The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) present a focused approach to implementation by organizing the overall ELA/Literacy Standards into three main Shifts. By incorporating these Shifts into lesson planning (including the selection of texts, activities, and other materials), you’ll be preparing students for the literacy skills they’ll need in college and their careers.
First, the Standards call for a shift toward regular practice with complex texts and their requisite academic language. Research conducted by the Carnegie Corporation (2009) revealed that our nation has too many students reading at too low a level. Additionally, research applied in the construction of the Standards revealed that one of the single most significant predictors of college and workforce readiness is the ability to interact with complex texts and construct meaning from unfamiliar words.
Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from the text is the next component of the changing landscape of ELA instruction within the CCSS. This second Shift emphasizes the skills necessary for students to support the ideas they share. Teaching students to use the text explicitly as the foundation for supporting their ideas about texts is a powerful tool. Every teacher knows students who love to share their thoughts about what authors mean and/or intend but are unable to defend their interpretations with examples from the actual text. Therefore, students must be challenged to integrate the text details, explicate meaning, and support their ideas with evidence the text provides.
Literacy development is a shared responsibility across all disciplines. No longer can the ELA teacher be the sole keeper of the “literacy flame.” Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction is a door through which every teacher can assume their rightful responsibility in developing the literacy practices of their students. Disciplines act like cultures (Moje, 2015) containing unique structures, language, interaction practices, and modes of expression. As students encounter the nuances of their subjects, it is incumbent upon subject-area teachers to provide access points to these disciplines in ways that increase subject matter knowledge and the literacy skills of their students.
How to Apply the Shifts When Choosing a Text
Consider the example of a social studies teacher at a middle school helping students gain deep knowledge about the Civil War from varying perspectives. When choosing a text, this teacher would certainly bring her knowledge of history to the decision-making process in order to choose appropriate and engaging social studies content, but she should also reference the ELA Shifts to ensure that the text fosters students’ literacy skills as well. She might choose A Letter from a Former Slave to His Slave Master as a potential text. Written in 1865, this text allows students to encounter a text by a former slave as dictated to an unknown writer. What questions might the teacher ask herself next?
Is this text sufficiently complex?
Students have the opportunity to grapple with the levels of meaning, significance of writing structure, and the impact of perspective on the author’s use of different rhetorical elements. Written at a lexile level 860, a text such as this offers multiple access points for addressing the literacy standards as well as content standards. The numerical complexity places this text well within the realm of 7th grade, and the qualitative components create an opportunity for teachers and students to explore text nuance and grow in the analytical process.
How does this text create opportunities to cite evidence from the text and build content knowledge?
The timeframe of the text places the events just beyond the end of slavery and on the brink of Reconstruction, opening the door for discussions about freedom and liberty as well as the opportunity to build content knowledge about this dynamic time period by reading a first-hand account. The text includes speech cadences indicative of the slave’s language ability and critical questions will arise as to whether the slave dictated the text or wrote it. Students will need to reference evidence from the text to defend their opinion.
Additionally, this text is ripe for literacy development as students are challenged to discern tone, purpose, and motives of the writer by referencing the language in the text itself.
As school districts seek ways to ensure they are providing their teachers with the best CCSS implementation tools, step one needs to be a firm grounding in the ELA Shifts — what they mean and what they don’t mean — as well as the implications for teaching and learning.