Friday, August 03, 2012

The Most Exasperating Thing Yet Written About Common Core ELA

James W. Pellegrino and Margaret L. Hilton, Editors; Committee on Defining Deeper Learning and 21st Century Skills; Center for Education; Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Research Council:

In the early 1990s Australian scholars Freebody and Luke took an important step forward in reconciling the various controversies described above (Freebody and Luke, 1990; Luke and Freebody, 1997). They created what is now known as the “four resources model.” The model consists of a set of different stances that readers can take toward a text, each of which approaches reading from a different point of view: that of the text, the reader, the task, or the context. Taken together, the stances constitute a complete “theory” of a reader who is capable of managing all of the resources at his or her disposal. The authors propose that any reader can assume any one of these four stances in the quest to make meaning in response to a text. The confluence of reader factors (how much a reader knows or is interested in a topic), text (an assessment of the complexity and topical challenge of the text), task (what a reader is supposed to do with the topic), and context (what is the purpose or challenge in dealing with this text) will determine the particular stance a reader assumes when reading a particular text. That stance can change from text to text, situation to situation, or even moment to moment when reading a given text. The various stances (resources) and the key questions associated with each are:

  • The reader as decoder, who asks: What does the text say? In the process the reader builds a coherent text base where each idea is tested for coherence with all of the previous ideas gleaned from a close reading of the text.
  • The reader as meaning maker, who asks: What does the text mean? In answering that question the reader seeks to develop meaning based on: (a) the ideas currently in the text base and (b) the reader’s prior knowledge.
  • The reader as text analyst, who asks: What tools does the author use to achieve his or her goals and purposes? The text analyst considers how the author's choice of words, form, and structure shape our regard for different characters or our stance toward an issue, a person, or a group. The text analyst reads through the texts to get to the author and tries to evaluate the validity of the arguments, ideas, and images presented.
  • The reader as text critic, who asks questions about intentions, subtexts, and political motives. The text critic assumes that no texts are ideologically neutral, asking such question as: Whose interests are served or not served by this text? Who is privileged, marginalized, or simply absent? What are the political, economic, epistemological, or ethical goals of the author?

Got that so far?

The mapping of (the Common Core ELA) standards onto the four resources model (Luke and Freebody, 1997) is reasonably transparent. The three standards in Cluster 1, Key Ideas and Details, reflect the stance of the reader as decoder, with a hint of reader as meaning maker (because of the requirement of invoking prior knowledge to complete each task). The three standards in Cluster 2, Craft and Structure, reflect the stance of the reader as text analyst, focusing on form–function (or purpose–structure) relationships. The three standards in Cluster 3, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, entail all four stances—decoder, meaning-maker, analyst, and critic, but favor the text critic (especially 8) and meaning maker (especially 7 and 9). And, of course, the standard in Cluster 4, Range and Level of Text Complexity, involves all four stances in constant interaction. (emphasis mine)

OK, here's standard 8:

Delineate and evaluate the reasoning and rhetoric within a text, including assessing whether the evidence provided is relevant and sufficient to support the text’s claims.

Here's the relevant part of cluster 3, reader as text analyst:

The text analyst reads through the texts to get to the author and tries to evaluate the validity of the arguments, ideas, and images presented.

Standard 8 clearly applies directly and precisely to the "text analyst" role. What the "four resources model" illustrates clearly is that the Common Core standards entirely omits the role of the reader as text critic from the curriculum. They have, at best, three of the four basic stances of the reader. They are strikingly incomplete.

The NAS paper ignores this and moves on based on their assertion that they are congruent.

Allow me to use this post as a recursive example. Colloquially, what I've done above would be considered "critical thinking." In the discipline of English, however, criticism has a different, more precise definition, as shown in the model above. So thus far I've not done "text criticism," just enough textual analysis to show that the text fails internally, on its own terms.

This only becomes criticism when I ask "Why and how did this happen?" Apparently there is so much money and power behind Common Core that everyone up to and including the National Research Council is willing to claim to see things that are not there. Everyone wants a seat at the trough table.

That is criticism.

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