Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Depends on What You Mean by "Analyze"

So here's an example of the kind of instruction one of the authors of the ELA Common Core standards, David Coleman, would like to see:

Close Reading of Text: Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. from EngageNY on Vimeo.

It is a teacher-led close reading, focusing on the question "What kind of argument is this?" Peculiar. Knowing the "kinds of argument" is not part of the standards. There is this:

RI.9-10.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

Although the History/Social Studies version of that is:

RH.9-10.6. Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

So I suppose you need to know this is an informational text, not a primary historical source.

But anyhow, here's where we are. We are supposed to infer from these standards that students must know rhetoric. Something about it. But look, they just wrote these standards, from scratch. Why wouldn't you lay it out? Especially when all other references to assessing arguments look like this:

RH.9-10.8. Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.

That is, the standards only care about one type of argument -- one based on reasoning and evidence -- which, as Coleman points out, King's does not depend on.

There are plenty of good examples of how to write these kind of standards, for example:

4. Texts and influence

Students will learn to examine texts and their language from the perspective of exercising influence in particular. They will familiarise themselves with argumentation and will consolidate their knowledge relating to this. They will learn to analyse and produce argumentative texts.


The objectives of this course are for students to

  • consolidate their media literacy, which will enable them to analyse and interpret various media texts, their backgrounds and functions and to critically assess information communicated by the media and its effects on individuals and society;
  • be able to justify their views diversely both as writers and as speakers and to assess aspirations to influence and the reliability of text;
  • be able to examine the effects of literature on society;
  • learn to examine and assess texts and the values that these convey even from ethical viewpoints.


  • direct and indirect influence, such as persuasion, steering, manipulation; advertising, propaganda; irony, satire, parody;
  • genres of texts aiming to influence, graphic and electronic texts: opinions, columns, humorous columns, reviews, editorials, commentaries, advertisements;
  • argumentation methods and rhetorical devices;
  • taking a stance in conversations, debates and oral contributions;
  • literature consciously aiming to influence and other contentious texts;
  • ideology in texts, source criticism and media criticism;
  • responsibility of a communicator; media choices and netiquette.

That's why you'll never see international benchmarks for Common Core ELA, they are completely different from the standards of high performing countries, by design, but who knows why?

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