Rethinking Shared Reading with the Common Core: When Students Pick the Texts

Last month, a number of teachers and consultant friends of mine began kicking around the idea of creating an archive of paired passages and texts that educators could pull on for a variety of purposes. I liked this idea very much, but not for the reasons people might suspect. To be honest, I’m not sure how many people will find resources like this valuable in the long run.  It’s not about the resource for me, though. It’s about the conversations that are starting to happen in the schools I work in. The resource is merely a reflection of where we’re at, and I’m learning a lot about where we need to go as a result. That’s what this post is about.

Many of the teachers that I work with are just beginning to make the shift from teaching texts and resources to guiding learning and supporting inquiry around essential questions, big ideas, and critical concepts and skills. This shift alone influenced significant changes in the way we approached curriculum design this year. This was good.

It wasn’t enough, though.

For example, several weeks ago, I worked with a group of middle school teachers who were excited by the possibility of enriching a unit that traditionally centered around a single text about the Salem witch trials. Why were they excited? Because they realized that engaging learners with an essential question and inviting them to consume a variety of texts in pursuit of  potential answers was magical, powerful stuff. When we read multiple texts, we consider multiple perspectives. Our assumptions are challenged in a thousand different ways….or in a single important way. What we think we know unravels. This is gorgeous stuff. This is learning. This is why we  design units that engage readers with multiple types of text rather than grounding a unit in the study of one.

And when I use the word text, I’m not simply referring to books.

I’m referring to news reports of current events in our communities.

I’m referring to song and video.

I’m referring to art.

Infographics.

Apps.

Performances we watch.

Documents.

Data.

This is what I am loving about curriculum design this year. Not the mere micro-mapping of content, skills, and assessments, but the magic that happens when beautiful questions are created and a rich variety of texts leap into our consciousness. Texts we never noticed connections between before. Texts that fuel our imaginations and deepen our curiosities about things that really matter.

Binders like this reflect these first small shifts that are just beginning to take place in my world. And when I look at what’s emerging, I’m pleased, but I’m nowhere near satisfied.

This isn’t enough.

It’s not enough for teachers to create LiveBinders that serve as resources for other teachers who design curricula.

That’s not the greater work to be done here, and if this is where we stop, we aren’t realizing the full potential of this tool…or any tool…to transform learning.

The Common Core compels all teachers to make the shared reading of sufficiently complex text the “main event” in the classroom. This has sparked a great deal of debate in the field. We know that engaging readers and motivating readers has everything to do with authenticity and choice. The knee-jerk response has often been to condemn the Core for seeming to disregard this.

It doesn’t.

We do.

It’s not enough to design and deliver curriculum to kids. Those responsible for bringing the Common Core into our schools are often pressed to provide examples, resources, and guidance documents. So, you’ll find a lot of that out there right now, and for the record: much of it is pretty fantastic.

I just think that kids need to play a significant role in the design process, and I know that digital tools can empower this critical shift.

For instance:

  • I wonder what would happen if learners had an opportunity to consider and then share the essential questions that are truly provoking them so that teachers could frame units with the questions that matter most to kids?
  • I wonder what would happen if learners had the opportunity to contribute to the work of pairing passages? Once essential questions are established and the required content for the course is revealed, kids could be invited to name the texts they are interested in studying with their peers.
  • I wonder would happen if the collection of potential pairings were put up to a vote and what was read was decided in a far more inclusive way than what pre-fab modules and exemplars suggest?

Here’s the beauty of all of these big ideas: no one needs to use any class time to access student voice here. Let it happen online. Use the tools to engage the kids.

If we feel that choice, authenticity, and student voice are important, it’s our responsibility to honor those things and align our practice accordingly….even during the shared reading experience.

And if we don’t do it that way, we can’t complain about how the Core is disengaging kids.

Because it isn’t.

We are.

 

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