Disciplinary Literacy with the Common Core State Standards

Over spring break I had the opportunity to attend a one day workshop with Doug Buehl on Disciplinary Literacy with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). First of all, I must say that Mr. Buehl was an amazing presenter! I was surprised to find out that he is originally a HS Social Studies teacher (yes, you read that right) and had great, practical ways to incorporate the English Language Arts CCSS across other content area courses and make them more meaningful and engaging for students. Mr. Buehl has written several books and you can also find a variety of his articles here that provide you with strategies to implement tomorrow. Now the only thing I wish for is for him to be on twitter so I can continue learning from him each day!

I left this one day workshop with a headache…a good one, because I learned so much! I took a great deal of notes, but will now share with you what I found to be very important as I learned about the CCSS and questions I still have. They are in no order of importance.

Important ideas that I took away from this workshop:

  • The CCSS require us to teach students to read complex text independently, whereas, in the past we may have shied away from complex text due to having a variety of learners in our classrooms. We have learned ways to differentiate in our classrooms for our struggling learners (ex: teacher reading complex text to the class, rely on visuals, etc.) We need to scaffold our teaching for students to be able to learn how to read complex text and make meaning from it. As school leaders, we need to scaffold learning about the CCSS and instructional strategies for our teachers.
  • The CCSS force us to provide our students with standards-based instruction and NOT standards-referenced instruction. What’s the difference, you ask? If you create a fun lesson or plan to teach your favorite unit on apples and then find standards that might fit into it, that is standards referenced. We need to start with the standards to plan our instruction.
  • The Lexile level expectations have been upped. What used to be a 10th grade reading level expectation is now in Middle School. Yikes!
  • Literacy in Math: Mr. Buehl stated that “if you have the inability to read math, then you will have the inability to figure out math.” He then modeled how to read a math definition from a math textbook. He modeled his thinking as he read through the paragraph on integers, picking apart each work he didn’t know the meaning of right away, but pulling his background knowledge to make connections and build his understanding of the paragraph. This took a lot of time, however, he says that if students are never taught to read this then they’re basically carrying the equivalent of a rock with them when they bring the textbook home. They will come back the next day acting like you’ve never taught them about integers. Basically, we need to prepare our students to be able to read/learn on their own.
  • You may be a highly confident reader in one area, but not another. The longer that you are taught a discipline by hands-on and visuals and NOT asked to read/inform yourself, the lower your reading ability in that area would go down.
  • Many English teachers chose their profession, because they love literature, but can no longer continue to teach units on their favorite novels. They need to be teaching the skills for students to be able to independently read and learn.
  • Elementary teachers can’t wait for students to have basic literacy skills before teaching with informational texts. The well-known phrase “learning to read and then learning to read” is a myth.
  • In the report “Reading Between the Lines” on what the ACT reveals about college readiness in reading, you will find that the 2005 ACT shows that only 51% of our high school students are ready for college level reading! What’s worse is when this study looked at data on reading levels in 8th and 10th grade, students were on track for being college ready in reading, but then declined. What happens in high school?! This is why our students need the ELA standards for disciplinary literacy.
  • We cannot hide behind the “they should be able to do this by now” thinking. Especially with the gaps we will have as we implement the CCSS, yes they should be able to do this by now, but now it’s our job to scaffold their learning and get them to where they need to be. Think of where our students will be after a few years of the CCSS!
  • The CCSS no longer allow us to “cover” curriculum each year. We can no longer “cover history,” but teach history. No longer can we do “drive-by” teaching. The CCSS give you the permission to not have to teach everything that the book/curriculum says to cover.

Questions that I still have:

  • I’m grappling with literacy in math. Our school has been using an old math textbook for quite some time that doesn’t lend well to hands-on math for younger students to develop solid number sense and also to develop problem solving skills (which our math book lacks). We are moving to adopt a new math program that has had successful results in many districts (I’ve never heard anything bad about it). I’ve been told that it is different, because it is not just “turning the page in the math book.” I had this thought in the back of my mind as Mr. Buehl spoke about literacy in math and should have asked if he was speaking more to the 6-12 teachers?
  • Grading. I learned some great strategies for teachers in the content areas to implement that allow students to be actively engaged in the content and learn through reading, writing and then speaking with their peers. For many high school teachers strategies like these are going to be very different than traditional methods of read the textbook, take notes in a lecture, and complete a multiple choice test. One of the first questions I know that will come up is on grading…what will they put in their gradebook when students are engaged in a discussion? Yes, I do realize that grading is an entirely different topic that takes up several blog posts (and books), however, how do we get teachers started on implementing these practices if they don’t think it will work (and then get to the grading practices later)?
  • I went to this workshop feeling like our district was far behind on implementation of the CCSS, however, I learned that we’re not in comparison to other districts. We have spent a great deal of our PD time this year as a district focusing on what reading and writing looks like across the grades and disciplines and we’re working on developing common expectations. After hearing from people in other districts, I am confident that this was time well spent. I would love to hear what other districts are doing in scaffolding learning for their staff about the CCSS and how are you moving to implementation?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. @franmcveigh

    Love Doug Buehl so I am sure that you had a great learning day. There is no “one way” to begin working on the Core. Text complexity is huge and seems to be totally misunderstood by teachers who still cling to “whole novel reading” simultaneously by the entire class. The “close reading” of text with discussion, supporting statements, and argumentation is supported in both the reading and writing standards. To me, the key is picking a place to begin and using your data to show growth!

    Your questions are interesting. A high school math teacher told me last year that the standardized tests require reading first, mathematics second. “You don’t even know what math to do if you can’t read the problem,” was his great comment. Grading – introduce rubrics for discussion that include quality. After discussion, a quick write could also capture participants’ thoughts. Or even a “The argument that I believe had the most support in the text was ________.” Maintaining the status quo for the gradebook or computer program perameters is not acceptable!

    Lucy Calkins challenges us to look for the gold in the Common Core in Pathways to the Common Core. You and your building are on the “gold path.”

  2. McDonald Science

    Thank you for the great overview-I plan to share this with our curriculum team. This summer is when we will be addressing the ELA CC standards, focusing initially on English 1-4 and our social science courses. Since the CC is shifting the way we teach-from content based instruction to skill based instruction-we are taking advantage of this and integrating our curriculum. So when 9th grade ELA standards are being analyzed, our social science, science, elective, and english teachers will all be sitting at the same table creating a curriculum for English 1. This summer will definitely be an adventure! As for math, we are still unsure on how they fit in with the ELA standards.
    There will be a lot of growing pains this summer and next school year. I feel our English teachers will have the hardest time transitioning away from “literature.”
    As for “grading”, we are attempting to focus on formative and summative where a student’s grade should be based upon mastery. There is still much discussion needed on grading versus assessing.
    I plan on capturing the progress of our curriculum work in a soon to be created blog.
    Thank you again for sharing!

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