Literacy is invaluable and absolutely necessary in today's high-pressure and information-flooded society. It is also a major concern of America's government and educational institutions, but until recently the nationwide focus has been very inconsistent: each state follows its own set of literacy standards, and transferring from one state school system to another can disrupt and even detract from a student's academic achievement. The purpose of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy is to level the uneven terrain of the U.S. literacy map, setting an even bar for schools and their students across the nation. In addition to being consistent, these Standards are rooted in research and evidence and designed to shape the current and future generations of students into literate, knowledgeable, responsible, and successful citizens, ready and willing to represent the United States in the international workforce and to effect positive changes in the world. Education is the first and most essential step toward lifelong achievement and fulfillment, and the implementation of the Standards at every level of the American educational system will benefit every student, beginning in their primary and secondary education and continuing through college, careers, and beyond.

Introduction to the Common Core State Standards Initiative

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Education reform has been largely driven by the setting of academic standards for what students should know and be able to do across the United States and regardless of community. The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) has been adopted all states except Texas and Alaska, and calls for clear, measurable standards for all students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. The initiative seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other through curriculum, assessments, and professional development. The standards ultimate goal is to better the educational attainment of United States students, enabling significant increase in college and career readiness. For the CCSS to become a success, proficient reading skills are mandated at each grade level.


PARENT ROADMAP to the Common Core Standards

The way we taught students in the past simply does not prepare_ them for the higher demands of college and careers today and in the future. Your school and schools throughout the country are working to improve teaching and learning to ensure that all children will graduate high school with the skills they need to be successful in tertiary education and in a career.

In literacy, this means three major changes. Students will continue reading and writing. But in addition to stories and literature, they will read more texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas including science and social studies. They will read more challenging texts and be asked more questions that will require them to refer back to what they have read. There will also be an increased emphasis on building a strong vocabulary so that students can read and understand challenging material.

Supporting Your Child in Kindergarten

In kindergarten, students will learn the alphabet and the basic features of letters and words. They will break down spoken and written words into syllables and letters and identify the sounds each letter makes. These important skills will enable your child to learn new words and to read and understand simple books and stories. Students will also learn to write and share information in a variety of ways, including drawing, writing letters and words, listening to others, and speaking aloud.


Supporting Your Child in First Grade

In grade one, your child will build important reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Students will continue to learn the letters and sounds that make up words. They will think, talk, and write about what they read in stories, articles, and other sources of information. In their writing, students will work on putting together clear sentences on a range of topics using a growing vocabulary.


Supporting Your Child in Second Grade

In grade two, students will continue to build important reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. They will think, talk, and write about what they read in variety of texts, such as stories, books, articles, and other sources of information including the Internet. In their writing, students will learn how to develop a topic and strengthen their skills by editing and revising.


Supporting Your Child in Third Grade

In grade three, students will build important reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. They will think, talk, and write about what they read in a variety of articles, books, and other texts. In their writing, students will pay more attention to organizing information, developing ideas, and supporting these ideas with facts, details, and reasons.


Supporting Your Child in Fourth Grade

In grade four, students will continue to build important reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. They will read more challenging literature, articles, and other sources of information and continue to grow their vocabulary. They will also be expected to clearly explain in detail what they have read by referring to details or information from the text. In writing, students will organize their ideas and develop topics with reasons, facts, details, and other information.


Supporting Your Child in Fifth Grade

In grade five, students will continue to build important reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. They will read more challenging literature, articles, and other sources of information and continue to grow their vocabulary. Students will also be expected to understand and clearly summarize what they have learned from readings and classroom discussions, referring to specific evidence and details from the text. Students will write regularly and continue to develop their ability to gather, organize, interpret, and present information.


Supporting Your Child in Sixth Grade

In grade six, students will read a range of challenging books, articles, and texts, and will be expected to demonstrate their understanding of the material by answering questions and contributing to class discussions. In writing, students will continue to work on their use of language, sentence structure, and organization of ideas. They will also be expected to integrate information from different sources and respond to challenging content through written interpretation and analysis.


Supporting Your Child in Seventh Grade

In grade seven, students will continue to develop the ability to cite relevant evidence when interpreting or analyzing a text or supporting their points in speaking and writing. Your child will also build academic vocabulary as he or she reads more complex texts, including stories, plays, historical novels, poems, and informational books and articles.


Supporting Your Child in Eighth Grade

In grade eight, students will read major works of fiction and nonfiction from all over the world and from different time periods. They will continue to learn how to understand what they read and evaluate an author's assumptions and claims. They will also conduct research that will require the analysis of resources and accurate interpretation of literary and informational text.


What is Close Reading?

Common Core State Standards TOOLBOX

"Close reading is an instructional approach that requires readers to re-read a text several times and really develop a deep understanding of the content contained in the text. The purpose is to build the habits of readers as they engage with the complex texts and to build their stamina and skills for being able to do so independently. However, close reading doesn't mean that you simply distribute a complex reading and then exhort them to read it again and again until they understand it. As part of a close reading, students "read with a pencil" and learn to annotate as they go. In addition, they are asked text-dependent questions that require that they produce evidence from the text as part of their responses."



The common core standards are encouraging teachers to engage students in close reading. Much of the focus of discussions of close reading have emphasized what teachers should not do (in terms of pre-reading, or types of questions). I am being asked with increasing frequency what close reading is.

Close reading requires a substantial emphasis on readers figuring out a high quality text. This "figuring out" is accomplished primarily by reading and discussing the text (as opposed to being told about the text by a teacher or being informed about it through some textbook commentary). Because challenging texts do not give up their meanings easily, it is essential that readers re-read such texts. A first reading is about figuring out what a text says. It is purely an issue of reading comprehension. Thus, if someone is reading a story, he/should be able to retell the plot; if someone is reading a science chapter, he/she should be able to answer questions about the key ideas and details of the text.

However, close reading requires that one go further than this. A second reading would, thus, focus on figuring out how this text worked. How did the author organize it? What literary devices were used and how effective were they? What was the quality of the evidence? If data were presented, how was that done? Why did the author choose this word or that word? Was the meaning of a key term consistent or did it change across the text? This second reading might be a total re-reading or a partial and targeted re-reading of key portions, but it would not be aimed at just determining what the text said (that would have already been accomplished by this point).

Finally, with the information gleaned from the first two readings, a reader is ready to carry out a third reading-going even deeper. What does this text mean? What was the author's point? What does it have to say to me about my life or my world? How do I evaluate the quality of this work-aesthetically, substantively? How does this text connect to other texts I know? By waiting until we have a deep understanding of a text - of what it says and how it works-we are then in

the right position intellectually and ethically to critically evaluate (valuing) a text and to connect its ideas and approach with other texts.

Thus, close reading is an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means. In one sense I agree with those who say that close reading is about more than comprehension or about something different than comprehension, since it takes one beyond just figuring out an author's stated and implied message. On the other hand, many definitions of reading comprehension include more than just determining a stated and implied message; such definitions include the full range of Bloom's taxonomy in one's thinking about and use of a text. If one subscribes to such definitions of comprehension, then close reading is just a description of a process one uses to arrive at such comprehension.

I think with this brief description of the essentials of close reading (e.g., intense emphasis on text, figuring out the text by thinking about the words and ideas in the text, minimization of external explanations, multiple and dynamic rereading, multiple purposes that focus on what a text says, how it says it, and what it means or what its value is), teachers can start to think clearly about a number of issues in close reading.

Q: Should I give the students a preview of a text?

A: No, you probably should not, but it is not unreasonable to have students do their own look over, allowing them to get the lay of the land.

Q: Is it okay to set a purpose for student reading?

A: Yes, it is very reasonable to give students a purpose for reading (read to find out the differences between lions and tigers, or read to find out how this character deals with hard choices). But these purposes should not reveal a lot of information about the text that the students can find out by reading the text. Of course, if you are reading a text multiple times, each time for a different purpose, you might provide a lot more information on later readings. (This text used a lot of metaphorical language to describe how the characters felt, let's re-read those sections and discuss what the author was accomplishing by doing it that way.)

Q: Does close reading require that every text be re-read?

A: Yes, it really does, but that doesn't mean that every text should be given a close reading. Some texts should still be read only once; that is all they would be worth.

Q: What if I am unsure whether to discuss prior knowledge before reading a text?

A: If you think there is key information that students need to know before they read the text (something necessary for making sense of the text that isn't stated in the text), by all means tell it. If there is no pre-information necessary, then don't make such a presentation or discussion. If you are uncertain, then let the kids have a chance to make sense of it. If it goes well, fine. If not, then add the information before the second reading. (I was just looking at an article on forest fires. "It is only partly true that 'only you' can prevent forest fires." That is a cute beginning, but I'm not sure all of the second-graders will recognize that it is referring to a Smokey the Bear line from a once-common public service announcement. I might want to clarify the source of that before students dig in. But if I didn't do that, I would definitely ask a question about this sentence, and would tell that info during the discussion. Sometimes I will anticipate and tell, but whether I do or not, I can always clarify it in discussion.