For the next several months I’m going to explore a different Common Core standard with each post. I’m hoping to start a conversation about what the standards look like in the classroom. Since I’m an extremely sequential person, I’ll go ahead and start with the first one, which coincidentally is also the one getting a lot of publicity of late, since it’s all about “Close Reading,” the current rock star in the world of literacy instruction.
CCRA.R.1 reads as follows:
“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.”
One of the realities of implementing the Common Core, at least in these early stages, is that many of us are using district-approved materials, produced and purchased before the Common Core was adopted. We’ve been trained to use them and they’ve essentially become part of the district culture. Our district went all-in for Benchmarks Literacy, which includes class sets of student books, teacher guides and assessment materials. It was a major investment and it’ll be awhile before we make another literacy adoption. For all intents and purposes, we’re pretty much stuck with Benchmarks.
Fortunately, using these materials to address the Common Core isn’t particularly complicated. Close reading is a good example. While Benchmarks doesn’t label it as such, close reading is pretty much the central topic in the majority of the comprehension lessons. By using these lessons, along with an Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) unit I came up with, I’m feeling pretty good about my fourth graders’ progress toward this standard.
We finished a comprehension unit on author’s purpose and summarizing, paired with a genre study of tall tales. I then introduced an LDC module in which the students had to write a mash-up of two different tall tales: Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. They had to take the main character from one tall tale, put him into the setting of the other tall tale and write a story. Doing this required a lot of guided close reading, since tall tales contain a lot of regional references, idioms and “old timey” words that leave normal fourth graders guessing. One line, for example, stated that “Babe the Blue Ox’s horns were so far apart that it took a murder of crows four days to fly from one end to the other.” It took a lot of discussion before we finally inferred that a “murder” was the collective name for crows. Figuring out what was meant by “Paul was so big when he was born that it took five storks to deliver him” was another adventure. Suffice to say that a tall tale can be a fairly complex text, requiring some pretty close reading.
It was worth it, though. When my reading groups successfully struggled through these paragraphs, they began to see the humor and the uniqueness of this type of writing. They were determining the explicit and making logical inferences from the rest.
The task I set out for them asked them to take it one step further; in order to write a story an author needs to involve the characters in a problem. Therefore, we had to read purposely, looking for the problems that plagued 19th century lumberjacks and cowboys. Fortunately, since I had paired this task with our comprehension unit on author’s purpose and summarizing, my students were able to see that tall tales were written to celebrate imaginary heroes who overcame problems using exaggerated skills or strengths, but the problems they faced – extreme cold, tornadoes, getting logs down a river – were all too real. My students found those problems and cited explicit textual evidence to back up their conclusions.
At this point, my students have done the close reading, the note-taking and are in the midst of planning their tales. I’ll let you know how they turn out.
So that’s what CCRA.R.1 looks like in my fourth grade classroom. What about you? How are you implementing this standard with the materials you have available?
Learn more about LDC here.