The Common Core’s Close Reading standard requires that students determine what the text actually says, make logical inferences, cite evidence from the text, and support conclusions. In the early grades, students are expected to learn to ask and answer questions about a text; in sixth grade, they should be able to cite evidence to support their thinking. Michael Fisher posting on Close Reading
At the Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI), of which I am co-founder, we help our partner schools to meet these goals. This video shows fifth graders from Revere, Massachusetts - students with parents from Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mexico, and Haiti, in a school with a poverty rate of 70% - debating whether genetically modified foods should – or should not – be part of a broader effort to eradicate world hunger. They have done their own research (before they knew which side of the question they would defend); they debate two on two while the teacher is working elsewhere in the classroom with other students. Their research, their mature demeanor, and the quality of their arguments would do credit to high-school juniors or seniors, let alone the 10- and 11-year olds they actually are!
The success of these debaters shows that the Common Core standards are achievable; indeed, that students can muster evidence even before they reach 6th grade.
BSRI’s goal for second grade – in some cases, even first grade – is to have students working in centers (that is, in groups of 4 or 5 without the participation of the teacher) read text together, ask each other questions, and engage in discussion together about what is the main idea and which are the key supporting details. See an example for yourself in this video link:
Second Grade Reciprocal Teaching Session
As we all know, there’s growing opposition to Common Core. But when you see for yourself what this actually looks like, as in these two videos, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would be opposed to having children learn to read, to think, and to analyze! One can only suppose that the opposition is ideological and political, and has little if anything to do with what close reading actually looks like in practice.
If we can get past the ideological blinders and consider what actually happens in classrooms like these that are successfully implementing close reading, we find some very important collateral benefits. Students really like being able to perform at these high levels; as the students in the videos demonstrate so clearly, they very much enjoy being in school. Disruptive behavior in the classroom all but disappears (even in high-poverty schools like the two in the videos). Special education referrals come down.
And student performance at these high levels gives teacher morale a huge boost. “This is every teacher’s dream,” says the 5th grade teacher. From the 2nd grade teacher, “I love my job!”
Let’s not kill off good instruction for children just because someone labels it as “Common Core”! Perhaps adults in the education debate should be encouraged to do their own “close reading” by looking at what’s possible when students are encouraged to read text analytically and to support their arguments with evidence from the text.
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