Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Long Walk Indeed

Brian G. Fay:

I'm looking at the New York State Common Core ELA Curriculum, Grade 7, Module 1: Overview. For now I'll set aside that this is the first step to a state-wide (and then national) curriculum. Instead, I want to examine one thing about this module and propose a radical idea.

The module concentrates, for eight weeks, on the reading of the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. It is 128 pages long, based on a true story, written by an award-winning author, and looks fascinating, but one thing that bothers me:

It's 128 pages long and we are supposed to be reading it for eight weeks. 

Eight weeks means about forty ELA class periods. 128 pages over 40 days is 3.2 pages a day. That's a tad slow.

There are other things going on over eight weeks. Dozens of activities, writing, chart completion, and other things to enrich the reading experience.

How did we end up here, seriously? Is this unit what anyone had in mind at the beginning of this process?

Not that I think it is terrible after a quick skim, but just about any teacher would have the same reaction as Brian -- it's a bit of a slog, and going slow is risky.

A few other thoughts:

  • This grade level curriculum is written by Expeditionary Learning; K-2 is by Core Knowledge. How well are those going to mesh?
  • The unit plan starts with a listing of background reading organized by Lexile score for text complexity. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I thought the whole point of CC ELA was that everyone should be doing reading at grade level not "leveled texts." Or is that only for elementary school? Is CC ELA going to cause secondary teachers to be much more concerned about "objective" measures of text complexity and differentiating based on it? Probably.
  • The unit seems to eventually go much deeper into the historical background in the Sudan than would be necessary to understand the text. Gotta maintain that literature/informational balance!
  • I'm afraid we're going to look back at moving a bunch of history into English class and a bunch of Literacy into Social Studies as a classic "rearranging the deck chairs" reform.
  • These "gathering and using textual evidence" questions are going to get old after, say, the first thousand of them.

Seriously, why didn't they just make a few tweaks to Massachusetts' standards and save everyone all this chaos?

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