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Balancing the Common Core: Reading strategies take on supporting role

By April 22, 2014June 13th, 20164 Comments

Reading“Where are our reading strategies?” This was the reaction of a group of K‒5 educators in North Dakota I was working with in 2010 as we reviewed the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Some widely used strategies, such as summarizing and inferencing, were easily found in the new standards, while others—like text-to-self connections, making predictions, and pre-reading—were not. During the review process, it became clear that the role of reading strategies had shifted: They were no longer primary objectives for student reading, as they had been in previous state standards, curriculums, and reading programs.

The Common Core instead places the text and student understanding front and center. Rather than focus on reading strategies and how students read, the CCSS focuses on the text and what knowledge students gain from their reading. The new standards stress comprehension and analysis of complex texts and the synthesis of ideas across texts to build knowledge. Reading strategies are largely sidelined as techniques for scaffolding instruction with individual students. As David Coleman, a lead author of the CCSS and current president of the College Board, said in a presentation at the New York State Education Department, “We lavish so much attention on these strategies in the place of reading, I would urge us to instead read” (“Bringing the Common Core to Life,” p. 17).

We know, however, that many children don’t understand what they read, and that they benefit from instruction on how to apply research-based reading strategies. It is not surprising, then, that many teachers plan their reading curriculum around them. How can we align strategy-based curriculums with text-based standards? There is a sensible balance to be found.

Complex texts, by the very nature of their complexity, often require teachers to support students’ reading. Teachers should continue to teach students how to apply certain reading strategies when they need them, but strategies should not be applied for their own sakes. Strategies should be carefully selected to support the aspects of a given text that are complex. For example, texts that have a high readability score on the quantitative measure of the CCSS text complexity model often have challenging vocabulary and sentence structures, aspects that teachers should support through targeted reading strategies.

Research-based reading strategies still play an important role in teaching reading comprehension. However, teachers should seek out a complex text that provides the information or ideas that students need to learn, and then provide opportunities for students to practice using a strategy suited to that specific text, rather than seek out a text that “fits” a certain reading strategy dictated by the curriculum.

A former English language arts teacher,
Susan Ryan is a curriculum services consultant at McREL and co-author of Common Core quick-start guides published by ASCD on English language arts and mathematics standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Suzann says:

    Thank you for this insightful article. My school is currently investigating the purchase of a new reading curriculum. The information you presented here makes a lot of sense: Start with the text, then teach the strategies needed to understand that text. Thank you for providing an added dimension to our curriculum decision.

  • Tavares Kenny says:

    I live in Georgia, and we too have moved to the Common Core Standards. Like you, many teachers in my area have noticed the shift of focus in reading with these new standards. While the focus has changed, I feel as though it is still up to the teachers to try to implement some of the key reading strategies that have been removed due to Common Core guidelines, back into the lesson someway. These strategies are highly imperative to the our students’ learning and reading abilities, therefore we must try our best to keep them alive in the classroom.

  • Kim says:

    After reading this article, I think it was very insightful and made me think a lot about where I teach and how my county has recently implemented and mandated the common core curriculum. One HUGE part of what they wanted us to teach was the Reader’s Workshop model and implement all of its strategies and resources. With being a first year teacher, this was very easy to do because I did not know anything different. Reading is such a huge part of the grade I teach so I was ready to do what needed to be done to get my kiddos reading! I did hear a lot of feedback from other teachers who were very unhappy about having to do this program. After a full year of doing this, I think many teachers were eventually appreciative of it and are starting it first thing this year. Thanks for providing such great information!

  • Haley says:

    Your article was insightful. My county has recently mandated the Reader’s Workshop model and we follow the common core curriculum. We are required to teach a mini-lesson each day before the students go off to read. I teach first grade and reading is a huge part of first grade. Things are finally beginning to make sense. Your article was very helpful.

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