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An example of a Common Core-aligned reading assignment
MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 2014 10:50 AM

The Common Core State Standards are a set of educational benchmarks educators use to guide their lesson plans. By the conclusion of each grade level, students are expected to know a certain set of information. How teachers convey that information is up to them and is often determined by the curriculum schools use. While the Common Core does not mandate how educators teach, it does influence the classroom. For instance, the Standards emphasize the development of critical thinking skills in all subjects, including English/language arts.

Because schools use curriculum aligned with the Common Core, your child's assignments may look a little different than they did in the past, particularly when it comes to reading. Students are asked to search the text they read to find information they can use to answer questions. While this task may be familiar, the Common Core presents it in a more challenging way. Doing so requires kids to think about what they read on a deeper level.

Of course, by seeing an example of a Common Core-aligned reading assignment, you're more likely to understand what other such activities entail. 

CCSS-aligned reading activity
According to the Oregon Common Core State Standards, students could be given a passage of text to read and analyze. Once they have completed the reading assignment, they may answer questions by finding specific examples of writing strategies used in the text. For instance, students in fourth and fifth grade might be asked to read something like this:

The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the 
pond like color spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a soft red sliding egg yolk, and 
already to the east there was a darkening to purple. Winnie, newly brave with her thoughts of being 
rescued, climbed boldly into the rowboat. The hard heels of her buttoned boots made a hollow banging 
sound against its wet boards, loud in the warm and breathless quiet. Across the pond a bullfrog spoke a 
deep note of warning. Tuck climbed in, too, pushing off, and, settling the oars into their locks, dipped 
them into the silty bottom in one strong pull. The rowboat slipped from the bank then, silently, and 
glided out, tall water grasses whispering away from its sides, releasing it. 

Here and there the still surface of the water dimpled, and bright rings spread noiselessly and vanished. 

"Feeding time," said Tuck softly. And Winnie, looking down, saw hosts of tiny insects skittering and 
skating on the surface. "Best time of all for fishing," he said, "when they come up to feed."

This passage comes from Chapter 12 of "Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Babbitt. Once students have read it they'll be asked a series of questions that center on a theme. For example, The Oregon CCSS suggest that teachers ask students to point to instances in which the author described the scenery. 

Questions based on the text
The questions teachers ask about a text like "Tuck Everlasting" may help students better understand descriptive writing, and teach them how to look for details when reading. Here are a few questions that could be used in conjunction with the passage:

  • What sentence(s) tells you where Tuck and Winnie are? (The rowboat, bullfrog, lake bottom and bank all point to the image of a pond.)
  • How do the author's descriptions tell us the time of day? (Mention the colors in the sky being those generally present at sunset.)
  • What images does the author use to show that the setting is peaceful and beautiful? (Mention the sky, the water, the bullfrog, etc.)
  • Do specific words stand out to you as calming? (Words like "quiet" and "whispering" show that the setting is peaceful.)

In a class setting, these types of questions will ideally spark discussion. The questions cause the students to go back to the text and extract specific examples. Such mining (or reading for information) is a practice students will have to use throughout the remainder of their education and even into their careers. 

Reading in upper grades
The "Tuck Everlasting" example assignment is a relatively simple one that prepares young students for more challenging texts. In earlier grades, students learn how to mine a piece of writing for information (a practice that should eventually become second nature). However, as students age, they'll be given more complex assignments. For instance, older students might read a fictional narrative alongside a nonfiction historical account. They may then have to cross reference the texts to discover some deeper meaning. 

In other cases, teachers might use reading assignments to teach vocabulary. They could have students circle words they don't know, and then use context clues to define them. While reading assignments aligned with the Common Core are challenging, they ultimately help students develop their abilities, such as reading for information and critical thinking.

"It's very common to want to protect, advocate, support and ensure the comfort of students that are struggling," Kate Gerson, who works with EngageNY as a research fellow and is a former classroom teacher, told NPR. "What all the research is telling us is that we must create content where there is a productive struggle ... where all students are being asked to work toward the same target as everyone else."