June 11, 2012
I saw Kate Gerson speak about the Common Core Learning Standards. She shared an anecdote, that a Boston cab driver who claims he doesn't read because he can't really read, can, in fact, read any text at any level of complexity about the Boston Red Sox. His background knowledge is so great, that he can read any material on the subject and comprehend it.
I had nearly the opposite experience Saturday morning. I never struggled with reading in school, but Saturday morning I was frustrated as I sat at my kitchen table and tried to read the Newsday article, "Belmont Bummer." Now, I have never been to a horse race, and I don't really watch horse racing on t.v., so the full extent of my background knowledge of horse racing is; horses run, and one runs the fastest. Therefore, I couldn't comprehend the phrase, "4-5 morning-line choice at Wednesday's post position draw."
It was like a foreign language to me, and it gave me a renewed appreciation for what struggling readers face every day. It also gave me pause to think about how do we, as educators, reconcile our instincts to build background knowledge and activate schema, with the C.C.L.S. mandate to have students uncover meaning on their own? It reminded me of the question that came up repeatedly in the exit cards from last week's faculty meeting. Several teachers asked some variation of the question, "Are all students expected to read at the same level using the same vocabulary?" I contacted Carol Varsalona on this one and below is her reply:
> "All students are not and will not read at the same level, but all need to
> be exposed to grade level materials, as per the CCLS. Students should be
> introduced to grade level vocabulary to build their language skills.
> Teachers need to blend small group instruction with appropriate
> instructional materials for different groups of readers as in the past,
> while providing large group instruction with grade level materials. We do
> not throw out differentiation, but we scaffold our instruction and exposure
> to more complex tasks to build students' ability to access and use grade
> level material. Close readings are one instructional tool. The goals are to
> make each student college and career ready, critical readers, and deep