"And" Vs. "Or" in the Common Core
This post originally appeared on EdNews Colorado.
Educators everywhere are talking about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Especially English language arts teachers. The Common Core has its
friends, its foes and a large group of teachers in the middle who are
unsure what to think, or are withholding judgment until standardized
assessments are developed and vetted.
All of this talk is beginning to feel like a national game of
telephone with the Common Core serving as the only phrase audible in the
din. Myths are circulating and myth-busters
are struggling to keep pace. The Common Core should allow greater
collaboration than ever before within the profession. Instead, it is
proving to be a polarizing document, despite widespread adoption by 45 states and a host of endorsements by education organizations, boards of education and national associations.
The polarities are hard to escape: contemporary texts or the
classics? Informational texts or literature? Excerpts or whole works?
That little tiny two-letter word – “or” – may be the most dangerous word to enter the conversation.
As a practicing teacher, I use the word “and” instead of “or” when implementing the Common Core. New works and old, informational texts and literature, excerpts and whole texts. Complex texts, “just right” texts and everything in between.
Try it. Just one little word can make such a difference.
“And” instead of “or” transforms the Common Core from a polarized
dichotomy of “text wars” and narrowed curriculum into an empowering,
collaborative and broadened vision that supports teaching students to
read, write and think.
The Common Core should maximize, not minimize, what and how we teach.
We need to make decisions that serve the students in front of us. By
doing so, our work will align with the “robust and relevant” guidance
provided in the standards.
Do students need to read works of literature? Absolutely. Literature
unlocks a range of connections, experiences and elements of craft for
students. Reading literature is an aesthetic as well as an academic
Do students need to read informational texts? Of course they do. The
demands of all content areas require students to have the skills and
knowledge to navigate multimedia texts, textbooks, articles,
infographics and texts that represent genres and sub-genres that are
just beginning to take shape in our digital world.
It is not a question of one or the other. Haggling over percentages
will not help the readers in front of us. Arguing over whether primary
source documents from American history, the sonnets of Shakespeare or
scientific journal articles are more important reduces all three texts
to words on a page. Twenty-first century readers need opportunities to
explore, analyze and closely read a range of texts that represent all
modes and a variety of genres throughout their academic careers. And
that’s what the Common Core asks us to do.
English language arts teachers – and all teachers who utilize texts
to teach – will have served our students and the Common Core if students
know how to read, love to read and read widely for a variety of
In the meantime, I urge my colleagues in the profession to think
about what the Common Core liberates teachers to do, not what it keeps
teachers from doing. The standards offer guidance, not a national
curriculum. The “what” and the “how” are still up to teachers.