In 1998, my home state of Virginia developed the Standards of Learning, much to the dismay of students, parents, and educators who had been teaching a particular unit, theme, or objectives for many years. The SOL’s, as they are often referred to, are a statewide curriculum created to ensure that all students receive the same instruction in the core subjects no matter what public school you attend in the Commonwealth. At the end of every school year, students in specific grade levels take statewide assessments to show what they have learned. Reading in particular is assessed starting in the third grade and throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I learned everything about this new curriculum in college so as a first year teacher in Richmond Public Schools, I would be fully prepared to implement the SOL’s in my second grade classroom. However, this change for veteran teachers was not so easy. In fact, the SOL’s have added pressure to the lives of teachers in many schools due to the fact that the end of year tests results are often used to evaluate the classroom teacher’s instruction.
Have our state standards changed reading instruction? Yes. Has it been effective? Sure. Do the Standards of Learning still exist? Yes, in fact they have already been revamped to make more rigorous reading instruction in Virginia. I believe a similar transformation will be seen nationally with the common core curriculum. It is wonderful that all children will be exposed to the same instructional objectives throughout the nation. It is important that teachers remember to be their creative and innovative professionals by making the standards work for your students. For example, we know that an elementary school community in Miami, Florida will not look exactly like one in Lincoln, Nebraska. While both third grade teachers may be required to use more nonfiction text to initiate close reading and deeper comprehension, each teacher must select a text or topic that matches the interests and backgrounds of his or her own students. Think of the language arts common core standards as your blueprint, while you, the classroom teacher, is responsible for meeting this standard by selecting books and developing lessons that motivate, engage, and educate your boys and girls.
Teaching our students the strategies behind reading and how to think about a text will certainly change reading instruction in a positive manner. Encouraging our students to make connections, predict, reflect, analyze, and form opinions before, during, and after reading a text is empowering and can be done with a variety of texts and through mini lessons from kindergarten to twelfth grade. As teachers, we are the leaders in our classroom and are responsible for our students’ learning. The common core standards may create a new style of teaching and new form of learning, but its how we implement these standards with our twenty-something students that will determine the change.
This is a guest post by Kathryn Starke, an urban literacy specialist, author, and keynote speaker. She is the founder/CEO of Creative Minds Publications, a global educational company. You follow Katheryn at: