It is one thing for a child to read The Little Engine That Could for the pleasure of the story and quite another for her to comprehend the inner workings of a locomotive. ~Joanne Yatvin, former public school educator, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, and a former member of the National Reading Panel. Education Week 2-27-12
Tennessee is proud of Dolly Parton’s Books from Birth program. Putting lovely picture books into the hands of children is a beautiful endeavor. Governor Haslam and his wife Chrissy celebrated the program’s 10th anniversary by presenting books to children.
One child received a gigantic copy of The Little Engine that Could. When the Memphis Daily News reported that the Governor was looking to add to this beautiful literacy effort, I couldn’t wait to read more. Additional books for more children? It looked like I had the ingredients for a positive post for a change.
But I should have known better. Governor Haslam dashed my hopes. He said, “One of the things we want to make certain of is that we have alignment – alignment with what we are teaching with what we’re testing – alignment with the efforts of the Achievement School District (ASD)*** and Shelby County Schools.”
He, like so many ed. reformers and reading critics, just doesn’t get it. He makes added comments about his belief in PARCC.
How does one align The Little Engine that Could?
In 2012, Joanne Yatvin, who I cited earlier, wrote a great piece for Education Week, “A Flawed Approach to Reading in the Common-Core Standards,” where she stated that the “standards overestimate the intellectual, physiological, and emotional development of young children, asking them to think analytically as they read or write, extract subtle meanings from a text, and make fine distinctions within and across texts. Such deliberative and intensive behaviors are not supported by the research on child development, nor are they expected anywhere else in children’s lives today.”
Yatvin became alarmed when she read “Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy” by David (no one gives an expletive about narrative writing) Coleman and Susan Pimental. Both of these individuals have questionable education backgrounds. It is also still unclear who all was involved in devising these standards. Coleman is now president of the College Board. With no experience working with children or teaching he certainly is considered to know a lot about a wide range of age-levels when it comes to learning.
Yatvin’s article makes excellent points against the kind of skill acquisition the Governor here supports, and I provide the link here and the citation below if you do not have automatic access to Ed. Week.
Most teachers are all for enrichment activities surrounding picture books and have no problem discussing the book, or what it means, with children, or asking the children themselves what they thought of the book. What did it mean to them? They know.
But that’s not what they are talking about when it comes to aligning books to skills. And it’s important to keep talking about the problems surrounding Common Core and literacy, because it’s not right to put young children through these awful fragmented exercises and quite possibly, even very likely, turn them off to reading!
Here is a generalized Curriculum Map for Common Core State Standards for kindergarteners with my comments below. Try aligning The Little Engine That Could to these standards:
Key Ideas and Details
With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.
Craft and Structure:
Ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text.
Recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
With prompting and support, name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).
(RL.K.8 not applicable to literature)
With prompting and support, compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.
First, it always intrigues me how the Common Core developers make this stuff sound innovative and different, when, in fact, teachers have done much of this for years. The difference is they weren’t so anal retentive about it.
Some of this kind of questioning comes naturally. Other information is little use for young children. Is knowing the author and illustrator necessary?
I have to add, Common Core goals often include telling you to do other “activities.” Supporters will say that gives you the freedom to do what you want. I think it is laziness and a lack of understanding by the CCSS developers. They bring nothing new to the world of reading instruction. Most teachers are eager to learn new innovative ways to teach, but Common Core just throws objectives at you.
And they do much harm. The above is just a shortened description of many more goals having to do with teaching the reading of literature in kindergarten. See here for what they use in Tennessee. They are probably similar goals to what your state uses.
And here are additional reading skills and a few more comments.
Demonstrate understanding of the organization and basic features of print.
a. Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page by page.
b. Recognize that spoken words are represented in written language by specific sequences of letters.
c. Understand that words are separated by spaces in print.
d. Recognize and name all upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet.
Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables and sounds (phonemes)
a. Recognize and produce rhyming words.
b. Count, pronounce, blend, and segment syllables in spoken words.
c. Blend and segment onsets and rimes of single-syllable spoken words.
d. Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words.* (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)
e. Add or substitute individual sounds (phonemes) in simple, one-syllable words to make new words.
Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
a. Demonstrate basic knowledge of letter-sound correspondences by producing the primary or most frequent sound for each consonant.
b. Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.
c. Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
d. Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the letters that differ.
Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.
A lot of this stuff has been around for a long time too. It is the unnatural application of skill acquisition to literature that is meant to be enjoyed that is so worrisome. Breaking stories apart to dissect their meaning and sounds detracts from the enjoyment of the story. Children can’t focus on so many tasks. And teachers turn into robots. Shouldn’t the real goal of reading instruction be to get children to fall in love with words?
Certainly, for children with reading difficulties, dyslexia for example, a more phonetic intensive program might be called for. But even in this case, children have to want to read the words!
So here is the question. With so much riding on that Little Engine, how many kindergarteners, when they are through with Common Core style instruction, are going to ever want to hear or read this story on their own again? And again? And again?
I know I’m sure going to put The Little Engine that Could away for a while. It made me unhappy just writing about skill alignment.
I can only hope Governor Haslam, and those who think like him, will reconsider the harm they are doing to children when it comes reading.
***ASD being the system of Memphis charter schools that take over, after real public schools are run into the ground and all the veteran credentialed teachers—recent count 850 of them—are fired.
Yatvin, Joanne. 2012. “A Flawed Approach To Reading in the Common-Core Standards.” Education Week. 31 (22) p.28.