David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, spoke to a group of New York City teachers this week about how to enrich their classroom instruction. Here are 10 takeaways:
1. Cultivate wonder. The heart of the Common Core is giving students books worth reading and asking them questions worth answering.
2. Spend more time and have more fun crafting questions. Use your power as a teacher to be an effective guide. Avoid perfunctory questions like: What is the main idea? Can you cite three examples? Above all, avoid questions that have a set of answers students can deploy for any occasion: love, death, and what happened to me yesterday. Shakespeare didn't write Romeo and Juliet about teenage love. If that's all you find in it, skip the play and watch a TV sitcom.
3. Slow down. Read a text that's worth reading with your students and enjoy it. Look at it carefully, step by step, to see how it unfolds. Live within it. In a well-wrought work, each word is worth pondering.
4. Only draw conclusions that can be substantiated by the words on the page. Scrape away terms like "metaphorical," and talk as simply as possible. Once you bring up metaphor and meaning, kids are out of the game.
5. Collaborate with your students. When you pose a question about a text you love, you may not know the answer. Nurture curiosity in your classroom. Part of the joy will be coming away with a little more knowledge yourself.
6. After living within a text, go outside of it and make connections. How did the writer's background influence his or her subject matter? What other poems might be similar, or very different?
7. Build a firm foundation in phonics and grammar. Kids need to be able to read fluently and with accuracy. Their reading will improve when they can distinguish between a noun, a verb, and an adverb.
8. Help students develop knowledge, not just literacy. Teach kids about science, social studies, and the arts. The general knowledge they gain will enrich their vocabulary.
9. Read aloud. Repeatedly. Reading aloud is one of the most effective ways to help young readers, especially struggling ones, become more fluent and confident. Reading aloud also helps kids acquire information and develop empathy.
10. Make your classroom a place of inquiry. People often say that the classroom is a broken, Industrial Age remnant. Who would have dreamed of a world where you want 20 or 30 people sitting in a room doing something? Yet reading a text together is one of the most wonderful things you can do. The questions you ask will dictate how actively kids respond.
Henry James said: "Try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost." For most of us, that is hard. Working together, we observe much more.