Thursday, September 24, 2009

Student Practices in Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening

Since I've increasingly been quoting longer aims/rationale/goal statements from different countries cited in the proposed core standards for English, I might as well do the same for the core standards themselves for comparison:

The following practices in reading, writing, and speaking and listening undergird and help unify the rest of the standards document. They are the "premises" —broad statements about the nature of college and career readiness in reading, writing, and speaking and listening—that underlie the individual standards statements and cut across the various sections of the document. Every idea introduced here is subsequently represented in one or more places within the larger document.

Students who are college and career ready exhibit the following capacities in their reading, writing, and speaking and listening:

  1. They demonstrate independence as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.
    Students can, without significant scaffolding or support, comprehend and evaluate complex text across a range of types and disciplines, and they can construct effective arguments and clearly convey intricate or multifaceted information. Likewise, students are independently able to discern a speaker’s key points as well as ask questions and articulate their own ideas.
  2. They build strong content knowledge.
    Students build a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance. They demonstrate their ability to become proficient in new areas through research and study. They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and the specific in-depth expertise needed to comprehend subject matter and solve problems in different fields. They refine their knowledge and share it through substantive writing and speaking.
  3. They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
    Students consider their reading, writing, and speaking and listening in relation to the contextual factors of audience, task, purpose, and discipline. They appreciate nuances, such as how the composition and familiarity of the audience should affect tone. They also know that different disciplines call for different types of evidence (e.g., documentary evidence in history, experimental evidence in the natural sciences).
  4. They comprehend as well as critique.
    Students are engaged and open-minded—but skeptical—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and assess the veracity of claims.
  5. They privilege evidence.
    Students cite specific textual evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a piece of writing. They use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking, making their reasoning clear to the reader or listener, and they constructively evaluate others’ use of evidence.
  6. They care about precision.
    Students are mindful of the impact of specific words and details, and they consider what would be achieved by different choices. Students pay especially close attention when precision matters most, such as in the case of reviewing significant data, making important distinctions, or analyzing a key moment in the action of a play or novel.
  7. They craft and look for structure.
    Students attend to structure when organizing their own writing and speaking as well as when seeking to understand the work of others. They understand and make use of the ways of presenting information typical of different disciplines. They observe, for example, how authors of literary works craft the structure to unfold events and depict the setting.
  8. They use technology strategically and capably.
    Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, and listening. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

You've got plenty of examples now (scroll down) to compare this to, from high-performing countries which we're ostensibly seeking to benchmark ourselves to. They are all very different from this. And the more deeply you look, the more differences you perceive. This is not taking us closer to our high performing peers, it is taking us further away.

They are not representative of a complete vision of English Language Arts standards. In fact, they don't even claim to be. I would be ok with that if every public indication didn't point to their eventual use as English Language Arts standards, including (non-binding) commitments from 48 odd states to use the final version of this document as the basis of 85% of their English Language Arts standards.

Beyond that, this is just such crap writing. The verbs! The verbs are all wrong. Here are the verbs in the English (that is, of England, the country) "competence" key concept: "expressing," "reading," "demonstrating," "applying," "transferring," "demonstrating," "making judgements." Here are the verbs from common standards key concepts 6 -7: "are mindful of," "consider," "pay especially close attention to," "making distinctions," "analyzing," "attend to," "seeking to understand," "make use of," "observe." They're all internal, abstract, indefinite, passive in tone if not voice. English isn't about what goes on in your head, it is about what you can communicate, what you can express. And I'm not just pulling this out of the air. Look at all the other standards documents!

And what's up with authors "craft the structure." You're going to make a list of just eight capacities in college and career ready reading, writing, speaking and listening and "craft for structure" is one of them? These folks don't seem to understand the gravity of their undertaking. If this is released in this form, people will be hosting conference sessions, writing journal articles and sitting through PD trying to glean the inner meaning of "crafting the structure to unfold events and depict the setting."

Maybe the weirdest thing about the way the common standards are written is that they seem to be going out of their way to keep the reading level of the document itself much lower than other countries'.

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