Common Core aligned books and the drill to teach reading to young children, appears to ignore the real questions children might have about the stories they read. This could be serious, especially if the book is beyond a child’s development. If the teacher is forced to address things like syntax, story order, and facts surrounding the characters and the word meaning, but never asks the child how they interpret the story, it could cause a lot of problems surrounding reading development. It could also cause a child to become confused, fearful, even dislike reading altogether.
The missing piece of the puzzle is that no one asks the children how they feel about what they read or what they think about what they read. This no longer matters in the cold, mechanistic style of measurable educating, and, in this case, with reading instruction. We are hearkening back to the cold 1940s (close reading) schooling and calling it progress. Like everything else with Common Core, there are right answers and that’s it. There is no room for interpretation.
For example, the Federalist recently provided an interesting example of teachers learning about this new kind of reading instruction. Here they were learning to teach the Common Core English Language Arts (Here). The book the teachers were using to teach second grade summer school students, students who were having difficulty with reading already, was Eve Bunting’s Pop’s Bridge. Bunting is known for her gritty books, rich and provocative, like Smokey Night which deals with rioting, or Flyaway Home where a father and son live in an airport because they are homeless. Terrible Things is her book about the Holocaust with the message that people should not look away from wrongdoing.
Pop’s Bridge is a fictional account about two children whose San Franciscan fathers—one Asian and one Caucasian—helped build the Golden Gate Bridge. Robert, the white boy, believes his father has the most important job, he is a skywalker, building the bridge, and that his friend Charlie’s dad, a painter, has a job that is less important. But then both boys see workers die in a fall and Robert learns building a bridge involves “teamwork,” it is dangerous, and he loses his “superiority complex.”
First of all, is a book like Pop’s Bridge appropriate for kindergarten, even first or second grade? And wouldn’t a book like this need special handling if used with children, especially young children? I personally would not read this book to a kindergartner or first or second grader. And even in third grade it would depend on the children and their parents. I would handle a book like this with great care.
Scholastic considers this book appropriate for kindergarten. (Here).
With Pop’s Bridge, my guess is children, at the very least, would need to ask questions and have a very caring teacher describe the meaning of what happened in the story, especially involving the loss of life. I am equally stunned at how teacher’s, through Common Core, in the above mentioned article, are taught to drill children about the book.
In this instance, teachers do the asking of the questions. Students, who might have serious concerns of their own, who might wish to ask about the book, are pretty much ignored. They must answer what they are asked and if they miss an answer they are corrected.
The teacher informs the student that they will ask “text-dependent questions,” (can you say text-dependent, Johnny?) which already seems cold, meaningless to a young child. Why use such words with children? In this case we are talking about seven-year-olds.
The students have books called Xeroxes where they must answer the right question. They are told to describe the important characters in the story and why they are important. When a child says that Charlie’s father is important, the teacher says “I like your text evidence.” Those words also sound dull and unappealing to teaching a child how to read. What’s wrong with, “good answer?”
When a child answers later that Robert is proud of his dad, she is asked how she knows, and her answer is because the “book says that.” The teacher must now backtrack to get the child to understand something more, so she goes over the fact that the father has an important job. When she later asks what does he keep calling the bridge, the child responds “the Golden Gate Bridge.” But that is incorrect. The right answer is “the impossible bridge.” Several of the children don’t seem to get this and are sent off to do extra work.
This kind of nuanced banter is truly risky business while teaching reading. Not only is it disruptive and trite, it also could leave children frightened about reading mistakes and, with this story, death. But no one seems to care because that is not what the teacher is directed to address.
I am not saying that Pop’s Bridge is a bad book, or that students might not benefit from discussing a book or its meaning. But I am, quite frankly, appalled that such a book is considered appropriate for kindergarten or first or second grade, and that teachers are using such a ridiculous format to teach reading. This is definitely an indication to me that whoever came up with this did not understand children and how they learn to read.
In other words, instead of text dependent, the words should be student-focused.