Common Core Knowledge

It is my sincere desire that if you have a struggling reader or your child is beginning to learn to read you will read through this entire blog post.

If you have been keeping up with the latest news in education reform you’ll most likely have “Common Core State Standards” buzzing around in your head. CCSS, a U.S. education initiative, is or will be affecting the way your children learn core subjects like reading and math. So what are the Common Core State Standards and are they beneficial to our children? Well, an alarming number of parents have little knowledge of them and even fewer know the research and principles that are behind them.

The lack of understanding has brought some doubts about whether this initiative will bring positive change in education. To be honest, since the beginning of an organized system of schooling many initiatives for education reform have been proposed and implemented with the majority having less than satisfactory results. It is no wonder parents and the public are a little hesitant of another initiative. Now parents, before you tune out and say there is nothing to learn from the CCSS initiative, I’d like you to hear me out.

Common Core State Standards and other learning initiatives we’ve seen in the past all have or had the intent of bettering education in some form.  They’re typically backed by extensive research and assessment, and a lot of time is dedicated by professionals to figure out what makes education effective. It isn’t my goal to determine why these reforms sometimes fail despite the efforts made. I’d rather focus on the research and assessment that’s done in the name of these initiatives, particularly the research done on reading instruction, and see what we can learn from them.

In 2001, Reading First (another initiative) had high hopes of changing education for the better. A body of professionals was gathered, called the National Reading Panel, and they set out to find the most effective ways to teach reading. The panel’s research did in deed find out the most effective approaches to reading instruction, but like CCSS, parents knew very little about the approaches and how to apply them.

What is known by the panel and those who created the CCSS, but not to parents and the general public, was that five key skills largely predict reading success. Those skills are: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension; which the panel dubbed, “The Five Pillars of Reading.” The research the panel gathered showed that to effectively teach the five pillars, instruction needed to be taught in an explicit, systematic way. Students who saw the greatest success in reading were taught in a sequence that allowed them to understand more fundamental parts of language first (phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency) and then build an understanding of the more complex parts of language (vocabulary, grammar, and full-text comprehension). The research gathered by these initiatives show a consistent pattern of instruction that creates strong readers, regardless of ability or age.

This wasn’t the first time professionals gathered this information and had an “Ah-ha!” moment. Nearly a hundred years prior, an approach was created from extensive research on children with reading disadvantages. This approach, called the Orton-Gillingham Approach, not only used that same consistent pattern for successful reading instruction, it has been effectively helping the most struggling readers for over 75 years. The Orton-Gillingham approach is the most well-known and used approach for struggling readers. However, it’s used largely in remediation programs instead of a standard approach to teaching reading.

If we’ve known what works for so long, why haven’t we been able to improve our illiteracy rates and reading scores? The answer is that research done by these large initiatives is unknown to most parents and the principles found in the Orton-Gillingham approach are mostly used in remediation. Parents are lacking the knowledge of key principles of effective literacy instruction and how to apply them. This lack of understanding isn’t something we can quickly fix, but as parents we can make an individual effort to learn more about effective reading strategies. There are so many resources available to learn these principles. Reading Horizons has several free resources and there are plenty more available on the web and at your local library. To start, get to know what the Common Core State Standards are for Reading. Last month we had a webinar on the grades K through 3rd standards. Take a look at the webinar here. Kathy Muncy, who is very knowledgeable on the subject, gives some great information and ways to apply foundational reading skills.

If you’re interested in learning more or you have questions, leave a comment or email me, I would love to help or direct you to some resources.