“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 experience.

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 purposes.

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.