Dan Willingham is on target (as usual) in his Washington Post piece yesterday, discussing the secret to reading comprehension.
Dan explains that teaching kids “reading skills” does not make them good readers because a focus on teaching reading strategies ignores that reading comprehension is dependent on lots of prior knowledge. Students who are trained in practicable reading skills without this knowledge are the students who can “‘read’ (they can sound out the words on the page) but [who] can’t consistently comprehend. They read it, but they don’t ‘get it.’”
According to Dan: “The mistaken idea that reading is a skill—learn to crack the code, practice comprehension strategies and you can read anything—may be the single biggest factor holding back reading achievement in the country.” We’re not sure the authors of the draft “common core” ELA standards make this mistake — as Dan suggests. After all the “common core” ELA standards are at pains to describe the type of vocabulary, level of complexity, and general quality of the works students will be required to read. And unlike P21, for example, the standards-writers appear to know the difference between trivial and serious knowledge. They recommend Whitman and Austen, after all. Still, our disappointment is that these college and career readiness standards fall short of naming texts outside of a handful of examples. And the K-12 standards that are the “common core” effort’s next task will require even more specificity.
What the current standards require to be successful–and the K-12 ones likely will, too–is to be coupled with an excellent curriculum that delineates the breadth and depth of knowledge students require to learn to read effectively, and to expand their knowledge through reading and writing, over time. The standards could have been that curriculum, in effect. A good portion of their current value resides in the fact that they create the space for one.