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The Common Core aims for career readiness in English benchmarks

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2015 15:01 PM

Since their adoption, the Common Core State Standards have had some people excited and others concerned. Mixed reactions are fairly normal when the status quo changes, but Common Core issues are slightly unique in that grasping their importance requires some research. The Common Core is meant to prepare students for college and careers, and standards that may seem at first odd were actually meant to achieve that purpose. With that in mind, let's investigate some of the changes that have occurred in English/language arts instruction thanks to the Common Core and why those alterations can be beneficial for students:

Reading and writing
In the past under old standards, students approached reading and writing differently than they must now. For instance, after reading a passage in a book under old standards, students might have to discuss a similar experience they had, or write an essay about that experience. In general, class responses orbited personal anecdote. "Jane Eyre" might then lead to a conversation about relationships, feeling shamed in school or falling in love. Commonly, younger students engaged in this kind of discussion while high schoolers would answer questions like "What do you think Rochester is hiding and what evidence in the text supports your conclusion?"

This progression from opinion to text-based analysis is certainly appropriate, but the Common Core makes the jump sooner and demands more. In second grade, students are expected to start asking the who, what, where, when, why and how of a book. By grade three, they have to support claims with textual evidence. While students' analysis in this grade may not be the most nuanced, they are already learning the skill.

In writing, students must complete challenging work earlier as well. In third grade, students have to write essays that state an opinion and support that view by using citable reasons. They basically learn to form an argument. David Coleman, president of the College Board and creator of the Common Core, summarized eloquently what the standards require.

"It is you as teachers who have this obligation" to ask students "to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter," he told The Atlantic.

Skills for college and careers
So the Common Core is more challenging, and students have to think investigatively, but what does that have to do with college and careers? When students enter the workforce, they won't have to talk at length about their opinions or personal experiences (except maybe in the break room) - they'll have to analyze data, write compelling arguments and use context clues. Focusing more on these skills instead of having students recount their past arms them for the future starting at a younger age.