The following blog post is part of a blog series called "Comments on the Common Core," written by Eye On Education's Senior Editor, Lauren Davis.
When I was a teacher, it was common practice to ask students for their personal responses to literature. I did that a lot in my classroom as a way to engage reluctant readers in a story. Now, the Common Core is emphasizing the importance of focused, text-based questions over personal opinion-based ones.
This shift is making some teachers uneasy. They’re wondering if they have to toss their provocative personal-response questions out the window. My answer is no, they don’t. The CCSS aren’t outlawing such questions. But they are saying that such questions should come later, once it’s clear that students understand the language of the text. According to Common Core authors David Coleman and Susan Pimentel:
An effective set of discussion questions might begin with relatively simple questions requiring attention to specific words, details, and arguments and then move on to explore the impact of those specifics on the text as a whole. Good questions will often linger over specific phrases and sentences to ensure careful comprehension … Often, curricula surrounding texts leap too quickly into broad and wide-open questions of interpretation before cultivating command of the details and specific ideas in the text. (Coleman and Pimentel, p. 7)
In other words, don’t ask broad or opinion-based questions until it’s clear students understand the work itself—otherwise students will be able to answer from their own experiences and won’t be learning critical reading skills. Begin by having students grapple with a text’s words, sentences, and paragraphs so they can create meaning from the words on the page and not just from their own minds. For example, if you’re teaching Macbeth’s soliloquy “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” don’t start with general questions about the futility of life. First, be sure that students understand the language of the soliloquy. Ask questions like, “How does the repetition of ‘tomorrow’ affect the tone?”
Make sure your questions require students to go back to the text and reread a word or passage in order to gather evidence or construct a response. Spend time teaching students how to go back to the text. That skill might not come easily to them. (Students like to be “quick”—they are often tempted to say the first thing that comes to their minds and will forget to go back and gather evidence.)
You can find a list of curriculum exemplars for asking text-based questions at the Engage New York website. And for a helpful lesson on teaching students to answer a text-based question step-by-step, check out Common Core Literacy Lesson Plans: Ready-to-Use Resources, 6-8.
Check back on September 26 for Resources for Finding Informational and Nonfiction Texts
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