Our Curriculum Developer Zaretta Hammond co-authored an article for the new issue of Phi Delta Kappan titled “Text and Truth: Reading, student experience, and the Common Core” (requires subscription).
Zaretta and her co-author Susan Sandler write that the Common Core State Standards do not, as some have said, ban the technique known as prereading. On the contrary, the Common Core heightens the importance of strategically leveraging existing knowledge in creating new knowledge.
This is important for equity. The authors describe the “powerful utility of students’ prior knowledge” as illustrated by students at an underachieving urban high school who developed a strong mastery of literary analysis and reasoning through “a culturally responsive scaffolding technique called cultural modeling,” developed by Carol D. Lee. Lee’s strategies are quite similar to the higher-order strategies built into the Common Core. Her students began by reading popular texts (music, film) for literary strategies such as satire and symbolism, and developed analytical habits of mind. They moved on to complex texts, such as Toni Morrison novels, whose social codes and contexts were still familiar to them. By the end of the year, they were confidently reading and analyizing Dante and Shakespeare.
It is Lee’s contention that the “achievement gap is, at least in part, influenced by the limitations of the knowledge base and assumptions that inform decisions about curriculum, assessment, pedagogy, teacher credentialing, and the conditions under which teachers work.” Hammond and Sandler write:
If the misinterpretation of the Common Core guidance among principals, coaches, curriculum specialists, and others is allowed to ossify, and teachers internalize the idea that students’ prior knowledge doesn’t count, students themselves will get the same message loud and clear… Students living in poverty and students in underserved racial groups already receive so many messages that academic success is not for them. If they come to believe that academic learning has no connection to their lives, then learning will become less relevant and interesting, with a corresponding loss of motivation to do the hard work of mastering challenging skills.
“If,” they conclude, “education is a construction project — a structure being built piece by piece as we help students learn new things and fit them together — then the foundation of student knowledge underneath holds it all up.”