[The following post originally appeared in slightly different form on MiddleWeb on Oct. 6, 2015.]
I know we’re probably not supposed to have favorites when it comes to the Common Core Standards, but I do. I fell in love with Reading Informational Text (RIT) Standard #2.1 one day when a group of third-grade teachers that I was working with told me that their students had just bombed a test on RIT Standard #3.1 and so they were going to “reteach it.”
“Hang on,” I said, because usually what people mean when they say “I’m going to reteach it” is “I’m going to try the same approach again and hope for the best.”
We looked at the third-grade version of the standard, which is:
|RIT 3.1||Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.|
Then I asked them: “Can your students do the second-grade version of this standard?” We looked at it:
|RIT 2.1||Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.|
They said, “Um, no.”
I asked, “What about the first-grade version? Can they do that?” We looked again:
|RIT 1.1||Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.|
“Yes,” they said. “They can do that.”
So we sat down and created a simple tool for the second-grade standard, and this 5Ws and H organizer MODEL enabled them to teach their students how to ask and answer these questions in one sitting. Since then, I have used this tool with students in other grades, as well, because it turns out that many middle and high school students need it, too.
Notice how we viewed the Common Core Standards as a ladder and targeted instruction to help students climb by directly teaching them the specific skills they needed. No matter what grade or subject you teach, you can use this approach to figure out where your students are. One day while analyzing the trajectory of RIT #1 from K-12, a 7th-grade teacher remarked: “I have a class of 25 students. I know ten are on the 5th-grade level for this standard, ten are on the 6th-grade level, and five are on grade-level.” She realized she could use this knowledge to differentiate instruction.
Identifying what grade level students are on for any given standard, however, is just the beginning. Most standards involve mastery of at least a half-dozen skills. For example, RIT #6.1, “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text,” requires students to paraphrase, ask questions about text, draw inferences, distinguish between argument and evidence, identify evidence relevant to particular arguments, build arguments with relevant evidence and explanation, and cite sources properly. Students might be able to do some of those skills. Our job is to determine which skills they need help with in order to master the whole standard.
The beauty of RIT #2.1 is that it is one of the few standards that students can master more or less in one sitting. The information they need to know is very specific and concrete, and they can see it modeled and practice it immediately; you can tell very quickly if they are “getting it” or not.
The other reason I love this standard is that it is absolutely essential to effective reading and writing. We need to be able to ask and answer “How” and “Why” questions in order to infer and explain. Students who cannot ask and answer “How” and “Why” questions will struggle with comprehension, and they will struggle to explain ideas, both orally and in writing. No matter what grade or subject you teach, if you have students whose writing is very list-oriented with unexplained evidence, it could mean that they have not mastered this standard.
RIT #2.1 is therefore a high-leverage standard, one that—once your students master it—can have a dramatic impact on their reading and writing growth.