Real-World Reading and the Common Core State Standards

Article excerpt

Robin Wildman's classroom was a classroom that worked for my son. I will never forget the day that Jimmy, then a fifth grader, picked up a magazine from my reading methods teaching materials and asked if he could read it. I was shocked and elated!

"Yes," I coolly replied, trying not to reveal my amazement that my basketball playing, skateboarding, too cool to read, reluctant reader asked to borrow a magazine.

Jimmy noticed the Footsteps magazine From Montgomery ?? Birmingham (2000, May) and said that Mrs. Wildman was teaching them about the U.S. Civil Rights marches, nonviolent protests, the Freedom Riders and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He went on to tell me that a real freedom rider, Bernard Lafayette, then nineteen years-old and now Doc Lafayette, Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, had visited his classroom last week and invited Mrs. Wildman's entire 5th grade to go on a bus trip to see Montgomery, Birmingham and more. My son was enthralled by the idea of a field trip of such magnitude and intrigued by this chapter of our history. Jimmy went off to his bedroom to read his magazine; I continued planning for the next day's class. About an hour later (yes, my son read for an entire hour uninterrupted!), I heard him shout, "Mom, Mom, Mom!" He ran down the stairs, magazine flapping, eyes twinkling, showing a picture of Bernard Lafayette marching in a civil rights protest as a young man. On this day, I already knew Mrs. Wildman was a great teacher, but learned how vitally important informational texts were in motivating children to learn and to read.

According to Susan Pimental, a lead writer of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts (ELA) and Literacy (2011), 80% of postsecondary reading is informational. Clearly, key priorities of the Common Core State Standards in Reading involve engaging students in a balance of literature and informational texts from the early grades through high school. This column will review the research on teaching reading with informational texts and provide examples of classroom that works to help you help your students achieve the reading expectations of the CCSS.

The reading gap

Nell Duke (2010) posits that the reason U.S. children have the largestgap between literary reading achievement and informational reading achievement of any nation studied in the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy study (PIRLS) is that "U.S. students have little experience with informational text in the early grades of schooling" (Mullís, Martin, Gonzalez, Oc Kennedy, 2003, p. 68). She points out that informational reading is more important than ever and notes that the National Assessment ofEducational Progress (NAEP) framework expects 50% informational passages by 4th grade, 55% by 5th grade and 70% by 12th grade. I will add that the recently released PARCC assessment content framework for ELA/Literacy calls for 50% informational reading by 3rd grade. Clearly, Nell Duke's research makes an important point, "there is little question about whether we should involve informational text in early schooling; the question now is how."

Duke (2010) suggests there are "the usual suspects" and "the lese usual suspects'* of methods for teaching reading of informational texts, which I will outline below:

The usual suspects

* Teach text structure

* Read-aloud

The less than usual suspects

* Use real-world texts for real-world reasons

* Foster reading motivation

Just as in Mrs. Wildman's 5th grade classroom, the students in the 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms in Dukes research (Purcell-Gates, Duke, and Martineau, 2007) were actively engaged in real-world reading to learn, which in turn fostered reading motivation. Specifically, students were engaged in instruction that focused on a conceptual theme, such as the animal survival processes. Units of instruction used an approach called Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction or CORI. …