How the CCSS Changes Learning
The new English Language Arts Common Core State Standards contain many changes in learning standards, but they can be grouped into six basic shifts. Overall, the shifts are tied to the goal of the new standards: college and career readiness. Everything in these utilitarian standards aims toward putting the high school graduate into college or the work-force.
Increase in Nonfiction Texts
Currently, students in elementary school read 70-80% fiction and 20-30% nonfiction. This changes to 50% fiction and 50% nonfiction for 4th grade, 45% fiction and 55% nonfiction by 8th grade and 30% fiction and 70% nonfiction by 12th grade. This shift will prepare students to be able to deal with real world data in the work force.
Content Area Literacy
Grades 6–12 have additional standards directed toward the subject areas science, history/social studies, and technical subjects. They must directly deal with texts, including primary sources. For example, they may read speeches by Presidents, not just read about their presidency; they may read scientific papers and not just read about the scope and effects of research.
Increase Complexity of Texts
K–12 reading emphasizes text complexity as the most important factor in developing skilled readers. Increasing complexity forces students to respond and think to complex ideas that they will need in college and in careers. Leveled readers are discouraged and instead, students are asked to interact with the text and figure out exactly what it says and means. Or, what it doesn’t say and doesn’t mean.
Focus on Text-Based Questions
CCSS places little faith in personal opinions, experiences or connections with a text. Instead, questions should focus on what the text actually says or doesn’t say. Especially important is the ability to cite portions of a text to support an answer. Can students find the important information in the text?
Focus on Writing Arguments
The primary focus in writing is on forming arguments and supporting them with text-based evidence as opposed to creative writing, personal stories, and memoirs. Students write mostly to describe, to inform or to argue. It’s a subtle difference, but students don’t write for the purpose of persuading; instead, they should present facts and text-based evidence to support an argument. Notice that they never write to entertain. Humor? Totally absent.
For vocabulary, the shift is to focus on academic vocabulary. This vocabulary crosses content areas and is found over and over in nonfiction and fiction, including vocabulary seen on SAT tests.