Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy
reviewed by Troy Hicks - November 13, 2015
Title: Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy
Author(s): P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert (Authors, Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807756458, Pages: 288, Year: 2015
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Half a decade into the Common Core era, many teachers and literacy researchers still face a dilemma; while the frequently asked questions section of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) website claims that [t]he standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach,"  the rising outcry against the standards demonstrates that the debates about instruction cannot be disentangled from the outcomes that we aim to achieve.
Put another, more colloquial, way: what gets measured gets treasured. Without a doubt, the quality of teaching that typically happens in order to get students prepared for assessments such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is, on the whole, quite disappointing. Test preparation curricula and conversations fill many schools, and the gap between the standards and the kinds of teaching that can lead students to good outcomes with reading continues to widen.
Thus, to fill this void, P. David Pearson and Elfrieda H. Hiebert offer us a new collection of essays from the most prominent names in reading research. Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy attempts to provide teachers, literacy coaches, curriculum directors and educational researchers with insights on how CCSS expectations can be met with state-of-the-art knowledge about reading instruction.
In order to fully understand the scope and purpose of the book, we must begin in the closing pages, where James V. Hoffman and Pearson argue that [n]owhere are the complex trends surrounding trust within the teaching profession more clearly revealed than in the teaching of reading (p. 237). In order to make intelligent decisions about how to teach reading, these scholars argue that teachers cannot rely on scripts or programs; instead, they must rely on sound pedagogical practices, the types of practices that Pearson and Hiebert have curated in this volume.
To accomplish this goal, these editors aim to attend to three aspects of the reading research enterprise: frameworks, content, and context (p. ix). They argue for this three-pronged approach because, in decades past, scholars may have explored the content of reading instruction, yet often failed to elaborate on the theory and frameworks that support effective integration into the curriculum. Similarly, the lack of attention to the contexts in which students learn how to readboth inside and outside of schoolleads to other gaps. Thus, the collection offers reflections of senior scholars on their area of specialty relative to new directions and policies (p. xii), specifically in light of the CCSS. Leading into the book, the framework, content, and context topics thus frame the three major sections of the text.
In Part One, Processes and Frameworks, the contributors explore a number of ideas, beginning in Chapter One with Pearson and Gina N. Cervetti who emphasize the way in which various models of reading comprehension have changed over the past 50 years. They document the shifts in three trends; the first phase in the 1960s favored the text over the reader and context of the reading, which then moved the reader into favor in the 1970s, and, from 1985 to present, focusing on the context. Despite this history, they argue that current work with CCSS implementation is an intellectual betrayal of the commitment the standards make to theory and research about the comprehension process--namely, the balance among the tasks that promote the development of three related capacities (p. 16) related to the text, reader, and context. This chapter reminds us that All of these resources, along with the stances they bring with them, are part of what it means to be a complete reader (p. 18).
The next chapter, by Barbara Kapinus and Richard Long, provides an overview of how the reading research does, or does not, inform federal policies related to reading instruction. Tracing the history of federal policies from the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in 1965 to those of the present day, they remind us that, [u]nfortunately, policies are not providing information that is directly useful to change instruction (p. 37). Part One of the book continues with Michael L. Kamil offering a chapter on the relevance of models and theories of reading vis-à-vis the CCSS. This chapter in particular was helpful because Kamil reminds us that [w]ithout specifying a set reading curriculum, the standards make it clear that students need to be exposed to more complex text in terms of quantity, quality, and difficulty (p. 49), a reminder that text complexity is more than just a Lexile score. Finally, Part One closes with Rosalind Horowitzs review of oral language development and its importance to the task of reading, reminding us that [t]he language of schooling must be developed across content fields, grade levels, and cultural populations for students to advance in academic disciplines and opportunity, a nod to the skills of reading as well as writing, listening, and speaking (p. 63).
In Part Two, The Content of Literacy Instruction, contributors focus their chapters on comprehension strategies, multiple source reading comprehension, motivation and engagement, vocabulary study, reading fluency, reading volume, and formative assessment. A number of concerns are raised throughout the section specifically related to the many elements that have been left out or glossed over in the CCSS. Joanna P. Williams, for instance, addresses the new emphasis on close reading and introduction of more complex texts in Chapter Five, noting that [o]ur instruction is a long way from fulfilling the CCSS exhortation to introduce students to challenging texts that make them critical readers and thinkers (p. 89). Continuing on, Jay S. Blanchard and S. Jay Samuels in Chapter Six move the conversation into ways in which new models of reading comprehension fall short given the ever-changing world of digital texts and increased demands on readers. New models of reading comprehension should, they argue, attempt to explain multiplesource reading comprehension in illstructured sources and under illstructured task demands (p. 101).
Additional factors that are missing from the CCSS permeate the rest of Part Two. John T. Guthries entire Chapter Seven is devoted to one crucial ingredient upon which the standards are silent: motivation (p. 107). Additional chapters in the section focus on the role of vocabulary instruction (Michael F. Graves in Chapter Eight), fluency (Timothy Rasinski, David Paige, and James Nageldinger in Chapter Nine), and reading volume (Richard L. Allington, Monica T. Billen, and Kimberly McCuiston in Chapter Ten), each important elements of reading instruction that are, sadly, often neglected.
Part Two closes with Chapter Eleven, an overview from Robert Calfee, Kapinus, and Kathleen M. Wilson on formative assessment and its potential in reading instruction. In noting the power of formative assessment and the changes it can bring to a classroom, they claim that [t]he professional role of teachers is pivotal in the move from a traditional, prescriptive coverage of piecemeal objectives toward inquirybased projects of significant scope and depth (p. 189).
In keeping with the spirit of the entire collection, the chapters in Part Two document research-based practices that teachers could and should use as part of a robust, complete instructional reading program, leading the reader of this collection to Part Three, The Context of Literacy Instruction.
This section builds on the previous two, and provides a broader view on issues such as the achievement gap, materials created for reading instruction, and the historical view about reading programs as they compare to (and compete with) the strengths of individual teachers. Barbara M. Taylor in Chapter Twelve points to a number of research-based practices that support high-quality reading programs, describing them as ideal models of collaborative school reform that emphasize local vision, strong leadership, recursive and collaborative professional learning, rigorous instruction that addresses both higher order thinking as well as basic reading skills, and a blend of formative and summative assessment (p. 210). These types of changes are no small tasks in a post-No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era (and of particular interest as policymakers are in the act of rewriting the ESEA) and a strong reminder for any educational leader reading this book.
Then, in Chapter Thirteen, Hiebert and Leigh Ann Martin offer another reminder:
[T]he press [of the CCSS] is to increase the level of text complexity that all students encounter in their school reading programs. However, there is precious little in the way of research to support these momentous policy changes. (p. 228)
Here, again, Hiebert and Martin, like so many other contributors have already, echo the concern that dominates the entire collection: in order to make instructional changes that are research-based, we must make sure that teachers are looking at the research about what works in classrooms, not just the CCSS alone.
Finally, we return to Hoffman and Pearson who, as I noted above, articulate the differences in how teachers fight for control over their own reading instruction against increasingly powerful forces that dominate schools through basal reading programs and standardized tests. They note insightfully that Obamas Race to the Top initiative is, ultimately, both a critique of the NCLB Bush policies and a continuation of them (p. 250), perpetuating many problems that pervade reading instruction overall and, in turn, our persistently stubborn results on standardized reading assessments. They close their chapter, and the book as a whole, with a call to action, encouraging a new generation of teachers who have been burdened by lives in classrooms dulled by standards and testing to, instead, adopt the spirit of responsibility in their own roles as the key to success (p. 253).
Throughout the book, contributors also provide overt critique of the CCSS, which is useful for any reader hoping to push back against the standards and their implementation. For instance, Horowitz provides the most obvious judgment in her chapter on oral language (p. 4). She identifies at least five areas of research that the CCSS failed to represent including insufficient attention [that] is given to the range of student populations being served in the United States (p. 67), and she also notes the token acknowledgment that the CCSS offer to the changing nature of text sources: the use of digital sources, multiple literacies, and multiple modalities (p. 68). Kamil specifically suggests that
[a] model of reading electronic and multimedia text would also be useful as a way to expand the definition of text. Although a few standards now exist for these types of texts, a more elaborate set of standards is required as these texts are becoming increasingly common. (p. 53)
Indeed, it would. As a scholar whose interests are particularly attuned to digital literacies, I would echo Kamil and Horowitzs concerns. Avoiding an explicit discussion of digital literacy is both a significant problem in the standards, as well as in the book. While Pearson and Hieberts collection does, on the whole, make many mentions of digital and multimedia texts, these amount to only a few sentences in a total of 250 pages. Certainly no chapter in the collection is entirely devoted to this particular topic of digital literacy. This is a glaring oversight in a book that claims to represent the current state of the field of reading.
Still, in sum, Pearson and Hieberts collection is hopeful and does accomplish the goal that it set out for itself to document the frameworks, processes, and content of literacy instruction. As Nell K. Duke suggests in the Foreword, [t]he contributors to this volume have read the Common Core, closely (p. vii). And, to the extent that the editors have gathered an incredible collection of researchers and captured a timely, useful, and relevant snapshot of research-based practices, the volume is nearly complete. Since Pearson and Hiebert hope that this new type of collection, one based on serious reflections from contemplative scholars, is but the first of many, my hope is that the next version of this bookor others like itwill more fully address concepts related to digital literacy. Taken as a whole, Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy provides us with a chance to engage in substantive conversations about the CCSS, not just as standards, but as opportunities to substantively change instruction as well.