A couple of years into work with the Common Core State Standards, there’s still confusion around the purpose of Appendix B: Text exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. Bloggers still criticize the lack of current texts listed – what’s with all those public domain choices? Tweeters are alarmed about districts who are taking items from the examplars list, purchasing class sets, and using them as the basis of their curriculum.
A lot of the controversy around Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards could have been avoided by applying some close reading strategies. For example, try reading the first paragraph of Appendix B using the lens of word choice. Which words stand out? What do you think was the author’s purpose is choosing these words?
The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list.
The words that catch my eye are “exemplify,” “suggestive,” and “guideposts.” I believe the author chose those words to describe the text samples listed in Appendix B in order to emphasize that the listed texts are just starting points on the journey to identify complex texts for our students. In case there’s any doubt, reread the final sentence of the paragraph.
So why do districts and schools continue to skim the first paragraph, read on down to the materials list, and copy and paste it into their book orders? There could be a little bit of laziness involved, but mainly, it’s a lack of confidence.
Certainly we expect the complex texts we use will fit with the curriculum for our grade levels. Certainly we want choices that are recently published and will more broadly and accurately represent the variety of cultural heritage in the United States. How can schools use the guidelines of Appendix B to confidently accomplish these goals? Your Professional Learning Community is an excellent place to do this work. What could that work look like?
- Do some reading about the characteristics of complex texts. Come to a common definition. Understand text broadly to include materials found online and in video or audio format. Hint: more complex does not equal longer.
- Spend PLC time studying Appendix B and comparing the texts on the list to texts you are currently using that fit your curriculum. Which should you keep? Which should you discard?
- Ask your school librarian about texts that might replace the ones your are discarding that would meet the definition of complex text you have created. Librarians are not only good at finding texts but often are canny at managing to finance their purchase.
- Select a variety of complex texts that will allow you to differentiate according to the reading abilities of our out students.
- Be brave. It’s okay not be be perfect. Monitor, adjust, try again.
- Enjoy the process. There are amazing texts out there just waiting to become your exemplars.
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