January 17, 2011
Concerns over the “Guiding Concern”
Since meeting with the teachers in West Babylon to give consideration to text-based questions and what we need to be doing as teachers to raise the bar on thinking and understanding text, I have begun to reflect on my own knowledge base and work to fill in the gaps where they exist.
The authors of the Common Core suggest in their exemplars of close reading units, that our questioning begin with a “guiding concern.” For me, this is one of those places where I feel “cognitive dissonance.” In my vast reading about literacy, I’ve never met the term “guiding concern” so as a reader and a learner, I am left scrambling to figure out what was intended by this. What did the authors of the Common Core mean when they coined this phrase? How can understanding “guiding concern” help me as teacher? What is its rightful place in the design of text-based questions?
So, to answer my question, I began where I suggested that you begin with your students: At the word/phrase level. What are the words “guiding concern” really saying?
A “concern” is something that is worthy of a person’s attention, care, or interest. Oftentimes, a concern has a negative connotation and is seen as synonymous with worry or anxiety. When I consider these definitions in the context of asking good text-based questions that help students achieve the careful analysis that allows them to “gain and integrate new information,” I am thinking that a “guiding concern” is that idea (or ideas, as the case may be) so central to the text that teachers will want to draw students’ attention to (hence “guiding”) lest they miss something big and important about what they are reading.
As I work to clarify the definition of guiding concern, I arrive at my next question: What does understanding “guiding concern” mean for me as a teacher? How will it help me to formulate better questions?
As I pondered this next question, I found myself flipping through To Understand, a wonderful book by one of my literacy idols, Ellin Oliver Keene. As I paged through my notes I found myself lost in a paragraph where Ellin talks about consistently asking and expecting students to think at high levels and the need for teachers to “recast our language…to promote huge leaps in thinking.” She suggests using this line with students: Think about all the questions you have as I read and then pick one or two you think will best help us understand the story.(Keene, 14) And that’s when it occurred to me. Isn’t that what a guiding concern is? One or two questions that will help us to understand the story?
In working to better understand “guiding concern” and the process of asking thoughtful, text-based questions that lead to careful analysis of text, I have assigned myself the same task that you have been assigned to develop a close reading unit. Like you, my journey has just begun but I am looking for colleagues to share the hardships and victories of the process. If you’d like to join the conversation, I invite you to share your thoughts at this discussion board that I have started: http://www.literacy-builders.com/component/ccboard/view-topiclist/forum-18-common-core-standards I hope to “see” you there!