class.  This would not be a fiction book from his language arts class, which he may carry with him all day.  It would be a non-fiction text specifically designed as high-interest background for the course he is taking.  There are several ways to provide such texts, some more costly than others.  A school unable to afford secondary anchor texts for classrooms would have to rely on either the school library or the local public library.  I posted an article I wrote on my website: www.readfirst.net entitled "A Walk in the Stacks" which describes the wealth of unread content specific non-fiction available in the typical public library.  This article can be accessed directly by typing in this url:  www.readfirst.net/stacks.html

I am committed to making these blog posts brief.  For longer form versions of many of these ideas, see my website: www.readfirst.net

Next time I will write more about the rationale for incorporating content-specific anchor texts in core classrooms.

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