In this series, Linda Bevilacqua, President of the Core Knowledge Foundation, will share an instructional materials developer’s perspective on the current materials landscape as well as provide an in-depth look at the Core Knowledge curricular materials. If you have questions you’d like Linda to address, please submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my experience, nowadays, nearly all educators are knowledgeable about the “key Shifts” articulated by the Common Core State Standards for ELA/Literacy (CCSS-ELA). So, they look for instructional materials that include the Shifts:
- Regular practice with complex text that increases incrementally in complexity;
- Multiple opportunities for using text-based evidence from both literary and informational texts in reading, speaking and writing; and
- A balance between experience with literary and informational text so that students are able to build background knowledge and vocabulary.
That said, I think there is still wide variation among educators in understanding the many nuances of the CCSS-ELA. This level of understanding impacts what people are — and are not — looking for in instructional materials. Deep understanding comes when educators have the opportunity to read and discuss up-to-date research on early literacy best practices and to review multiple ELA materials in detail to see different ways in which the Standards can be addressed. Some of the nuances of the CCSS-ELA that I think are less universally understood are reflected by relatively little change in what educators seek out in their materials. In my experience, here are three common areas of confusion:
- The Standards focus on basic foundational skills in the early grades and outline what the development of such skills should entail in Appendix A of the CCSS-ELA, “Reading Foundational Skills.” Recognizing the difference between truly CCSS-aligned materials — ones that include a comprehensive and systematic approach to teaching phonic and word attack skills — and those that simply “say” they use a phonics-based approach continues to be a challenging for many educators. Reading the Foundational Skills section of the Standards, as well as Appendix A, can help purchasers be more discerning consumers.
- While everyone has gotten the message about the need for students to hear and read more informational text to build background knowledge, I think far fewer educators are familiar with this specific language in the introduction to the Standards (emphasis mine): “…Students can only gain this foundation [of background knowledge] when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.” Without an understanding of how curriculum can be intentionally and coherently structured to develop knowledge, educators will erroneously view all instructional materials that include the prescribed percentage of informational text as equally effective. This is not the case however: a random, helter-skelter approach to including nonfiction topics for study at each grade level fails to leverage the powerful learning effects of a coherent and cumulative sequencing of topics.
- Similarly, many purchasers are still looking for explicit vocabulary lists and definitions that students are expected to practice and memorize. These components are not necessarily essential to strong vocabulary instruction, however. Recent research suggests that most vocabulary is learned implicitly through repeated, meaningful exposures.