When the budget crunch first hit schools and teaching staffs were facing severe lay-offs, I wrote an article about how schools could raise test scores without spending any money.  You can access the original article at : http://readfirst.net/testscores3.html.  We find ourselves in much the same situation still: the state has adopted new national standards that require implementation, and yet no any additional funding to provide the necessary professional development has been allocated.  Districts and schools can await the funding, or LEA's, as they are called, can get to work raising awareness of  the new standards even in the absence of professional development.

As I indicated in the article above, staffs can commit to a few tentative steps and begin the process of implementing these new standards simply by  elevating the role of texts on campus and in lessons.  Here are the steps I recommended, in brief.  For a more in-depth look at these steps, please see the article referenced above.

1. Eliminate the practice of having students take turns orally reading passages from texts.
This practice is one of the more wide-spread in classrooms.  Teachers often defend this practice by citing the need to keep their slower readers with the group.  Many also believe that unless the text is read aloud in class, that it is not read at all.  Students assigned a reading for homework will tend to skim the text looking for important information.  In class, students will either skim the text or stare off blankly.  How do you know students have read the text unless you have it read out loud?  I suspect that with many teachers, this is also a management tool.  I have never been in a classroom where students act out while being read to.  If you set aside a portion of your lesson plan for oral reading, what many teachers mistakenly term a 'read-aloud,' that is probably a safe block of time where you will not have to discipline anyone.  

One of the more common read-aloud practices is known as the popcorn read.  One student volunteers to read and after a paragraph or two 'popcorns' another reader.  This kind of classroom activity is an egregious waste of class time and should not happen past the 3rd grade.  

The Common Core reading standards call on students to read silently, proficiently and without scaffolding all grade level content area text.  

2. Eliminate the practice of having students read aloud the information on power point slides or overhead transparencies.
This is an easy one and serves to elevate the importance of text.  Students should not require text to be read to them.  They should be routine consumers of text at every opportunity in school.

3. Eliminate the practice of reading test directions aloud, or having student volunteers read them to the class. 
For most students, high-stakes testing is their first exposure to independent reading of directions.  This throws many of them into a panic as text proctors are often prohibited from assisting students who are lost.  Most students are used to ignoring directions on tests as they rely on teachers to walk them through the mechanic of each test and answer their oral questions with oral responses.

4. Eliminate oral reviews of all the material to be tested a day or two before the test.
This is, perhaps, the most controversial of my recommendations for staffs to embrace.  Most teachers assume the responsibility of thorough test reviews.  Over the years I have witnessed this taking but a part of a period the day before the test to, more recently, at least an entire period, sometimes two, preceding the day of the test.   A fair number of students in the middle have trained themselves to wake from their reverie of day-dreaming to pay attention just for this review.  They know everything on the test will be forecast during this session.  They pay very careful attention when the teacher mutters some variation of the following:  "If I don't say it, it won't be on the test."  

5. Eliminate the use of graphic organizers, except with the lowest performing students.
The graphic organizer, in its most evolved state, has come to undermine the mission of the new standards by replacing all but the most minimal text.  The graphical view serves those dedicated to Gardner's multiple intelligences (see earlier blog entry: http://commoncore.weebly.com/1/post/2010/11/the-multiple-intelligences-and-the-new-common-core.html) by turning linear based text into a graphical display of ideas.  In addition to creating boxes for note-taking on a land-scape oriented sheet of paper, teachers and publishers have begun to partially fill in the boxes to prompt student note-taking.  Students should be taught to take their own notes, on a blank piece of paper, using some manner of linear display that mirrors the linear, time-bound nature of the language itself.  And they should be taught to summarize and paraphrase.  They should be taught to use their own words as often as possible.  Until they can re-cast an idea in their own language, they do not really own it.

There are other recommendations  contained in the original article referenced above on the 'readfirst.net' site.  However, since implementation of the CCS will most likely be delayed in California and, perhaps, other states, until funding can be found, staffs implementing the above 6 recommendations will have an early start on replacing essentially oral instruction with much more attention to text-based learning.

I will here state as succinctly as I can the core of these new standards as I read them:  Over the course of their K-12 education students will master, proficiently and independently, an ever-increasing staircase of complex, grade-level calibrated, literary and content-area text.  

Never let yourself be another person's option. You are worth so much more. Believe that!!


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