Staying close to the text

The Common Core State Standards:
A New Trajectory or an Old Rut
P. David Pearson
UC Berkeley
Goals for today
• Introduce you to the Common Core State
Standards for English Language Arts
• Examine their potential
– New possibilities: The high road on curriculum, text,
and cognitive challenge
– Pot holes, sink holes, and black holes
• Discuss some defensible positions to take on
curriculum and pedagogy
• Talk about what citizens can do to monitor,
support, and critique their implementation
My Relationship with CCS
• Member of the Validation Committee
• Background work on text complexity with a
grant from Gates Foundation
• Long (and occasionally checkered) history with
standards going back to
– NBPTS: Standards for Teaching
– IRA/NCTE Standards
• Research and development work on
So why are we talking about
• We have had standards driving our school
programs since the early 1990s
• We have had national standards (supported by
federal funds and professional organization),
state standards and district standards.
• We use them to shape curriculum, assessment,
and hold our schools, teachers, and students
• So why the commotion about these standards?
What makes them different?
What is different about these
• Not federal, not national, but built by two
organizations (NGA and CCSSO) that represent
• These organizations funded their
development and made them available.
• States could opt in or opt out
• 4 state opted out: Texas, Nebraska, Alaska
and one other… and maybe some drift
The CCSS Requires Three
Shifts in ELA/Literacy*
1. Building knowledge through content-rich
2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in
evidence from text, both literary and
3. Regular practice with complex text and its
academic language
*From the creators of the standards
What is different about these
• Focus on critical reading, developing valid arguments,
integrated curriculum, and problem-solving.
• More focus on more challenging text than in previous
• More focus on writing than in previous standards,
particularly argumentation and explanation.
• Sea Change from the logic and feel of NCLB and an
enchantment with the basics.
– After all, they are standards to prepare students for colleges and
– In principle, at least, much less directive, more opportunity for
teachers to exercise professional judgment in helping students
meet the performance standards.
*From PDP’s reading of the standards
What sold me on the standards
What they said about reading
• Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the
close, attentive, reading that is at the heart of
understanding and enjoying complex works of literature.
They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to
pick carefully through the staggering amount of
information available today in print and digitally. They
actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement
with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds
knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens world
views. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning
and use of evidence essential to both private deliberation
and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic.
(CCSSO/NGA, 2010, p. 3)
So what’s not to Like?
• Nothing
• Everything I believe in about literacy learning
What they said about teacher choice
• By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards
leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and
states to determine how those goals should be reached
and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus,
the Standards do not mandate such things as a
particular writing process or the full range of
metacognitive strategies that students may need to
monitor and direct their thinking and learning.
Teachers are thus free to provide students with
whatever tools and knowledge their professional
judgment and experience identify as most helpful for
meeting the goals set out in the Standards.
(CCSSO/NGA, 2010, p. 4).
Just the right balance
• Let the body politic at every level have a voice
in the big overarching goals
• At every level along the way, from the state to
the district to the school to the classroom,
leave a little room for each player to place his
or her “signature”
• Identity, buy-in, the right kind of political
Fundamental Question: Which is
worse? or better?
• 1000 state and local orthodoxies
• A single national orthodoxy that we can
– monitor, nurture, and, maybe even, … get right.
So what are these standards?
What students should know and be able to do to
College and
or the workplace…
What are the benchmark performances along the
Common Core State Standards
way… (grade by grade)
How we will know whether students are achieving
Assessments to measure their mastery
the benchmarks and are C&C ready…
10 recurring standards for College and Career Readiness
Show up grade after grade
In more complex applications to more sophisticated texts
Across the disciplines of literature, science, and social studies
Their virtues…
• The comprehension standards are consistent with
our best, research-based knowledge about the
comprehension process.
• They recognize that reading and writing and
speaking, while sharing much in common, are
enacted differently in each discipline.
• They invite all teachers to support the acquisition
of literacy in their disciplines.
– They promote the integration of knowledge
acquisition and language/literacy development
– Shared responsibility for enactment
More virtues
• Focus on the larger goals of curriculum and
teaching, leaving prerogative at the local level.
• An elaborated theory of text complexity that
entails qualitative as well as quantitative
indicators of text challenge.
Unpacking the Virtues
Elaborated Theory of Text Complexity
• Quantitative: A number that tells you the
grade level of the text
– Lexile is the most common metric
• Qualitative: Aspects of text that bring special
challenges: Knowledge demands, syntax or
vocabulary, figurative language…
• Reader and Task: What must a teacher do to
make particular texts accessible to particular
Why text complexity? The gap for
college and career readiness
Jack Stenner’s (lexile guy) depiction of the 200 lexile gap
• Implementation!
• Implementation!
• Implementation?
Texts #1 for today: The best laid plans
of mice and men will often go awry.
• Robert Burns' poem To a Mouse, 1786.
• But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't
• In proving foresight may be vain:
• The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang
aft a-gley, [often go awry]
• An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For
promised joy.
Text #2
• There's many a slip between cup and lip
• Greek legend in which one of the Argonauts
returns home to his winery
What to watch out for…the “holes”
• Will they deliver on the promise of local and
teacher prerogative?
• Will they stay true to the challenge of critical
understanding of text?
• Will we be up to the challenge of integrated
curriculum across the disciplines?
• Can we meet the challenge of more complex
texts at every grade level?
• Will we get tests to match our aspirations for
Pothole #1: Prerogative
• The nub of the problem: The more specific they
get about what constitutes good curriculum for
achieving these standard, the more they erode
local choice in implementing them.
• The standards undergo many changes and
contortions from one grade to the next to give
the appearance of a progression of difficulty in
– An elusive but unwarranted progression
– Monitor with anchor standards and offer more
prerogative to teachers.
Pothole #2: Maintaining the critical
edge in comprehension and writing
Text dependency of questions
• Regarding the nature of texts: “A significant
percentage of tasks and questions are text
dependent…Rigorous text-dependent questions
require students to demonstrate that they not
only can follow the details of what is explicitly
stated but also are able to make valid claims that
square with all the evidence in the text. Textdependent questions do not require information
or evidence from outside the text or texts; they
establish what follows and what does not follow
from the text itself.” (page 6)
Stay close to the text
• Staying close to the text. “Materials make the
text the focus of instruction by avoiding
features that distract from the text. Teachers’
guides or students’ editions of curriculum
materials should highlight the reading
selections…Given the focus of the Common
Core State Standards, publishers should be
extremely sparing in offering activities that are
not text based.”
Will we keep the critical and integrative
edge in comprehension activities?
• A lot of questions are text based
– What is the author’s fundamental argument?
– What are the epistemological assumptions
underlying the author’s argument?
– How does the author’s argument square with
other and more common views on this issue?
– Whose interests are best served, in the long run,
by the author’s argument?
Pothole #3: Will we really deliver on
the integrated curriculum challenge?
• We have nearly a century’s worth of
experience in increasingly segregating
curriculum into silos?
• What makes us think we can manage to weave
together the goals of knowledge and literacy
Language Arts
Social Studies
Our current view of curriculum
Pothole #4: Are we up to the challenge
of more complex texts at every grade?
• Why should we believe that we can up the ante
when we can’t meet the current challenge?
• Not unless we develop a much more elaborate and
richer set of scaffolds to offer students when we ask
them to read more challenging texts,
– Especially in the early grades
– Especially for students who are currently striving mightily
to keep up with grade level expectations.
• This may be the Achilles Heel of the CCSS.
Pothole #5: Will we have tests to match
our vision of teaching and learning?
• You decide…
• These are taken from the Smarter Balanced
Grandma Ruth
Last night I learned that my grandma was named after Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player
of all time. I learned this six hours too late.
Yesterday I wanted to work on throwing a baseball. I needed a baseball, since my brother
wouldn’t let me borrow his. Unfortunately, I knew right where one was.
I tiptoed into my grandma’s bedroom. Sunlight from the late morning sun filtered in through
the leaves of the dogwood tree outside the open window. I moved slowly through my favorite
room in the house, which belonged to my favorite person in the world, my grandma.
I reached into the back of her closet and pulled out a shoebox full of old baseballs wrapped in
tissue paper. I shoved my hand in and grabbed the first one I touched. I threw off the paper and
ran out into the yard with our dog, Bowie, who would always play a game of catch with me.
We had a spectacular game of catch. By the end of our session I was throwing straight as an
arrow and Bowie was bringing it back as fast as he could. It was perfect.
I went back into my grandma’s room and wrapped the ball back up in paper, just like I’d found
it. Except now it looked dirty and used, like a good baseball should. At dinner, though, I heard
the story.
“Have I ever told you that I’m named after the greatest baseball player who ever lived?”
Grandma asked suddenly.
James and I shook our heads. We leaned forward to listen. It isn’t often we hear new stories
from her.
• My grandmother stood up and walked into her bedroom. She came back
with the shoebox in her hands. She sat down and started her story.
• “So, your great-grandfather was the dentist for the Detroit Tigers back in
the 1920s. His favorite player was Ty Cobb, the best player the Tigers have
ever had. When Ty found out that
• your great-grandparents were going to have a baby, he brought your
great-grandfather a big package full of baseballs signed by the best-known
players of the time. He said, ‘Doc, you can have these under one
condition: name your daughter Tyrina. After me.’ And my father, too
excited to say no, agreed.
• “When my mother heard about this she told my father to go to Ty Cobb
and give him back the baseballs, because she had her own ideas for
names. Ty just laughed when he heard this. He said to my father, ‘Doc, I’ll
tell you what: keep the baseballs but name her after my good friend Babe
• “My father smiled and said, ‘I’ll see what I can do. Keep these for me until
• “It turned out my mother loved the name Ruth. That’s how I got my name
and how my father got these: he let Ty Cobb name me after Babe Ruth.”
I tried to swallow but couldn’t. I hoped that she wasn’t going to say what I
thought she was going to say.
Then she said it.
“In this shoebox are the ten baseballs Ty Cobb gave my father. They are
signed by some of the most famous ballplayers in history, including one that
has one single signature on it: Babe Ruth’s.”
My grandma pulled the ball out, unwrapped it, and held it out for us to see.
The ball was scarred almost beyond recognition. It had dog bite marks, dirt
scuffs, and fraying seams. Right in the middle was a big signature in black
ink that I had somehow overlooked. It was smudged now and faded, but it
still clearly said “Babe Ruth.” I began to shake inside.
But my grandma just looked at the ball and smiled sweetly. She said softly,
“Even though it doesn’t look like much, this ball has brought our family a lot
of joy in its time. I remember when I was your age, Naomi, I almost rubbed
the signature right off from tossing it up and down all the time. You see, I’ve
always felt that a baseball should be used for a lot more than looking. My
dad, your great-grandfather, used to say the same thing.”
She lowered her hand and gently tossed the ball toward Bowie, sleeping by
the door. It rolled in a perfectly straight line and came to rest softly
between the dog’s paws. A perfect throw.
• What does Naomi learn about Grandma Ruth?
Use details from the text to support your
• Type your answer in the space provided.
Using text details to support an inference
or generalization…
From Smarter Balanced.
• Select three sentences that show that Naomi
is worried she has done something wrong.
Using text details to support an inference
or generalization…
From Smarter Balanced.
The following is the beginning of a story that a student is writing for a class
assignment. The story needs more details and an ending. Read the beginning of
the story and then complete the task that follows.
Oliver’s Big Splash
Oliver was a dog that lived in a small town near a lake. He loved to play
outside. Oliver liked to play fetch, but his favorite thing to do was to chase leaves.
He loved chasing leaves so much that his favorite time of year was fall when the
leaves fell off the trees.
One beautiful fall day, Oliver and his owner, Jeff, went for a walk around the
lake. They were enjoying the sunshine and the lake when suddenly a dragonfly
flew past. For a moment, Oliver forgot where he and Jeff were and what they were
doing. All of a sudden there was a big splash.
Write an ending for the story by adding details to tell what happens next.
From Smarter Balanced.
Why There Should Be a Longer School Day
Schools should have a longer school day for students. First, students could learn more about
different subjects if the school day were longer. Also, students could get extra help from teachers.
More hours in class each day would also mean more vacations scattered throughout the year!
Now look at the following daily schedule for a school that has switched to a longer school day.
Morning Announcements
Reading Language Arts
Foreign Language
Morning Recess
Art or Music
Afternoon Recess
Homework Preparation
After-School Tutoring or Sports
• Revise the paragraph by adding details from the daily
schedule that help support the reasons for having a longer
school day.
From Smarter Balanced.
So what’s a school to do…
• Stay closer to the standards than to the
interpretations of the standards we have seen
thus far.
• Pay more attention to the anchor standards
than to the grade level instantiations of them.
• Work to make sure they get revised so that
the pot holes, sink holes, and black holes are
kept at bay…
So what can a parent or group of
citizens do?
• Learn about your school’s plan for addressing the
• Find out how the staff can use your help.
• Support teachers in addressing the amount and challenge
of reading needed to meet these standards with some
personal home reading program for each of your children.
• Engage in rich conversations about the books your children
and grandchildre are reading in school and on their own.
• Enjoy the fact that at least for a while, we are on an upward
swing in curriculum—where students will gain access to
more challenging tasks that will expand their opportunities
in future grades and beyond the school.
• Deeper Learning
Hopes for the standards…
• I’m hangin’ in there for the near term.
• They are still the best game in town
• They are moving in the right direction in terms of
reading theory and research—deeper learning.
• Hoping they prove to be a living document
– Regularly revised with advances in
• our knowledge of reading
• research on their “consequences”
More on the topic
Go to
Go to research and publications
Look for pdavidpearson
I’ll post this powerpoint…
– Pearson, P. D. (2013). Research foundations for the
Common Core State Standards in English language
arts. In S. Neuman and L. Gambrell (Eds.), Quality
reading instruction in the age of Common Core State
Standards (pp. 237-262). Newark, DE: International
Reading Association.
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