Monday, November 25, 2013

Update on the World's Most Annoying Hobby

Tim and Cynthia Shanahan:

Another example of a disciplinary difference with profound implications for literacy has to do with the role of the author. Research has shown (Shanahan, 1992; Shanahan & Shanahan, under review) clear differences in whether or how those in the various disciplines think about author during reading. For example, it has been shown that in history reading, author is a central construct of interpretation (Wineburg, 1991, 1998). Historians are always asking themselves who this author is and what bias this author brings to the text (somewhat analogous to the lawyer’s common probe, “What did he know and when did he know it?”). Consideration of author is deeply implicated in the process of reading history, and disciplinary literacy experts have hypothesized that “sourcing”: (thinking about the implications of author during interpretation) is an essential history reading process (Wineburg, 1991, 1998) and studies show that it can, at least under some circumstances, be taught to students in a way that improves their learning (Hynd- Shanahan, Holschuh, & Hubbard, 2004).

Since there's clearly the audience for more substantive Common Core analysis and routes to get it out to people (other than this intentionally unpopular blog) I'm trying to come up with something reasonably short and coherent together that will contribute usefully to people's understanding of how we got to this point. The above quote from Tim and Cynthia Shanahan is a bit of a Rosetta Stone for illuminating the fault lines inside the Common Core process. Tim Shanahan, as you may know, was fairly heavily involved in the CC process, and is probably mostly responsible for the sort-of heavy disciplinary literacy emphasis of the standards. I'm not aware of any other standards, at the state level, international or otherwise, that makes literacy in the content areas a top-level concern, so it is a big deal, sort of.

Here's the catch: look at what he and Cynthia use as their example of a distinctive feature of reading in history class -- the author as a central construct of interpretation -- then look at the CC standards for reading in History and Social Studies. Is it in there? No. Why? I'd say literally because there is no anchor standard for it, and since every grade level standard must be aligned directly to an anchor standard, that's it. There may have been more complex arguments in play, but the anchor standard issue should have been sufficient to nix any disciplinary literacy standards that genuinely addressed the current scholarship on disciplinary literacy as understood by the experts working on the standards.

That is, this particular example shows the fault lines between the data and assessment geeks -- who got to establish the strict structure of the standards that everyone else had to work around -- and the people with a direct interest in pedagogy, even those experts who had a prime "seat at the table" and who have significantly enhanced their careers at least temporarily, by aligning themselves with the standards.

This is a kind of discrepancy that never happens in standards of our higher performing international peers. Not that they're perfect, but the Common Core ELA process found unique ways to in its own way.

I'm not really trying to criticize Shanahan here or say he's being a hypocrite, by the way. Nobody who understands American education treats standards with any respect, from Bill Gates to classroom teachers. Nobody expects them to be any more than "close enough for government work," and just tries to do the least harm (as they see it) with whatever the current bullshit is. You don't resign in protest, you get what you can and hope to do better next time around. I get it.

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